With the growth of the internet, journalism as a sphere of influence has expanded and evolved to include new platforms, methods, and characteristics. Online, news consumers are more easily able to engage with the publications they read, thanks to the comment sections provided by most major news organizations. Media-sharing and social networking websites have made journalism more accessible to people worldwide, as users have the ability to share a story with the click of a button. According to Olivia Koski in her article “How Participatory Journalism Turns News Consumers into Collaborators,” major news organizations see the importance of serving audiences who respond through social media, but many are still in the process of realizing the potential of “participatory journalism;” collaboration with news consumers early in the reporting process. Despite the common aim of professional journalists to remain removed from the issues they are covering, there is an unquestionable relationship between journalism and activism. Participatory journalism enhances this relationship, as it creates a mutually beneficial relationship between news producers and news consumers, thus allowing more causes for activism to be heard and acted upon.
Koski suggests that inviting readers to participate in the news production process yields more journalistic benefits than simply asking them to leave feedback in a comments section after an article is published. Consulting consumers on what information is important to them can lead to more original content and pushes journalists to pursue stories they may not have discovered on their own. “Giving audiences a seat at the editorial table,” as Brandel, a journalist from WBEZ in Chicago, phrases it, also makes them feel more invested and more likely to share stories, increasing traffic and brand awareness for news organizations. Participatory journalism strikes a new balance, claims Koski, as professionals “continue to do the good work they’ve always done — reporting, verifying, and synthesizing complex information — but audiences are regarded not only as recipients but as resources to inspire and inform the work they do.” From the perspective of participatory journalism, every consumer is a potential source in the next breaking story, or a potential character in the next feature article.
An example of an event covered greatly by participatory journalism, the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riots, demonstrates how activism comes into play when consumers participate in the news production process. The riot was a public disturbance that broke out in downtown Vancouver, immediately after the Boston Bruins’ won over the Vancouver Canucks in game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. The riots sparked intense media coverage on a local, national, and international level, but more significantly, they saw a surge of documentation from citizens who experienced the public disturbance. A massive amount of photos and videos were taken by onlookers; an article published by CBC News recently after the riots estimated that 1,000,000 plus photos and upwards of 1,200 hours of video were posted online surrounding the event, and similar numbers were sent by citizens to the RCMP as evidence. In fact, community participation in assisting police to identify rioters has been described as unprecedented, and police admitted to being overwhelmed by the amount of evidence that was provided. Journalists covering the event widely used images and footage posted publicly online by onlookers, and many citizens came forward to news publications to share their experiences of the chaotic night. After the riot, thousands of volunteers organized on social media sites to assist in cleaning up the damage. An article from the Vancouver Observer explains how the estimated 15,000 volunteers stated that they wanted to “show that not all Canucks fans are like that.”
The riots are a great example of how technology has expanded the role that news consumers can play in journalism, and by extension, how activism can be performed when professional and non-professional journalists work together. The upstanding citizens of Vancouver took it upon themselves to become involved in the journalistic process by working with professionals to document and share information to identify those who committed crimes and organize a group to rectify the situation. Thus, participatory journalism has the power to support activism and social change; in the words of audience director at The Guardian, Mary Hamilton, “reader [participation] makes journalism better.”