Prepared by the researcher : Dr. Ahmed Makharesh– College of Media and Communication The University of Southern Mississippi-U.S.A.
Democratic Arabic Center
Journal of Afro-Asian Studies : Eighteenth Issue – August 2023
A Periodical International Journal published by the “Democratic Arab Center” Germany – Berlin
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Investigative journalism is considered the voice of citizens and a tool to reveal what is happening in the shadows and bring the accused to justice. This study explores perceptions and experiences around investigative citizens’ journalism as a new concept in Arab media practice. This paper aims to understand further citizen investigative journalism and the ability to make citizens in repressive countries practice investigative reporting. In addition, this paper also seeks to reveal the reasons behind global and local investigative institutions’ interests in investigative citizen journalism generally, particularly in the Arab world. The researcher interviewed three professionals affiliated with well-known international media organizations (Global et al. for Investigative Journalism). The findings indicated that investigative reporting in the Arab world still requires the citizens’ motivation and desire to uncover corruption and find and tell stories that rarely come to the media. Moreover, citizens might better understand the meaning of specific stories and the possibilities for investigating them than traditional journalists. Investigative citizen journalism might also enhance the work environment of nonprofit media organizations in the Arab world. Furthermore, the findings also revealed that Arab citizens could find leak stories, research, and even find proof. Still, they cannot confront the issue the way professional journalists can treat it.
Investigative journalism is essential to local communities because it represents the public and exposes criminal conduct so offenders can be prosecuted (Burgh, 2008). In the Arab world, citizen journalism has gained popularity as a means of avoiding censorship and government regulation (Deen & Pan, 2021). Through social media and blogging, regular people can now contribute news (Ahmad, 2022; Safori et al., 2016). Due to the Arab Spring, investigative reporting became more popular, allowing Arab journalists to focus on it and remove previous media restrictions (Hamdy, 2013). Now that the public and media organizations can undertake investigations, top-notch content is being produced (Alrajhi, 2017; Alzyoud, 2022). Investigative citizen journalism has gained much more significance in the Arab world due to the Arab Spring revolutions (Alrajhi, 2017).
Few studies on investigative journalism have been conducted in the Arab world; those that have are mainly concerned with media producers’ viewpoints and the practice’s evolution, views, and social-political effects (Bebawi, 2016; Alzyoud & Makharesh, 2023; Deen & Pan, 2022; Hamdy, 2013; Makharesh, 2018; Makharesh et al., 2022). Investigative reporting, which includes citizen participation, needs to be investigated, though, as it may alter how data is obtained, reported on, and used. Greater transparency, democratic information access, and elevated public trust can all be attained by involving citizens in the investigating process (Khushaim, 2022). This collaborative paradigm also highlights the challenges and ethical dilemmas, which aids in developing best practices (Deen & Pan, 2022).
This study seeks to characterize citizen investigative journalism in the Arab world. Furthermore, this paper also seeks to look at how global media organizations have influenced citizens to practice investigative reporting. Moreover, this study evaluates any potential effects this new group of citizen investigative journalists may have on the nearest future of professional journalism.
Investigative Citizen Journalism: The Proverbial Rock and the Hard Place:
Investigative reporting has been thoroughly studied, particularly in the United States, where it was initially used. The three cycles of investigative journalism have been identified as the American Revolution, the Progressive Era, and the mid-1960s to mid-1970s (Feldstein, 2006). During the previous phase, which witnessed the establishment of investigative journalism as a unique paradigm, powerful stories included the Pentagon Papers, the My Lai Massacre, and Watergate (Hamdy, 2013).
The creation of organizations like Investigative Journalists and Editors (I.R.E.) and the Global Investigative Journalistic Network (GIJN) has had a global impact (Burgh, 2000; Houston, 2010). Investigative journalism in the Arab world is exemplified by the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ), which uncovers political and other sorts of corruption or controversy (Aucoin, 2005). This critical paradigm was first accepted in Sweden and Western Europe before extending to Latin America and other regions (Burgh, 2000; Houston, 2010; Feldstein, 2006).
