The Need for Citizen Journalism, Migrant News & Alternative Media Strategies

This morning, reports circulated on Twitter and migrant news platforms that five children and two women died trying to cross from Turkey into Greece on an inflatable boat.

But unless you follow the right people, read the right publications, or elicit the right algorithms, you wouldn't have heard about it.

If knowledge is power, then ethical journalism is a means of empowerment. Yet as a society, we are plagued by money-favouring mechanisms that hinder rather than help the free distribution of knowledge.

A few days ago, I put together this news report, a compilation of stories not reported on by the mainstream media. The headlines document chemical burns received by migrants in Calais, severe water shortages in Serbia, and the frightening statistic by Europol that over 10,000 unaccompanied minors are currently unaccounted for inside of Europe's borders.

Media platforms that specialise in refugee and migrant news stories include Are You Syrious?, Refugees Deeply, and News That Moves.

But whilst these sites are generally available in a number of languages, getting access to high-quality, reliable journalism as well as access to high-quality translation is challenging.

Earlier this year, Translators Without Borders introduced a new fee, requiring NGOs to pay $500 for 20,000 words. Though understandable that TWB needs to support itself, this charge effectively makes partnerships unfeasible for smaller organisations working with tiny budgets and few resources.

Yet so often, these are the organisations and people that know most and have the prolonged, direct contact with individuals in need. It is their voices, and the voices of those on whose behalf they work, which should be translated and transmitted around the internet.

As part of a growing wave of 'citizen journalism', there is little excuse why grassroots journalism that empowers victims, eye-witnesses and individuals to take ownership of their own stories does not reach a more mainstream audience.

The 2017 documentary City of Ghosts offers one shining example of successful and invaluable 'citizen journalism', where the grassroots group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently drew global attention to ISIS' control of the city.

Yet compare this to the kind of degrading and 'traditional' form of journalism produced by The Guardian on 17th June. In an article reporting on the situation of Chios, The Guardian exposes the faces and identities of minors (though not names) who have a right to protection and anonymity; they buy into a blinkered rhetoric of worry that focuses solely on Syrian refugees, ignoring the plight of those from numerous other, war-torn countries; they show concern for children and in doing so isolate and attack other refugee demographics, such as young male adults who in general receive far less support, experience violence and neglect, and suffer greatly from mental illnesses.

So why hasn't 'citizen journalism' taken over?

With over £10bn spent on internet advertising last year, small platforms constantly struggle to make headway against large corporations and businesses that have the capital to pay for sponsored listings and social media promotions.

And this has far-reaching, damaging consequences for us.

As individuals, rather than enjoying the democratisation and personalisation of journalism, money-backed adverts combined with invisible algorithms produce limited and reaffirming echo chambers that fail to challenge audiences in the same way that traditionally curated newspapers did.

To combat this, we need the mainstream media to change, to open outwardly and to harness emerging technologies ethically.

Newspapers and news platforms must invite more grassroots content. They must listen more, feature more, and be prepared to compromise traditional notions of professionalism to the ends of honest, open reporting. Society Guardian and GuardianWitness are only tiny steps in this direction.

Newspapers and news platforms must hold themselves to greater account when impinging on their codes of ethics.

Newspapers and news platforms should consider redesigning the way we receive online news. Offering curated daily digests coupled with a system of 'threads', whereby readers sign up to continuing updates on specific stories or topics could incentivise journalists to follow stories to their close. Readers are equally encouraged to stay engaged and to accumulate knowledge on a topic, rather than respond emotionally or instinctively to sensationalist articles or click-bait.

The sheer mass of date-less and context-less writing that spins wildly around the web is not a tenable paradigm if we truly crave the knowledge to act and respond timely and correctly to the world's crises. Whilst pushing for greater webspace for citizen journalism and grassroots reporting, it's up to the media conglomerates to lead the way - and make way - for a new journalistic ethic.