Optimism about Journalism

You hear them all the time, public sneers about the journalistic future; ‘Journalism is on its way out’, ‘journalism’s dead’ and ‘citizen journalism is where the future lies’. As a media and communications student, the same opinions echo through the voices of influencers around me, with comments like ‘oh you’re doing journalism subjects, why is that?’ and ‘media and communications hey? You’re not majoring in journalism are you?’ The truth is, I’m not. In fact, those influential voices the widely discussed declining statistics of mainstream media succeeded to turn me off even contemplating it as a major of study.

In an interview with David Carr from The New York Times discussing the future of journalism, he suggests that journalism ‘back in the day’ really wasn’t that great and that the changes that we are seeing due to technology today are all a part of a natural evolution (Boston University 2014). In the same interview, Andy Lack from Bloomberg media suggests that the changes that are occurring due to the rise of digital media should be expected, enjoyed, used and discovered instead of being feared. He even goes as far to say that we are in the ‘golden age of journalism’ due to these advances (Boston University 2014).

So is the future of journalism really looking as bleak as many assume? People are now consuming news their way. We can see by looking at the platform Twitter that keeping up with such behavioural preferences if often at the core of developing successful business plans. Twitter was designed for individuals to send out tweets in a one-way form. However, its users wanted more. They wanted to talk, they wanted to reply to other tweeters and they began using the @ handle to direct their conversation. Twitter incorporated this concept of two-way communication using the @ handle into the very core of its offering and, as a result, it is now one of the most successful social media sites on the planet.

Tom Rosenstiel, Director of the American Press Institute, in a recent TED Talk spoke of new media and user-generated content challenges when stating that ‘what disrupted us will now begin to save us’ (TEDx 2013). He suggests that the notion that people are turning away from the news is simply not true, even though statistics around the decline of traditional media suggest this. News is on demand, but the audiences are now simply online and consuming news very differently.

The journalism landscape is evolving, just as it has done in the past. If journalists can offer news to audiences how they want it, where they want it and when they want it, then success is undoubtedly warranted. People place value in reliable information and trustworthy sources. In the vast sea of information available, if audiences were offered news ‘their way’ from both a novice writer and a respected journalist, then it would be almost certainly assumed that they would choose the journalist. It’s all about keeping up and I believe that we are going to begin to see the most adaptive media corporations begin to prosper once again.

References:

Boston University 2014, NYT’s David Carr on the Future of Journalism, online video, 6 March, Boston University, viewed 17 March 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPlazqH0TdA

TEDx Talks 2013, The Future of Journalism: Tom Rosenstiel at TEDxAtlanta, online video, 28 May, TEDx, viewed 17 March 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuBE_dP900Y

Participatory Journalism: News as Communication at Last

Participatory journalism – citizen journalism – grassroots journalism – call it what you will. These are all terms used to describe the integration of user-generated content into traditional journalistic models and practice. Dominigo et al. (2008) suggest that these new forms are solid competitors for traditional news, and forms that are challenging news journalism’s role and function in society.

Citizen produced content has the ability to deliver new layers to everyday news. Personal anecdotes and moments captured by individuals give us an ‘on the ground’ perspective of news and events and have the ability to engage the network of Internet users fuelled by participatory features and vernacular involvement.

soapbox

When citizen journalism first began to gain momentum in the online arena, it was seen to be a main contender for the demise of news media, as internet users went online to find their news in non-institutional locations, free from political agenda and bias. Instead, we have begun to see the opposite occurring. Over the last few years we have witnessed a gradual transformation of the news that we consume, one that which is redefining news journalism as we know it.

Media institutions are now capitalizing on the user-generated phenomenon and altering their business models and plans accordingly in order to include it. CNN has brought us iReport, a site where any individual can upload photographs, videos, opinion posts and other content in order to share their story and contribute to institutional news. The New York Times has followed suit, having a dedicated section on their online site, as well as a blog and large portion of their Sunday paper dedicated to publishing user-generated opinion pieces (Hall 2013).

What we are seeing is a focus of ‘news as communication’, rather than ‘news as a lecture’ (Domingo et al. 2008), which is a pretty exciting thing for the empowerment of individuals and the enhancement of our news media content.

