Imagine all negative arguments about the future of journalism and the discussion of journalism being a dying profession turn into reality.
Imagine there are no mainstream news sites anymore.
Imagine everybody would get information solely through Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.
Imagine everyone is a reporter.
Imagine there are no journalists.
Some social media fanatics and citizen journalism advocates may say: “Who cares? We can do the same and in some cases even better.”
I mean, given the emerging possibilities for ordinary citizens to be first hand reporters on the scene, uploading photos, videos and first-hand accounts of mainly breaking news events, often even far in advance from professional journalists, like also Chris Measures points out, one could seriously question the necessity for journalists in a lot of cases.
Anyone with a smartphone and a Twitter account can do it, right?
Take examples such as the Boston Marathon Bombing, Hurricane Katrina and also the Arab Spring. Here, ordinary citizens played key roles in distributing information and news content. Leaving professional journalists look obsolete while their gatekeeping function has been bypassed. Dhirahj Murthy discusses these developments in great detail in his recent book about Twitter.
Or if we take a look on social media consultant Joseph D. Lasica, who states in his article, that ordinary bloggers receive sometimes even more trust than mainstream news organisations because we know who they are, while mainstream news organisations are impersonal big institutions. While he refers to Mary Hodder, a product manager at Technorati, four reasons for trusting bloggers over reporters are highlighted.
- Bloggers are niche experts, who can have an in-depth knowledge of an issue in comparison to journalists, who try to get the whole world.
- Transparency in their motives, as they are open about their potential biases or angles when writing
- Transparency in their processes, as they always link to their sources in order to increase their own authority
- Forthrightness about mistakes, as bloggers do mistakes they often correct their posting and take responsibility, which is often not done by newspapers and TV news.
So does that mean that citizens have become the new provider of information?
And that journalists are only left to re-tell and analyse what has already been said?
Not exactly, I would say.
These claims are quite dramatic and highly questionable and I doubt that it would come that far.
Within this dystopian world, people would not be able to manage the vast amount of unfiltered and unchecked information.
Here, Hayes and his colleagues (2007) make a good point as they say that:
“Information in and of itself is not necessarily valuable. Instead, the value of information derives from the values of those who create it.”
So while news content might already be out there before a professional journalist could cover it, the public still relies on the confirmation and reassurance of a credible source, such as a mainstream news organization. We can observe this also when we look on Twitter. In most of the cases, as Lasica also points out, people re-tweet news items through mainstream news organisation with a reputation for reliability. Also Hayes and colleagues (2007) conclude that the values of authenticity, accountability and autonomy, are still valid in today’s news world.
But that does not mean that everything will stay the same. As van der Haak and colleagues sum up in their article about “networked journalism”, the roles of journalists have to change and adapt to this new environment.
While a lot has already been written about the changing roles of professional journalist in this digital era, what I don’t want to repeat, I think that Jeff Jarvis made a good point in his article on the Guardian’s website. He highlights the journalists’ new role “to link”. That means, besides curating and moderating what’s out there and utilizing citizens’ content, a crucial role for journalists will be to link to other information and facts around a specific topic, especially around breaking news events, which hasn’t been covered yet in that particular way; instead of just sending out the 100th reporter to a scene and covering what has already been covered.
By doing that, journalists are able to stand out again, he argues.
Quite a good thought, I guess. What do you think?
To sum up this issue, here’s a funny pic I found:
Hayes, AS, Singer, JB, and Ceppos, J 2007, ‘Shifting Roles, Enduring Values: The Credible Journalist in the Digital Age’, Journal of Mass Media Ethics, vol.22, no.4, pp. 262-279.
- The Journalist formerly known as the media: My advice to the next generation (pressthink.org)
- 9 Breaking News Tweets That Changed Twitter Forever (mashable.com)
- Why journalists should break news on Twitter: lost monopoly and the collision of worlds (nextlevelofnews.com)
While “googling” a bit about Google and its immense and seemingly endless information storage, I found this quite impressive graphic by Tom Gara, a journalist at the Wall Street Journal. He ran a little experiment as he looked on his google.com/dashboard. He found that while using Gmail or being logged in on any other Google service, Google stores all websites you have visited.
