Citizen Journalism – Make A Difference With Video

The internet has had a profound effect on the newspaper business. Not only in terms of news consumption but also news production. It is safe to say that it has worked wonders in the field of video activism and citizen journalism.

Cell-phones and the internet have played an instrumental role in empowering citizen journalism. It has become all about using the tool that only the mass media used to use.

This is what happens when the audience suddenly has the tools that the producers used to have and it is now giving a voice to an average citizen.

All one has to do is go out and buy a decent camera for as little as a hundred dollars. The important thing to remember here is to buy a microphone.

A strong audio recording device is imperative because most footage that the citizen journalists acquire is in a noisy and uncontrolled environment.

Now, with the arrival of the most sophisticated smartphones, one can hope for, you don’t have to invest in a camera and a microphone at all. All you have to do is press record and start phone filming.

Now, not only are you the guy with a camera but also the guy who has a satellite truck and you can broadcast from anywhere in the world using just your cell-phone.

Citizen journalism in the new age of the internet

It is a common practice among the ruling elite to try to gag the media scrutiny aimed at exposing their unacceptable practices from the public. Here are some monumental examples that helped landscape the current shape of citizen journalism and video activism in the world.

Republican National Convention 2008

Uptake is one of the pioneer organizations that introduced systematic and organized citizen journalism. This was around the time of the Republican National Convention of 2008.

While all the major TV network reporters were barricaded behind heavy police security and no one had access to the information of what was happening.

There were protests taking place in the city and there were clashes between the police and the locals. While the networks didn’t get the grip of what was happening. The Uptake was able to record that using the oldest model of the iPhone that had come out.

Not only did they shoot the live scene of the protest, but they also solved the problem of police confiscating someone’s video on the site.

This unique phenomenon was made possible because the moment they shot something out of their camera phones, it was already out there on the server. It is one of the many virtues of phone filming.

There was no way that anyone could take it down, and that was a game-changer. The police could not censor the news by delaying the footage by detaining the journalist.

Syrian War Crisis

Fighting a war with cameras as your weapon is not exactly something new for the Syrian people as they have been recording the military brutality on their cell-phones since 2011.

Recording atrocities started as an act of resistance for the citizens in a revolt aimed at the Assad Regime. Not only did they play a role in journalism, but they also volunteered in organizing demonstrations and relief practices.

The act of citizens doing journalism started catching on and got more streamlined as time passed. There was new footage of hospitals being bombed, entire neighborhoods blowing up into debris, schools being ambushed, and the state of the refugee camps coming out of Greater Damascus, Raqqa, Aleppo, Homs, Zataari and other hard-hit cities.

Coordinating committees were established in almost every neighborhood that played a huge organizational role in the phenomenon that is the Syrian revolution.

The establishment of the official Media Offices took place as the committees became more organized.

The offices couldn’t be optimally functional, however, they used the same journalistic principles to carry out their practices.

The volunteers operating from these offices were named Media Activists, and soon video activism became the only source of information about the invasion and the revolution.

They carried out regional coverages in their capacity. These offices experienced structural development giving birth to semi-professional groups of volunteers acting as media activists who were the only source of information to the outside world about what is happening in Syria.


The Arab Spring 2010

Protests have always been communication of displeasure and outrage. Arab Spring was a series of protests that broke out all over the Middle East, opening the floor to intelligent political debate on social media.

It all started from the images of a street vendor Mohammed Bouaziz setting himself on fire to bring attention to the injustices being carried out by the government of Zen El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia.

The fire aggravation started in Tunisia and found its way through Egypt, Libya, and Syria among other Middle Eastern countries.

Arab Spring became central to the discussions in political academic researches because of the unique nature of the flow of information that took place.

Texts, images, and videos came through the citizens on social media and then taken up by mainstream news media journalists.

Arab Spring is a very descriptive example of how revolutionary protests are documented and shared in the digital age. The success of the campaigns and movements that find their grounds on social media can be attributed to technological determinism.

Another complexity that presented itself was the two distinct entities of the demonstrator and the media covering them became intertwined. A trend observed in the Arab Spring is the common denominator in all other examples of movements thriving on citizen journalism.

The Arab Spring shook the foundations of two very strong dictatorships in the Middle East.

Lafayette Square 2020

In the light of the current events following the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd at the hand of officers of Minneapolis Police Department.

Nation-wide protests broke out on racism leading to police brutality towards African-Americans.

With the slogan of Black Lives Matter at the heart of the protest, Americans staged a peaceful protest in Lafayette Park in front of the White House.

President Trump gave a five-minute warning before mobilizing federal troops in a gross use of power against the peaceful protesters to clear out the park.

The footage that came out of the entire debacle is what sets the records straight about the stance of the federal government on the whole situation.

Citizens secured videos of officers with rubber bullets and tear gas physically assaulting journalists trying to record it.

Ordinary protesters caught the unprovoked armed men assaulting the journalists on camera. The evidence sought outrage from human rights watchdogs and the global media exposing the US Government’s use of force to critique.

Here is a PBS News Hour Story about the role of the camera in documenting a critical social movement.


What do you need to become a citizen journalist?

Video production for beginners is a very daunting task. However, if there is one thing you need to know about video activism is that your main ingredient is conviction. It should run deeper than a casual impulse for you to produce content with quality and credibility.

Sometimes being in a high-pressure, news-worthy situation is just the push you need to leap deciding to become a citizen journalist.

There is a certain amount of consideration and dedication that usually goes behind the decision of video activism as a hobby or profession.

The other things are basic and easy enough to come by. These include:

  • Interest and commitment to the subject matter.
  • Basic recording equipment.
  • Means of online distribution like social media accounts with visibility.

