Image by SuHyeon Choi - a hand holds a phone above a crowd

Using citizen journalism

An interview with Hannan Majid from Rainbow Collective – a documentary production company that uses film as a tool for social change.

What is citizen journalism?

Citizen journalism is when you use tools that you have to hand: for example a smartphone, tablet or digital camera to record and report your own news.

How does it work?

Usually if you wanted to bring attention to an issue or a campaign, you would have to contact the local news, wait for their team to visit and you would need to fit into their agenda. Whereas with citizen journalism the control is entirely with you and your community.

This makes the reporting more authentic because it comes directly from the people who are affected.

How is it useful?

Citizen journalism has become prominent over the last few years because of social media. This has made it possible for you to be able to share your own images and videos with millions of people around the globe. During the Grenfell fire, it was people’s phone footage that played a vital part in reporting what was going on at the time. This was then used by the fire service, news media and in the Inquiry.

What’s really important is it’s unfiltered, it doesn’t have the same spin or edits that you would get with news broadcasters.

Other examples include the Black Lives Matter movement – phone recordings have played a vital part in documenting police brutality. This demonstrates the power that your own phone footage can have.

How can this be applied to my housing issue?

If you are able to document any problems in your home or building, this begins building a body of evidence. The priority is to record these issues to use them as proof.  Interviews with affected residents can also help contextualise the problem to give it more depth. 

Here’s an example

Do I need any special skills?

No. As long as you can use a mobile phone camera you should be able to capture images or produce a video. Though there are a few tips and rules to getting a good video and interview.

1. Make sure your phone is recording in full resolution (1920×1080 HD).

If you have an iPhone, this will be the default. If you have Android then low resolution (720×576) is the default. In the Android camera app, go into video mode, press the menu button and set quality to 1920×1080 (some phones will call it 1080p)

2. If possible, get someone else to film you so you can concentrate on delivering your lines to camera.

3. Film in LANDSCAPE format. This means holding your phone sideways, rather than upright — unless you’re planning to publish only on ‘portrait oriented’ mobile places like Instagram Stories or Facebook Stories.

4.  Do not film towards a window or light source. Make sure light from a window or lamp is shining towards the interviewee, not towards the camera. If you film against a window or lamp, the interviewee will be blacked out and silhouetted.

5. Don’t film yourself right up against a blank wall. Try and have space behind you, perhaps with some kind of interest in the background like a plant or mural.

6. Turn off radio, TV or any other background noise.

7. Allow five seconds of silence after pressing record, before you speak. Allow five seconds of silence after you finish before pressing stop.

If you would like to learn more in depth skills and interview techniques. Rainbow Collective has produced a workbook, which is available to download here:

What do I do with the footage?

You want to be able to upload your images and videos onto multiple social media platforms for example Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Instagram. Whilst posting, keep a few things in mind:

  • A campaign video shouldn’t be more than a few minutes in length, to keep the attention of people who are browsing. 
  • Most social media platforms have a maximum limit to the length of video you can upload. For example, Twitter has a 2 minute 20 second limit. Instagram has a 1 minute limit and YouTube has a 10 minute maximum limit per video for new users.
  • Make sure you include relevant information in the captions or the body of text that you attach to your videos, such as the name of your estate.
  • Consider ‘tagging in’ relevant bodies like your landlord, eg @HartwishamCouncil. Make a note of what their account name is, and think carefully about whether to include it to get their attention and to shame them into action.
  • You could use hashtags: these are commonly used on Instagram and Twitter and help index various search topics, for example #housing or #mould.
  • Ensure your post is set to ‘public’ so that others can view and share it.

Twitter example

What can I expect from sharing images or videos in this way?

On rare occasions images and video go ‘viral’ – meaning they will get thousands of views and shares, but most don’t go viral.

A successful piece of citizens journalism raises awareness of an issue and gains the support of people who are able to help the campaign and start building networks. The purpose is ultimately to reach people and to grow support. If you can get just one more person to support your campaign then that is a success. It’s also important that the evidence is there in the public domain, as a record.

Further examples

A few examples of citizen journalism being used in various campaigns