THE YEAR OF THE DIGITAL CITIZEN
THE YEAR OF THE DIGITAL CITIZEN
2006-01-02 at 10:09:00 am #13820
the year of the digital citizen
2005 was arguably the year citizens really started to do it for
themselves. Raising mobiles aloft, they did not just talk and text,
they snapped, shared and reported the world around them.
Twelve months ago, it was clear the mass consumer was going to have at
his or her disposal many more gadgets with greater capacity to record,
store and share content.
It was going to be a year in which people started to
challenge those who traditionally provide us with content, be it news,
music, or movies.
Crucially, what 2005 proved was that far from these
techno tools being purely dumb funnels for the same paid-for content
from mainstream media, they had the chance to become powerful tools for
political expression and reportage.
The consumer was turning into the citizen with a
meaningful role to play. Media started to look more participatory and
The Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 starkly showed the
potential of these tools. Most of the memories of that day have been
graphically captured, replayed and played again, making the event much
more immediate and personal.
Later in the year, the 7 July London bombings and the
hurricanes in the US forced home the fact that citizens had a much
larger role in the production of news than ever before.
These collages of eyewitness accounts showed the immediate aftermath of the events long before any press camera could.
More recently, the BBC received 6,500 e-mailed mobile images and video
clips showing the fires at the Buncefield oil depot, thousands more
than the number received after the London bombings.
With this explosion of citizen reporting, the relationship between producer and consumer has to realign itself.
Start-ups, such as Scoopt and Spy Media, have started to capitalise on
the shifting sands by becoming intermediaries for citizen journalists
to negotiate rights to their content.
The changing nature of news offers a diversity of voices, sources, and
choice… and lets anyone join in global and local conversations
Podcasting exploded into the media landscape in 2005, puncturing it for
good early in the year. It secured its place in media history when
Apple incorporated podcast directories into its iTunes jukebox.
As a result, the challenge to content industries and
mainstream media has been to think about how to ensure everyone has
access to quality and trusted sources of news and information.
They also have to grapple with sticky questions such as
who owns what, and who has the right to share content and re-create
something with it in this converging world.
But there is no doubt that, coupled with a high-speed
network, these media tools could do much to enhance participation in
community and political life.
US video blogger, or vlogger, Steve Garfield is already showing how
politicians themselves can harness these tools to engage with voters.
He “produces” his local Boston city councillor, John Tobin’s, video blog, or vlog.
Regularly, Councillor Tobin reports and shows his voters the positive
and negative about their community. He shows them the new mural or
neighbourhood graffiti problems. He returns to areas for updates where
action has been taken to make something better.
Councillor Tobin is convinced that by the 2008 presidential elections,
most politicians in the US will vlog or die in the public eye.
“It’s going to be mandatory. People are going to have to do
it. Voters won’t accept that they don’t have it,” he recently told the
It is a cheap, accessible and locally relevant way in which to engage with and be visible to the very people who voted you in.
Just like blogs and podcasts, vlogs can be subscribed to so that each show is automatically pushed to the viewer.
Podnosh, set up by Nick Booth, calls itself the Grassroots Channel and
is another example of how new channels for media can give local
communities a voice.
It is a podcast inspired and sponsored by b:cen, the Birmingham Community Empowerment Network.
Local residents share experiences, short stories, local campaign news
and resources, as well as support each other as “active citizens”.
Mixed up media
And as we said goodbye to 2005, 65.9% or 16.5 million UK households were watching digital TV.
Broadband is within reach of nearly 99% of the country, and now makes
up 57.4% of all net connections compared with 42.6% for dial-up.
The UK has long worried about the relationship between government, media and the public
That still leaves swathes of the nation digitally excluded, though.
This year will see much more convergence around traditional media such
as TV, and broadband which could serve to plug this hole.
But regulation needs to be clear about what its role is in this landscape, and that will be a long and intense process.
Government and local government also need to know what role they should
play to support these changes as well as how to make the most of the
The UK has long worried about the relationship between
government, media and the public. The erosion of trust and democracy is
feared above all.
The question is what happens to social cohesion in this
quickly evolving landscape and how can the government negotiate
Some might argue that the remaining ties binding
government, media and the public will be eroded further by the
decentralisation of media.
‘Appetite to be involved’
Greater choice of what to watch, what news means and who produces it,
as well as the shift from broadcast to on-demand media, could increase
people’s ability to opt out of public and democratic debates if they
Alternatively, the changing nature of news offers a
diversity of voices, sources, and choice to enhance democratic
potentials and lets anyone join in global and local conversations.
We need what big institutions do so well, but we also need the bottom-up… knowledge and ideas
Center for Citizen Media
Clearly there is an appetite to be involved with the production of news
- the capturing of moments that have left their indelible watermark on
history, big or small.
This needs support and nurturing. It also needs to be inspiring and relevant.
To that end, it will be interesting to see what former journalist Dan
Gillmor’s newly announced non-profit Center for Citizen Media achieves
in the coming year.
“We need a thriving media and journalism ecosystem,” Mr Gillmor says on his blog.
“We need what big institutions do so well, but we also need the
bottom-up – or, more accurately, edge-in – knowledge and ideas of what
I’ve called the ‘former audience’ that has become a vital part of the
“I’m also anxious to see that it’s done honourably and in a way that helps foster a truly informed citizenry.”
The next 12 months should make an interesting year