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From Street To Tweet: Citizen journalism and embracing the tweet

In 1960, journalist A.J. Liebling wrote that “freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Meaning, it was only those rich and influential enough to produce a book or a newspaper whose unfettered opinions could truly be heard.

Unknown to Liebling at the time, almost forty years later, and with the birth of the internet, a new generation of citizen journalists would arise.

Consumer to Creator

Citizen journalism is an alternative form of news gathering and reporting, taking place outside of the traditional media structures and which can involve anyone. From reader to creator, citizens have now changed their status as mere recipients of information, to that of creators.

With the expansion of the Internet to social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, users now have possibilities and opportunities to contribute, collaborate, moderate and share content in real time.

Breaking Tweets

Twitter is a key player, and the list of news stories that break on Twitter before they do on mainstream media is astounding. Famous examples include the Boston Marathon bombings. Twitter user, Kristen Surman tweeted “Holy sh*t! Explosion!” one minute after the explosions went off at the 2013 Boston Marathon.


For nearly ten minutes, regular citizens, like Kristen­, provided the only information getting to the public. The immediacy of Twitter played a crucial role in the development of the Boston Marathon bombing story because users tweeted about the crisis in real time.

The Shift from ‘What are you doing?’ To ‘What is happening?’

Originally, when users logged onto Twitter, it posed the question ‘what are you doing?’ – this question has since changed to ‘what’s happening?’.

‘What are you doing?’ prompted Twitter users to tweet about the trivial aspects of their lives, but ‘what’s happening?’ has shifted users to look at the world and events around them, consequently allowing for the spread of news.

A Place for Professional and Non-Professional Journalists to Collaborate

Twitter has fast become a public forum for both citizen journalists and professional journalists to collaborate in the collecting, spreading and filtering of news.

The Internet and citizen journalism are strong forces influencing the traditional journalism field. News brands therefore, cannot ignore their presence. Journalists are no longer the only collectors and distributors of news. Instead, they have adopted the role of monitoring and enhancing the online news world (“The People Formerly Known as the Audience”).

Many news organisations have created websites and apps to encourage the participation of citizens where users can quickly upload photos and videos of events as they happen. Other news outlets have separate websites where contributors can submit content to help journalists hear different voices and perspectives about a topic.

Embracing Twitter

As the use of Twitter has increased, many journalists and news organisations have adapted their news distribution methods.

ABC News, for example, has fully embraced the influence of Twitter and submersed itself in the digital age. Journalists are not just passively tweeting links to their stories, but rather they have incorporated innovative digital methods such as time-lapse video to better communicate longer form content in bitesize pieces.