There are many different descriptions of investigative journalism from academics and media sources. Investigative journalism focuses on seeking out the truth and bringing important and delicate subjects to light (Aayeshah & Bebawi, 2015; de Burgh, 2008; Ettema & Glassers, 1998; Hunter, 2012). According to De Burgh (2008), the investigative journalist seeks to find the truth while exposing its flaws using every media platform at their disposal. Investigative journalism is defined as critical and in-depth journalism from a European viewpoint by the Dutch-Flemish Association for Investigative Journalism (VVOJ). This study, however, will rely on Bebawi’s (2016) definition of investigative journalism, which is found in the book “Investigative Journalism in the Arab World: Issues and Challenges” and states that it can be seen as a form of reporting that seeks to expose a secret or a matter that someone or some entity wishes to keep hidden from the public (Bebawi, 2016).
Investigative journalism that pursues the truth has democratized society by drawing attention to policies and discourses that are typically disregarded. Its significance extends across various disciplines, such as law, politics, society, culture, and psychology, and it supports democratic government and a liberal political environment (Makharesh et al., 2022). Democracy and investigative journalism have a complex relationship continuously being discussed and negotiated. Journalism provides services that support or protect a representative government, even when it does not directly promote democracy (Alrajhi, 2017).
Citizen Journalism: Changing the Rules of the Process:
Some academics (Allan, 2015; Bock, 2012; Kim & Lowrey, 2015; Nicey, 2016) consider citizen journalists as ordinary people who lack the time, technical know-how, and knowledge to produce compelling news stories, while others see them as unpaid kinds of professional reporters who uphold journalistic standards. Harrison (2010) notes that academics have also noted that citizen journalists are typically regular folks who happen to be present when extraordinary events occur. Dahlgren (2016) emphasizes that there needs to be a consensus on citizen journalism and no shared history in this setting.
According to Rodriguez (2014), one misconception regarding citizen journalists is that they only occasionally contribute and are there when necessary. Nevertheless, this viewpoint misses the reality that some citizen journalists have prior expertise in producing news content. Research on citizen journalism reveals a spectrum of participation, including persons with little prior experience, former journalists, journalism students, and professionals from related professions, such as nonprofit media content creators (Khushaim, 2021). According to Ahva (2017), these authors are in-betweeners, operating in a liminal space between full-time professionals and gullible amateurs who occasionally engage in journalism. Their involvement in citizen journalism can promote community development, public conversation, and personal growth in addition to merely recording occurrences (Ahva, 2017; Kus et al., 2017).
Supporters of citizen journalism claim that it improves the practice of journalism by fostering openness and democracy in the media. In his 2011 post, Jurrat describes how readers can get involved by fact-checking, updating, or adding information to original articles. On websites like Spot.us or Broowaha.com, users can choose which stories to look into and where to publish them. The 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign served as an example of the possibilities of citizen journalism because Current TV and Twitter worked together to enable live sharing of viewer comments and tweets during the debates.
Through citizen commentary, crowdsourcing for more information or fact-checking, and posting content to specialized citizen journalism websites like CNN iReport, mainstream media has promoted the participation of non-professional journalists (Jurrat, 2011).
Investigative journalism has become even more significant in the Arab world due to the political changes that followed the Arab Spring (Makharesh, 2018). Investigative reporting was crucial in exposing the flaws in the functioning of the ousted administrations and regimes. As a result, investigative journalism was practiced more frequently. Investigative reporting tactics have intensified to expose officials’ improper actions and failures on the part of some of the new political elites who came to power due to revolutions and to track the effectiveness of government and community institutions.
