Mainstream vs. Citizens: who’s going to win?

Social media sites have opened up a whole new world of citizen journalism in recent years. Photo credit: ericnvntr

By Chloe Penfold

Media coverage of US elections has long been left to the mainstream news networks. But with the ever-growing use of social media sites, many are taking the news into their own hands and could even be making an impact.

Obama and Romney’s race to the presidency has taken the media by storm. The impact of the media can change the minds of many, which is why broadcast debates are so important to ‘win’. As social media is evolving, the word of the individual person is gaining more influence.

The term ‘citizen journalism’ is frowned upon by some due to its unrestricted and sometimes unforgiving nature, but the power of the people could be seen to be taking this election to a whole new level. The worlds of Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Tumblr allow people to have their say; with just a few clicks of a mouse they can spread their opinion to a global audience.

“It can be positive, perhaps it’s attracting attention to issues otherwise being ignored, marginalised or trivialised by the mainstream media. It can also be negative — inaccurate, unfair [and] overly partisan,” said Stuart Allan, a journalism professor at Bournemouth University’s Media School.

The YouTube Effect

In the primaries leading up to the 2008 presidential election, a video appeared on YouTube suggesting Hilary Clinton, running as a candidate at the time, had become “Big Brother”.

The video mimicked Apple’s 1984 Superbowl advertisement and was made Phil de Vellis.

Citizen journalism has also led to independent news, a style that the YouTube community has embraced. The Philip DeFranco Show and SourceFed are both YouTube news sites run by Philip DeFranco and have been covering this year’s 2012 election intensively since they had access to both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions (in August and September of this year).

The coverage included live shows, post-show commentary and comedic spoof-type videos. Both channels yield an audience of more than 2.5 million subscribers. These channels encourage discussion in their videos, and encourage people to share the videos and “join the conversation” in the comments section.

Allan added, “People would be more inclined to trust a citizen journalist than a Fox News commentator, when it comes to election issues such as healthcare reform, crime, poverty, or sexism in the workplace”.

In many ways, alternative news, when organised, can create a balanced argument to aid voters. That said, the Internet is so vast, that to gain a full, balanced view of any issue from a citizen journalist would be hard.

Whether citizen journalism will have an impact in the 2012 US presidential election is debatable.

Dr. Darren Lilleker, who lectures on political communication at the Media School at Bournemouth University said, “It [citizen journalism] has potential to do so, but unless amplified by the mainstream news media is unlikely to break through”.

Alternative news is trying to spread its presence to the masses, but many still continue to turn to traditional media forms for their news. A change may come in the future, but for now, mainstream news seems to have the upper hand.