As a result, the graphic shows all data and information Google has on Tom Gara:
- Google: Gmail Users Should Not Expect Privacy (pickmta.wordpress.com)
- How to stop Google using your face in advertisements (wired.co.uk)
… the search engine of the world
… the gate to boundaryless information
… the emergency helper we turn to if we don’t know anything
… the organizer of the world wide web
… the solver of our problems
Google has taken over the above-mentioned, and probably even much more, roles in the life of most of us. It has become the world’s most popular search engine by far, as Danny Sullivan points out while referring to comscore.com data. With, for example, more than 114.7 billion searches in December 2012, Google owned 65,2% of all worldwide searches. Below you can see Google’s dominance over the last months of 2012 in comparison to its biggest competitors. (“Others” are searches happened on search engines, which don’t belong to the big five).
This shows us definitely that Google apparently plays a big role.
Google has become a friend to most of us. Helping us out whenever, wherever we need it.
This, rather funny and ironic Youtube video, illustrates the role of Google nowadays quite well, I think:
Nicolas Carr also highlights in his highly critical article in the magazine “The Atlantic” that the Internet, respectively Google, has become a universal medium for all information that flows through our eyes and our ears into our brains.
It is probably even our best friend, as we apparently share our deepest and most intimate thoughts and questions with that little search bar underneath the colourful letters. Most of us, use it daily, hourly, minutely, at home, on the go, at work, on holidays…
Speaking of myself, I would say that no single day passes on which I didn’t ask Google something or look for some information on Google. Most of the time my searches are about the weather, locations/maps or information about leisure activities, such as bars or restaurants.
But how far did we come already? Do we pass all “thinking” on to Google?
It’s true, some people, including me, often type really dump or irrelevant questions into Google, for which we, at least most of the time, already know that Google might not be able to provide us with a reasonable answer. However, we still catch ourselves at typing it into Google’s search bar. The following picture of the ‘suggested search terms’ when typing in “why” illustrates that pretty well:
It seems to me that typing questions (stupid or not) into the Google bar has become an automated process, in which we don’t really think in advance whether Google might be able to answer reasonably or not. We just wait what’s happening.
I mean who hasn’t googled “Google” at least once?
We don’t even try to think of a solution by ourselves or try to remember something, as Google is mostly only a short click away on our computer or mobile device, it’s the first thing we do: Google it.
Likewise, a very interesting study of the Columbia University in 2011 found that our memory works differently in times of Google. According to lead researcher Bettsy Sparrow, we have reorganized the way we remember things as we forget or not even try to remember things we are confident we can find on the Internet/Google.
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing because search engines in general have made our lives much easier and convenient in a lot of cases, but I am wondering if we loose a bit of our brain capacity as we seemingly not even try anymore to think for ourselves as “Google will do so”.
In addition to that, I have the feeling that we are also less and less able to digest rather longer and extensive information as we are used to skipping through rather short bits and pieces of Google’s search result. By doing that, always looking for the easiest and shortest way to answer our question or search. Here, Nicolas Carr has some good points. While refering to media theorist Marshal McLuhan, Carr states that the media not only supply the stuff of thought, but that they also shape the process of thought. This means that we nowadays expect to take information in a rather “swiftly moving stream of particles”. – Thanks to Google.
So should we be concerned now?
Google makes us in a lot of cases smarter as we easily can learn about new things and get the information we want and need, BUT it one could say that it makes us to a certain amount a bit more stupid as we apparently pass some brain activity on to Google, while relying on its immense information capacity and accessibility.
Here’s a little test (not yet scientifically proven) to check to what extent Google has already captured YOU:
- Am I getting stupider? (redheadedrhetor.wordpress.com)
- Is Google Making us Stupid? (ledzeppelin20512.wordpress.com)
- Google Hummingbird and SEO (konnectingu.com)
- Do we blame Google, or do we blame Stupid? (dr501.wordpress.com)