You should have some skills and resources and visual story-telling. You should be able to present information clearly for the audience to be able to decipher the message easily.

You should evaluate the news you make unbiasedly and fact-check thoroughly to only produce credible news.

Major news production outlets also have coaching classes for citizen journalism. You should consider sitting a few of those to pick up some videoing tips.

One thing you need to place over everything else is your safety. A situation that needs to be recorded is not always a safe one. It can be any high-pressure conflict situation or a disastrous event.

Always know that in situations like these, your well-being should be the top priority.

Before we delve further onto the detail of how to become a citizen journalist, here is Admed Shihab Eldin’s epiphany that transpired his career in citizen journalism.


Which video cameras to use?

There is no doubt about the fact that video activism is the most effective medium of citizen journalism with Video becoming the new lingua franca of the internet.

Here are the three main categories of affordable cameras that can give you an HD video quality in live streaming.

  • Smartphones: Everyone has a smartphone. Just about any smartphone is good enough for you to practice on if you are an aspiring citizen journalist. You may also be able to download apps or a built-in function for video editing. You can also benefit from the live sharing of videos or uploading them on the cloud instantly to not lose it should your phone get confiscated or broken. There is the limitation of the poor-quality lenses but an add-on lens can drastically improve your video quality.
  • Pocket cameras: These little guys were all the rage before more sophisticated cell phone cameras hit the market. However, they have not lost their appeal as they are built tough. They are waterproof and shock-proof. They make all the difference in being able to keep your footage in a dangerous situation. They are also very affordable ranging from $100-$300. However, one drawback is the non-availability of a working WiFi connection. The only way you can transfer your media from a pocket camera is by connecting it to the computer.
  • Camcorders: These are the OG video making tools dating back to the age of analog VHS. The arrival of sturdy memory cards adds another redeeming feature to these camcorders. They are a good option if you want to go for a video slightly better in quality than mobile phone videos and pocket cameras. The reason for this is that they have large image sensors that are capable of capturing more light. Thus, giving better quality footage. They have three chip sensors designed to capture all the primary colors and their different variants. Its cost depends upon the quality of the camera you want to buy ranging from $200 to $2000.

Tips & tricks of Shooting a Quality Video

A camera is something secondary. You can shoot a quality video regardless of the available equipment. however, there are some guidelines you need to bear in mind to be certain that the footage you are making is up to the mark.


  • Don’t let your video be shaky. Hold your camera still.
  • Don’t let the sunlight shine directly into the camera. If the circumstances allow, keep the sun behind you while shooting.
  • Don’t overuse the zoom function. Resist the urge of zooming into everything. If you need to zoom mid-video, make sure you have the option of an optic zoom.
  • To capture a good video, it is imperative to have good audio too. Invest in an external microphone to overcome the noise of the wind, crowd, and other disturbances. A shotgun microphone is usually the preferred choice. There are also cell-phone adjustable options available.
  • There isn’t always a need to narrate everything that is happening while you are shooting. Let the visuals speak for themselves.
  • Always have backup when it comes to batteries and memory cards.


  • When it comes to editing, you can keep it raw or go for a full-blown edited version If you want to go for a sophisticated look, you may need to transfer your footage to a computer and add everything including audio mixing, effects, and transitions in a video editing software.
  • Online editing features are also passable. However, it is advisable to keep your video very close to the original format. It provides the element of quality and authenticity.
  • A minimally edited file is also transferred with relative ease because it is not very heavy.


  • Once your video is all done and ready it is time to distribute it. The main channel for online journalism is online media.
  • It is the simplest step when it comes to independent journalism. However, there are technical aspects to it that one needs to be mindful of.
  • There are several specifications of file formats on various uploading mediums like codec, bitrates, and resolution.
  • 600MB is the lower limit to be allowed on most sites. All of this depends on the quality, resolution, and size of the video.
  • YouTube has all the same guidelines, however, other websites specify a lower bitrate for HD.
  • All you need is a personal account on any website you want to upload on. Log in and upload your video. The process is pretty much the same for all the sites. However, some like CNN’s iReport require a headline, description, tags, and location information.
  • Do you know what is much more convenient and authentic? Live video streaming. It has the element of timeliness that an edited and uploaded video doesn’t have.
  • A live stream video is slightly less in quality than an uploaded one, however, it is still passable.

Everyone we know is in the possession of a smartphone. They can shoot and send a video from the scene of the breaking news. Does that make everyone a journalist?

The answer is yes. However, some things need to be considered when it comes to citizen journalism. These are the fundamentals of journalism itself. The piece has to be newsworthy, follow the inverted pyramid of questions, and has to be credible.

Here is a detailed guide to do’s and don’ts of citizen journalism.


Benefits of citizen journalism

Citizen journalism adds value to traditional reporting instead of disrupting it. Amateur journalists deepen and broaden the news coverage and cover things that network news channels often ignore, intentionally or unintentionally.

For a citizen working independently, any news is fair game. They don’t have to go through the lengthy cumbersome process of getting approval for the story before and after the shot.

There is an element of immediacy to citizen journalism. There are bystanders more readily available to capture the news compared to the amount of time it will take for the reporter to get there.

The story of Captain Sully landing his plane on the Hudson in New York in 2009 was first covered by a bystander on Twitter.

Footage from the eyewitnesses of the San Bernardino shootings in 2015 was also shared widely on social media.

Citizen journalism provides an influx of information to the audiences that are as good as major network reporting and exude a more informed, in-depth, and challenging outcome.

This phenomenon facilitates the focus on the regional and local dissemination of information.

In shorter words, you can make a difference with your video. It brings to the table all the things that will otherwise be ignored.

Posted by Fatima Najeeb

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