Public Journalism 2.0 – Book Review, by Andrew Tibbs

Public Journalism 2.0 is a collection of essays which seeks to look at the evolution, development and employment of citizen journalism, a subject area which is becoming hugely important (if it hasn't already become so) as more and more people turn online for news or to blogs and other forms of social media. 

Put simply, citizen journalism happens when ordinary people, non-journalists, play an active part in the creation, gathering, investigation and delivery of news – through commenting, providing their own stories and images, and so on. Using a mixture of case studies, research and examples in each chapter, Public Journalism 2.0 offers an insight into this exciting and accessible media form.

Until recent times, communication to any sort of mass audience came in the form of newspapers, but over the past decade or so, the way we communicate has gone online and become much more fragmented with blogs, tweets, Facebook, YouTube, e-newspapers and the internet itself taking on the role previously performed by newspapers. 

No longer is news reporting an one-way street, it’s now two-way with the audience actively creating content, as well as receiving. 

Citizen journalism is everywhere and news can break at anytime in any place. One recent Scottish example comes from Twitter, when the news of the resignation of Glasgow Councillor, Steven Purcell, was broken to the world via a Tweeter, rather than through a newspaper. 

Even more ‘formal’ news streams, such as the BBC News website gets a large amount of its content from citizen journalists. Phone video recording and photos taken from individuals first on the scene of a major breaking news story can be found on the front page of the site.

The first four chapters chart the evolution and rise of citizen journalism starting with its roots and what those journalists can learn from public journalism. 

Part two of the book is concerned with contemporary citizen journalism and how different it is from traditional journalism. 

Of course there are some major differences, especially as the latter tends to be professionally trained or have extensive experience in the industry, while the former consists of people who are not. Carpenter, in her chapter, goes on to conclude that online journalists tend to have a number of distinctive elements, in that they’ll use fewer sources and diversify less in their output when compared to their print counterparts. It’s an interesting argument, and one that could have a number of implications for the online future of print media.

A good example of this can be found in a later chapter by Suzanne McBride who undertakes an extensive analysis of the changing face of news in Chicago, comparing the content of numerous news and blogs in the city (recorded on the same day), with the content in the two major print newspapers, finding that the former were not only ‘hyper-local’ but also contained numerous items and stories not covered in the printed newspapers. From this she draws a number of interesting conclusions, not only about the nature of online verses print, but what is actually constituted as news, something which McBride found that traditional journalists were stricter in defining and that this made a difference to some of the outputs, though not all of them.

The third section of the book is concerned with the future, public journalism 2.0, and looks at the role that this form of reporting will take in relation to civic engagement, online news organisations, and how it could become institutionalised. 

In concluding, the authors emphasise that citizen journalism is not dead, but that it does need some sort of revitalisation, and although it shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for public journalism, there could be an opportunity for it to do so in the future. But it’s also a sector which is still growing and evolving, with a myriad of possibilities for development which are still being explored through the deployment of other social media such as YouTube.

Public Journalism 2.0 is an interesting but eclectic mix of articles from a variety of different authors, each covering very different areas, and it will be interesting to see whether or not any future editions will contain an additional chapter on information disclosure with a case study focussing on the current legislation going through the Icelandic Parliament which will give some protection to those leaking sensitive information. 

The book is an essential read for all those who engage through the occasional bit of blogging or tweet about the latest news. For those who want to become fully fledged citizen journalists, to be taken seriously, it is a must-read. 

For the more experienced editor or journalist there’s much that they will already know, but they would find it an useful read, going some way to understanding the role and relationship that they should have with citizen journalists.

This is an up-and-coming area which can only grow in importance and could also prove useful to journalists working in traditional news outputs. Some journalists don’t see citizen journalism as being particularly useful to them in their role, but, on the contrary, it can prove to be a very useful source. Just because citizen journalists are not professionally trained, and are unlikely to be paid, are they, and their stories, any less important?

Public Journalism 2.0 is published by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. ISBN: 978-0-415-80183-6. Price $43.95.

Andrew Tibbs is an Edinburgh-based freelance writer. His website can be found at