News from the Crowd: Grassroots and Collaborative Journalism in the Digital Age

@SNOW/WWW, 2014, by Jochen Spangenberg, Nicolaus Heise

Information content provided by members of the general public via Social Networks such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, to name but a few, is playing an ever-increasing role in the detection, production and distribution of news. “Ordinary citizens” (by this we mean non-professional journalists) can be more actively involved in the production and distribution of news, in particular because of the availability of

  • affordable portable devices (especially smartphones) that allow for the capturing of information in an audiovisual format;
  • Internet access almost anytime and anywhere (mobile and stationary), more and more of it provided at high speeds;
  • platforms with networking capabilities (especially Social Networks) that allow for the sharing of content and the fast spreading of information to potentially millions of people

News organizations and information content providers, in turn, can not neglect these developments. Their former “gatekeeper” functions have been challenged profoundly: no longer can only a selected few decide what is in the public interest or can be exploited commercially.

In our paper, we will take a closer look at two new forms of audience involvement and the impacts this has on news and information production. We label these concepts (1) grassroots journalism and (2) collaborative journalism. For our purpose, grassroots journalism is defined as the collection, dissemination and analysis of news and information by the general public, especially by means of the Internet. Collaborative journalism, in turn, labels ways in which media organizations and professional journalists involve external parties in the production of information, thereby making audience contributions part of the storytelling process or the story itself.

Our investigations have shown that while there are a variety of areas that require further detailed investigations, grassroots and collaborative journalism will continue to grow. It can be expected that accelerating technological developments, audience’s eagerness to “get involved” and increasing Internet access will motivate even more people to participate in the process of news gathering and information dissemination. At the same time, further strategies that meet the emerging challenges need to be developed in order to maintain (or improve) the quality of grassroots/collaborative news coverage: All this is of great importance for the prospering of the media landscape as a whole, and thereby the functioning of democratic societies.

This work has been supported by the European Commission under the EC co-funded projects SocialSensor (FP7-ICT-2011-7-287975, and REVEAL (FP7-ICT-2013-10-610928,

For a more elaborate investigation please consult our position paper entitled: “News from the Crowd: Grassroots and Collaborative Journalism in the Digital Age” by Jochen Spangenberg and Nicolaus Heise, Second Workshop on Social News on the Web @ WWW ’14 (SNOW 2014), Seoul, Korea, April 2014.

Please note: The views and findings presented here and in the position paper are those of the named authors. They are not necessarily identical with those of Deutsche Welle or SocialSensor / REVEAL project partners, nor do they in any way represent the views of the European Commission.