Nicholas W. Jankowski
Visiting Fellow, Virtual Knowledge Studio for the Humanities & Social Sciences (VKS)
13 September 2009
Hatcher, J. & Reader, B. (editors)
The Foundations of Journalism: A Primer for Research
Sage Publications, forthcoming
[Word count text, excluding references: 593 words]
Citizens, Journalists, and User-Generated Content
Long before Web 2.0, user-generated content constituted the core component and main principle of
community media. From the underground press and guerilla television of the 1960s, through the birth of
public access television stations in New York and eventually across the United States in the 1970s
(Engelman, 1996), through the European-wide experimentation with variations of community radio and
television in the 1980s (Jankowski, 1982; 1988; Jankowski, Prehn & Stappers, 1992), to the recent
emergence of ‘OurMedia’ as a world-wide phenomenon with strong roots in Latin America and Africa
(Kidd, Rodriguez & Stein, 2009), the notion of lay citizens constructing their own interpretation of
events, sharing and debating such interpretations with others, and using resulting insight to inform
political and cultural engagement has been central to community media, and reflects the contemporary
notion of user-generated content.
Researchers have been following and monitoring alternative variants of media and of journalism since
those first initiatives, sometimes at a distance and through the scientific façade of objectivity,
sometimes very close at hand and with a strongly stated position of support. Most of these studies were
situated in pre-Web environments and dressed in the theoretical and methodological attire of an earlier
era. Concepts such as emancipatory media, participation, public sphere, often guided the studies (e.g.,
Brown, 2005; Day, 2008; Downing, 2000). Research designs ranged from small ethnographic case studies
to large surveys based on random samples drawn from community-wide populations – scientific
structures within which to examine questions of theoretical and societal concern. Did such community
or alternative media ‘matter’; did citizens in some magical and mysterious manner gain ‘voice’ and
become not merely consumers of the media but producers of local versions of newspapers, radio and
television? And if they did become media producers, did it make any difference in terms of societal
engagement and, ultimately, societal change?
These questions have been on the community media researcher’s agenda for decades, albeit in different
forms with different degrees of theoretical refinement and methodological focus. Many of these
researchers have, along the way, suggested frameworks for further study, refined research questions,
and provided overarching research agendas. Most of these agendas, including my own contributions to
such direction (Jankowski, Van Selm & Hollander, 2001; Jankowski, 2002, 2006), have missed the mark
when it comes to community media in a Web-based environment, and particularly since the rapid
spread of what are known as ‘social media’ in a Web 2.0 world (e.g., blogs, wikis, social network sites,
file sharing sites). The possibilities for user-generated content have never been greater, and the relation
of such content to the profession and practices of journalism has never been as salient as in the Web 2.0
Without striving to sketch a ‘new and improved’ all-encompassing research agenda, let me suggest the
above saliency with one concrete illustration: the OhmyNews initiative in Korea, essentially a Web site
where citizens and journalists fuse their respective concerns and expertise into a single endeavor:
providing news, analysis, and direction for social action on topics of relevance for the Korean citizens
engaged in this initiative (Joyce, 2007). There are other such collaboratory initiatives between journalists
and citizens, and much study is needed in order to understand how and under what conditions such
collaboration between the journalist and the citizen may flourish.
Young researchers concerned about community media will find this area of tension and collaboration
between citizen and journalist rich in potential, both for theoretical understanding and for
transformation of practice. How insightful it will be once a new generation of scholars addresses the
concerns of this niche area.
Brown, D. R. (2005). Ethnic minorities, electronic media and the public sphere: A comparative study.
Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Day, R. (2008). Community radio in Ireland: Building community, participation and multi-flow
communication. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Downing, J. (ed.) (2000). Radical media: Rebellious communication and social movements. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage.
Engelman, R. (1996). Public radio and television in American. A political history. Thousand Oaks, CA:
Jankowski, N. W. (1982). Community television: A tool for community action? Communication 7(1):
Jankowski, N. W. (1988). Community television in Amsterdam: Access to, participation in and use of the
‘Lokale Omroep Bijlmermeer’. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Amsterdam.
Jankowski, N. W. (2002). Epilogue: Theoretical perspectives and arenas for community media research.
In N. W. Jankowski (with O. Prehn) (ed.), Community media in the Information Age; Perspectives
and prospects, pp. 359-374. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Jankowski, N. W. (2006). Creating community with media: History, theories and scientific investigations.
In L. Lievrouw & S. Livingstone (eds.), Handbook of new media: Social shaping and consequences
of ICTs, Updated student edition, pp. 55-74. London: Sage.
Jankowski, N. W., Prehn, O., & Stappers, J. (eds.) (1992). The people’s voice. Local radio and television in
Europe. London: John Libbey Media.
Jankowski, N. W., Van Selm, M., & Hollander, E. (2001). On crafting ax study of community networks:
Considerations and reflections. In L. Keeble & B. Loader (eds.) Community informatics:
Community development through the use of information and communication technology, pp.
101-117. London: Routledge.
Joyce, M. (2007). The citizen journalism web site ‘OhmyNews’ and the 2002 South Korean Presidential
Election. Paper, Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Available at Social Science Research
Kidd, D., Rodriguez, C., & Stein, L. (eds.) (2009). Making our media: Global initiatives toward a
democratic public sphere. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.