Arab citizens have significantly influenced media practices, notably through citizen journalism or public journalism. Citizens are actively involved in this type of journalism as they gather, assess, and post news items online. It attempts to educate individuals on current affairs and give them the tools they need to participate in the media environment. Citizen journalists have been more easily included in different media sources thanks to the growth of media conglomerates and the internet (Goldsmith, 2001; McChesney, 2004; Wall, 2015). Citizens’ worries, suspicions, or interests serve as the driving force behind citizen journalism. With the use of modern technology, citizens now have the chance to contribute to the creation of news stories by using their specialized knowledge and local expertise, both of which are important for investigative citizen journalism (Carr et al., 2014; Fico et al., 2013; Scott et al., 2015).
Citizens’ Contributions and Motives :
The goal of citizen journalism, a new method of producing media, can be slightly different from the goal of traditional journalism, which is to cover the news from a different aspect (Habes et al., 2023; Mahmoud et al., 2023). This novel kind of journalism may be utilized in various ways by various societies. The norms, guidelines, and press ethics rules set for journalists are only sometimes adhered to by this new generation of journalists, who may not even consider themselves journalists (Hamdy, 2009).
A new generation of citizen journalists who cover news ignored by traditional media is now empowered by expanding citizen journalism onto digital platforms, including blogs and independent websites (Habes et al., 2023; Einhorn, 2015; Safori et al., 2023). It significantly impacted how the South Asian tsunami was covered in 2004, with international news outlets emphasizing the participation of locals (Zeng et al., 2019). Regular people can contribute to expert reporting Through various journalistic techniques, including user-generated material (Park, 2017). Eliot Higgins and the Bellingcat Network, which conducts investigations using open source and social media, are two examples of how investigative citizen journalism is rising in prominence worldwide (Global Investigative Journalism Network, 2023).
The idea of citizen journalism is highlighted by instances of regular individuals undertaking investigations worldwide. Using satellite photographs, Chinese law student Shawn Zhang discovered proof of detentions in Xinjiang. A farmer from Guatemala named Rodrigo Tot amassed evidence of his ownership of the land and was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize (Global Investigative Journalism Network, 2023).
The Global Investigative Journalism Network highlights that a broader range of citizens, who now have more capacity to disrupt their communities through technology, are considered citizen investigators—investigative citizen journalism benefits from the accessibility of online public data. Key advantages include motivation and local or specialized knowledge. Examples include Elis Pacheco, a marketing manager, who assisted in arresting a culprit by identifying them through internet sharing. The contributions of ordinary citizens in sending tips, photographs, videos, and comments from remote areas have been highlighted by media outlets (Global Investigative Journalism Network, 2023).
RQ1) What are the reasons for having investigative citizen reporters, generally and particularly in the Arab world?
RQ2) How can citizens become investigative reporters?
RQ3) How does the outlook of professional journalists appear after having well-skilled citizens act as investigative reporters?
Three participants regarded as experts on investigative reporting were explicitly recruited for this qualitative study using purposive sampling. These persons collectively provide a plethora of professional skills. Three journalists were chosen because they had representative and cumulative sets of experience in investigative reporting, notably in the Arab East (see Creswell, 2016). This study is based on their experiences. As a result, individuals contribute thoughtfully and significantly to this study, which focuses on the Arab region, by sharing their ideas and experiences.
As previously said, the three individuals who were chosen to participate in this study have a variety of cumulative experiences and have dedicated their professional careers to investigative and citizen journalism, particularly in the Arab world. Three interviews with these informants were undertaken to accomplish this study’s objectives. The researcher interviewed three carefully chosen media experts. Purposive sampling is used in this study because it enables the deliberate selection of a population that closely matches the phenomenon or topic being studied (Creswell, 2016). Due to their combined experience, which places them at the top of the most inspired and well-known media academics in the investigative area, particularly in the Arab world, the researcher carefully chose this group of three professional media scholars. However, all respondents had to be active, current investigative journalists to guarantee the data’s accuracy. Respondents must also have extensive investigation experience and have carried out similar tasks in the Arab world.
