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)