The citizen journalist: a double edged sword?

What opportunities and challenges do citizen journalists pose for public relations?  Image source: Tony Webster, Flickr creative commons

Image source: Tony Webster, Flickr creative commons

Much has been written about the rise of ‘citizen journalists’, their influence enabled by the immediate connectivity of smart phones and social media.

Their potential as ‘on-the-ground’ sources of ‘as-it-happens’ information can be a double edged sword, as the ‘news’ they bring to light can go viral with little or no fact checking.

The best practice mainstream media approach to verify such information with due diligence before publishing, reinforced by MSM’s remote and often inaccurate coverage of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

But what challenges do citizen journalists, empowered by the hyper-connectivity of Web 2.0, pose for public relations?

It’s a dynamic which has been discussed as early as 2005, when global PR firm Edelman detailed two sets of ramifications for PR practice, in promotion and crisis management.

“Citizens are no longer spectators. A new era has begun in which regular citizens can become reporters whenever they so desire, and by doing so contribute to public opinion,” Edelman declared, recommending practitioners expand their scope of promotional tactics. (Edelman, 2005)

Ten years later, firms like InsidePR have well and truly welcomed citizen journalists as an opportunity, suggesting PR operators keep track of an individual “with something to say, covers a subject on a consistent basis and moves on to being a contributor to larger and more influential sources”.

How PR practitioners respond to citizen journalists during times of crisis is infinitely more challenging, particularly when faced with those who live up to the reputation of ‘tweet first, ask questions later’.

Both dynamics could be seen unfolding during the 2014 Hazelwood Mine Fire – a chaotic situation rife with public confusion and misinformation – when a handful of citizen journalists became a thorn in the side for State Government communication teams.

A self proclaimed ‘Voices of the Valley’ social media presence (twitter account discontinued – originally authored by outspoken citizen Simon Ellis) began collating and publishing everything from front line eyewitness photos to speculative rumors circulating the Latrobe Valley throughout the unfolding smoke crisis.

As government departments and power industry persisted with a collaborative communication strategy to transmit consistent key public health messages (through a time consuming inter-departmental approval process) social media users turned to sources such as Voices of the Valley for ‘up to date’ information from the front line.

(It was a dynamic which had government communication teams reactively putting out spot fires of misinformation for weeks on end during the crisis. The government’s communication strategy was later came under scrutiny in the Hazelwood Mine Fire inquiry’s post-mortem)

Meanwhile, the above advice of InsidePR to engage citizen journalists of influence was being put into action by proactive environmental communicator Shaun Murray of Friends of the Earth.

Mr Murray was subsequently taken on board as the communications consultant for Voices, which had since grown to become a proactive community activist group, later authoring the controversial claim the mine fire lead to 11 deaths in the area, which became a large factor in the Labor government’s reopening of the Hazelwood mine fire inquiry.


Social Narcissism: Can it drive positive change?

Is there such thing as selfless good deed? The age old debate concerning altruism lives on. Joey and Phoebe of Friends argued the point of contention. They concluded that selfless deeds do not exist.

Yet, one thing we can be certain of. Selfish good deeds do exist. Even narcissistic individuals can be driven to do good. The clincher? Social media may rev up the process. Continue reading

Goldmine or Minefield?

Public relations is a fast-paced, constantly evolving field. Social media has revolutionized the public public relations landscape, necessitating new campaigns, faster responses and timely crisis management.

In my first blog post I visited the Ice Bucket Challenge and the positive reaction and affirmation that spread via social media making the campaign a viral sensation.

In my second blog post, I explored Bud Lights use of social media in their ‘Up for Whatever’ campaign and the benefits that this brings to their public relation campaign.

Not all social media is positive however with social media also proving to be a minefield for public relations in some instances.


Image source: Flickr-Creative Commons, Tim Rlch and Lesley Katon, 

Continue reading

But… “Who wears the pants?”

Relationship Status Series

As we know, the relationship between the entity (or business) and its consumers has progressed from one-way to two-way communication as a result of the internet and social media use in particular. You could say that when entities and consumers were in their one-way communication relationship that the entity ‘wore the pants’. So this raises an important point, with social media becoming the new intermediary in the relationship… Who wears the pants now?   Continue reading

All publicity = Good publicity, right?

Iron Sword

The world of social media is entirely public, where posts and tweets can be viewed a hundred times over from all corners on this Earth. The more popular a post, the more reach it will receive in the world. Which is great!… But not when your post is gaining less than favourable popularity! Social media is much like a double edged sword. Continue reading

Lest we forget



It’s a conversation we’ve all been a part of and something I’m sure most of us are sick of talking about; the moment when Internet entered the world of PR. Sure, it was a huge deal but are we still really talking about it? Dwelling on the topic, we seem to have forgotten the ‘good ol days’ when people didn’t check Facebook first thing like it was the morning paper. Those days when practitioners didn’t know what a tweet was and would instead rely on traditional communication means like print media.

But despite my cynicism, it is important to realise that we now live in a world where technology is advancing faster than we can keep up with it. Although this means huge things for the industry, it’s important not to forget traditional methods used before the existence of the World Wide Web, and pair this with the demands of today’s consumer.

I’ve already spoken about PR 2.0 and just to refresh, I defined it as the way practitioners personalise stories for the people they want to reach. But alongside relationship building, PR 2.0 is about adaptation and the way practitioners alter past approaches to suit the needs of a modern audience. It’s blending the use of traditional media with social media to gain greater reach and form those key relationships between brand and consumer.

Recognising this concept and its potential for greater reach, search engine giant, Google, released Think Quarterly – a print magazine for the company’s UK business partners. Designed by creative agency, The Church of London (TCOL), Google decided to launch the print medium as a way to offer readers “a breathing space in a busy world”.

As Google moved into new territory, TCOL founder, Danny Miller said, “magazines are simply very effective ways of engaging with people. To the greatest extent, it just seems like common sense to us that any company would want to communicate with people through print.”

Since it’s launch in 2011, Think Quarterly has been a powerful communication tool for Google and an example of how traditional media such as print can still be an effective source of communication and a means to build those important consumer relationships.

As the conversation over the impact of the Internet still drags on, we can’t forget about old school communication in PR. It’s time to begin a new conversation and one that resurrects the use of traditional media, suited for the needs of a modern consumer.

Reference: Breakenridge, D. K. (2008). PR 2.0: New media, new tools, new audiences. FT Press.