- Informant #1, Mark Lee Hunter, is an accomplished journalist specializing in investigative reporting from the United States. He collaborated on an international curriculum with Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) and was a pivotal contributor to the book “Story-Based Inquiry.” In this investigation, Hunter has been assigned the code (M.H.).
- Informant #2, A media consultant and filmmaker with experience in internet storytelling, Rawan Damen. She is currently the C.E.O. of ARIJ and has won accolades for her T.V. shows and documentaries. Damen has been coded as (R.D.).
- Informant #3, Eliot Higgins, is A British investigative journalist with a reputation for using open sources and social media. He founded Bellingcat, a free multinational collective that conducts investigations using open-source software and social media. Damen has been coded as (E.H.)
Interview Guide and Instrument:
The researcher and the informants found great use in the email interview guide. The researcher examines the perspectives of three participants who prefer online interviews over in-person ones because they are difficult to reach or live a long way apart. Since the early 1990s, detailed email interviews have been done successfully (see Meho, 2006; Murray, 1995–1996).
The researcher conducted online conversations with potential participants to enlist informants for their research on investigative citizen journalism. They were successful in doing so because of the participants’ enthusiasm for the subject. The University of Southern Mississippi’s Institutional Review Board (I.R.B.) gave its clearance before the researcher were able to recruit participants directly and share the consent form and research questions in two PDF documents. Open-ended questioning techniques were used to ask the informants the questions at their convenience. To achieve the goals of the study, a semi-structured procedure containing open-ended questions was developed (See Appendix A).
Through their professional emails and the author’s official email, the informants of this study responded to the paper’s queries. Each participant responded to the questions in a separate email from the researcher. After receiving the responses, the researcher carefully analyzed each to find the main themes and commonalities among the three participants’ responses. The researcher received every response and saved it as an official transcript. After collecting the participants ‘ responses, the researcher found several common themes in the three responses.
Participants M.H., R.D., and E.H. first received and returned the research questions and consent forms. After analyzing the data, four major themes emerged: professionalism, facts verification, serious risks, and citizens’ participation.
With a focus on the rising trend of Arab citizens pursuing investigative journalism, particularly in crisis zones, and their interactions with international media organizations, this study seeks to define and examine citizen investigative journalism in the Arab world. Additionally, it looks into why local and international investigative institutions are interested in citizen journalism, particularly in the Arab world. This study also looks at how this new generation of citizen investigative journalists may affect the development of professional journalism in the future. As shown in Figure 1, the analysis of the participants’ replies indicates four significant themes: professionalism, fact-checking, substantial hazards, and citizen participation. All participants agree that investigative citizen journalism benefits the work of independent journalists and professional media outlets, especially in authoritarian nations.
Figure (1). Four Key Themes Identified in the Study.
The research question of why investigative citizen reporters exist, both in general and specifically in the Arab world, yielded two themes: “Professionalism” and “Facts Verification.” Informants emphasized the significance of verifying facts in investigative journalism, uncovering hidden information in complex situations. The professionalism theme illustrated the value of moral behavior and how technology and political unrest enable public involvement. Although the public has more access to knowledge, upholding morality and professionalism in front of a broader audience can take time and effort.
The informants claim that creating a global network of open-source investigators has allowed residents of oppressed nations to provide important information while maintaining their anonymity, which is advantageous to professional journalists.
Regarding the second research question, the informants emphasize that citizens can engage in the field of investigation with proper mentoring and effort. However, M.H. cautions that self-proclaimed citizen investigators may need the necessary skills and highlight the importance of proper training. Meanwhile, R.D. agrees that regular people can be sources for investigative journalists but emphasizes the constraints they confront without the assistance and procedures available to experts.
In a time of false information, citizens face difficulties with fact-checking and verification. However, E.H. underlines the teamwork in citizen journalism, where people with specialized knowledge and access to communities can check into stories that professional journalists might pass over. Additionally, commercial and financial constraints have less of an impact on citizen journalists.