References: 

Domingo, D, Quandt, T, Heinonen, A, Paulussen, S, Singer, J & Vujnovic, M 2008, ‘Participatory Journalism Practices in the Media and Beyond’, Journalism Practice, vol.2, no.3, pp.326-342.

Hall, T 2013, Op-Ed and You, The New York Times, viewed 2 May 2014.

Are you a journalist?

At this point in time, it’s likely that you’re answering with ‘no’. Traditionally, a journalist is a person who is employed to research, write and report information through means of a mass media channel with the intent of reaching a large audience.

Let me now introduce you to the concept of the citizen journalist. This term has taken off over the past decade as we are witnessing the sheer power of the internet and its participatory framework. Traditional ‘news’ and how we come across it has seen a colossal transformation.

Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis describe this citizen journalism phenomena as, “[t]he act of a citizen, or group of citizens, playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news and information.”

Citizen journalism has played an enormous role in documenting major news around the world. In a previous post, I have discussed its role in the London Bombings. We’ve all seen the dramatic videos from September 11 captured on smart phones and distributed virally. More recently, Syrian activists are revealing their nations unrest via YouTube in a time when the Syrian government has blocked conventional types of journalism. And, more often than not, a large majority of us find out about celebrity death via social media feeds.

The internet has seen an explosion of networks and platforms in which everyone can participate. Users are encouraged and empowered. Specific collective intelligence websites, such as Storify.com, now exist to offer users a new platform on which their journalistic ideas can be not only be written, but collaborated and appreciated.

Now let’s reconsider that opening question…

Have you ever tweeted when stuck in a horrendous traffic jam, warning other drivers to take an alternate route? Ever recorded a video of a malicious fight on a night out and posted it online? Monumentous or not, these are indeed forms of citizen journalism.

Citizen journalists are often ridiculed for their bias, subjectivity and unreliability. Regardless, I believe the uncensored content of this form of journalism powerfully embodies a raw truth and authenticity which no traditional media can successfully offer. No longer are we subject to mass media gatekeepers feeding us only with the news they feel appropriate. The audience has been empowered, and we have a right to choose what we believe is newsworthy.

The Internet Gives Us a Voice

How would you seek out news on this fine Tuesday morning? Perhaps you skim through the daily newspaper whilst sipping your morning coffee, or maybe the 8AM radio news on your commute to university keeps you informed . Both are valuable and somewhat ‘credible’ sources of information. These types of journalism are referred to as monologic media, broadcasting from one to many. They provide you with access to information, but they do so passively. It is because of this that these forms of media are dwindling. They don’t allow us to voice our opinions, and after all, everybody has the desire to be heard.

The internet has seen the rise of dialogic forms of media, from many to many,  and the internet is just that: dialogic by design. It creates something that monologic media doesn’t, the ability for us all to be heard. This has seen the rise of the citizen journalist whereby members of the public actively process, collect, report, analyse and disseminate news and information. Anybody with internet access can broadcast a message via platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs. Consumers have transformed from passively listening to actively communicating.

Janey Gordon (2007) explores the influences of new media in the reporting of three critical situations, one of these situations being the London Bombings of 2005. Gordon states that “those involved or nearby were already giving dynamic accounts from their mobile phones” and that the media and press “used images taken on mobile phones to supplement – and in their terms ‘enhance’ – their coverage of the event” (p. 314). Without citizen journalism, such in-depth accounts of the London Bombings would have been delivered much slower to the public, and information available would have been purely that provided by the police.

Citizen journalism now plays a vital role in the public sphere and the way in which we come across sources of news and information has changed rapidly. The downside to this new era of journalism is that content on the internet passes though weak or non-existent gate-keepers. We are faced with a dilemma – how do we establish the credibility of sources of information in this day and age?

How would you react if a friend tweeted that a tsunami was heading for the east coast of Australia? Would you instantaneously grab your belongings and run for the hills? My guess is probably not. We are given the freedom to participate in the online world and we therefore enlist to understanding that not everything we stumble upon on the internet should be taken at face value.

References:

Gordon, J (2007), ‘The Mobile Phone and the Public Sphere: Mobile Phone Usage in Three Critical Situations’, Convergence, vol.13, no.2, pp307-319