The third research question of this paper explores the outlook of professional journalists when well-skilled citizens act as investigative reporters, with the theme of “serious risks” emerging. M.H. highlights the limitations of the news industry and acknowledges that knowledgeable citizens can contribute to investigations. When people challenge police enforcement or criminals, they risk being imprisoned, tortured, or even killed. In this regard, R.D. argues that citizens need more influence and scope from professional journalists when developing, disseminating, and translating stories.
They might need more fortitude to handle the dangers and stresses involved. E.H., on the other hand, respects citizen scientists and is particularly grateful for the value of online open-source studies that have impacted significant media organizations. Public participation can boost local activists and journalists while posing risks, such as being watched, jailed, or the target of a target.
Due to the atmosphere of investigative work in crisis zones, such as during the Arab Spring upheavals, investigative citizen journalism has become a crucial media technique in the Arab world (Alrajhi, 2017). Technology improvements have made it easier for citizens to participate in media production by giving them the ability to produce news (Scott et al., 2015). A practical example of investigative citizen journalism in the Arab world is Eliot Higgins’ experience in Syria.
People have used blogging technology to get around censorship and add to the media landscape despite strict state control of the media (Hamdy, 2009). Investigative journalism is fueled by the desire of the public to expose corruption and share undiscovered tales. According to the informants of this study, while citizens may have distinctive viewpoints and understandings of particular stories, professional journalists also play a crucial role in identifying issues that citizens may need to be made aware of. Additionally, obstacles like official repression and the difficulty of fact-checking information place restrictions on citizen investigative journalism. Nevertheless, investigative citizen journalism can improve the working conditions for nonprofit media organizations in the Arab world and the general state of journalism.
Anyone with the ambition and desire to expose corruption and share untold stories can become an investigator. Arab residents have turned to blog technology to get around censorship and participate in media activities in a region where media is strictly regulated (Hamdy, 2009). According to research informants, Citizens have access to various fields, the ability to distinguish right from wrong, recognize wrongdoers, and the capacity to gather evidence for reporting. Additionally, they frequently outperform traditional journalists in understanding specific stories and the possibility for inquiry (Hamdy, 2009).
The interaction between investigative citizen journalism in the Arab world and major international media organizations is examined in this qualitative study, particularly in war zones. The study aims to comprehend the driving forces behind citizen involvement in investigative journalism and how it affects professional journalism. The main conclusions of this study demonstrated that investigative citizen journalism is the riskiest type of journalism that exposes readers to public issues and concentrates on in-depth research into specific subjects, typically centered on crime and other wrongdoing. Investigative citizen journalism also helps independent journalists and professional media outlets improve their job, particularly in oppressive nations. The research shows that investigative citizen journalism entails in-depth inquiries into crime and wrongdoing, assisting established media institutions in oppressive nations. However, the study concede that citizen journalists have less access to resources and organized processes than professional journalists. Although hazards and restrictions brought on by government repression are often acknowledged, official errors and corruption are among the motivations for citizen inquiries.
The contemporary trend of investigative citizen journalism, notably in Arab countries, has been thoroughly investigated in this paper. Like other studies, this one had some restrictions. Face-to-face interviews with participants, which would have allowed for lengthier talks and, consequently, more information about the subject, were impossible due to restrictions. Due to the lack of research on the subject in the Arab world and its recent emergence, the researcher also had trouble locating literature on investigative citizen journalism.
- How would you define investigative journalism?
- What are the needs for citizens to become investigative journalists?
- How did social, cultural, and political factors shape the formation of the concept of citizen investigative journalism in the Arab world?
- How is citizen investigative journalism practice different from investigative reporting by professional journalists in the Arab world?
- How can citizen investigative journalism explore new and hidden issues?
- How easy is it for citizens to investigate new and hidden issues?
- What are the positive/negative impacts of investigative citizen journalism?
- Will citizens in the Arab world face any risks or negative impacts in their lives as investigative journalists? How?
- What difficulties might citizen investigative journalism face and expose in the Arab world?
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