There have been assumptions throughout the media and popular culture that news and professional journalism should be the only, or primary, source of news and public discourse, and that fictional, entertainment, or amateur sources of news or authority must be distrusted and cannot provide valuable narration of current debate.
But the net begs to differ.
The burgeoning features of Internet culture, such as social media, and the digitization of traditional media means that the journalistic paradigm will either have to adapt or die. Not only do journalists and ‘the media’ as a whole have to understand that civil, social and entertainment media cannot be ignored, but they have to understand that without “opening the gates” (1) to ‘outsiders’ and comprehending the full power of the ‘collective intelligence’ (2) that the internet facilitates, citizen journalists will begin to simply circumvent traditional media. With the full muscle of the giant wealth of knowledge that is collected via new technology such as blogs and social media enabling civil media, do we really need the highly limited networks of traditional news rooms out there, claiming to know all when they only know a little? (2)
Before web 2.0, I must say, there could not have been as much merit assigned to citizen journalism/civil media, because we did not have the resources at our disposal to maintain an enduring, reliable news presence. However, now that there are much better tools at our disposal, such as smartphones with increasingly advanced video and sound recording ability, and new distribution tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, the standard and range of civil media that one can now find is much wider. I myself find using twitter to subscribe to news channels which keep up a regular log of immediate, breaking news on a range of topics much more reliable, consistent and interesting than I find traditional print and television based news sources.
New media harnesses a potential that allows civil media to report on situations where a traditional news network cannot, or will not, go, such as in the case of an anonymous figure linked to Al Jazeera being able to film a documentary on the conflict in Syria using his Iphone. This 25 minute documentary displays how sometimes the shaky, amateur initiative of one civilian can give a much more authentic, politically valuable perspective on an extremely delicate situation, than say, Channel 9 or The Sydney Morning Herald are capable of giving.
I think that the deinstitutionalisation of news and media in general questions the role that the ‘media’ has had in shaping our assumption of what is right and wrong, and who can dictate those moral cues in society. We are moving away from the ‘hypodermic needle’ model, where information comes from news reporters’ mouths and is injected into our bloodstream with no room for discourse and debate (3). Now we have the technological tools to find other interpretations of news and debate. Information and moral debate can now come from many unexpected places, such as from Lupe Fiasco (e.g. Words I Never Said ft. Skylar Grey) and Snob Scrilla (e.g. Houston and Alienation), young rappers who discuss political, religious and cultural controversy, encouraging understanding and passion within the younger generation.
The value of traditional journalism really has been undermined by the opportunities that new technology has brought to civil media. However, I don’t think that we can have a news media which is entirely composed of citizen journalists, because there needs to be an even range of impassioned voices, not just a few which are sensationalised by Twitter trends or Facebook statuses. Ultimately, I believe that there should be a balance between civil media, mainstream media and entertainment channels, because when a balance is maintained, they can hold each other accountable and effectively improve the media as a whole.
1. Lewis, S. C, Kaufhold, K & Lasorsa, D. L. 2010 ‘Thinking about citizen journalism: the philosophical and practical challenges of user-generated content for community newspapers’, Journalism Practice, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp163-179, accessed 30/04/12.
2. O’Donnell, M 2012 Citizen journalism, lecture, BCM112, Convergent Media Practices, University of Wollongong, delivered 30 April.
3. Turnbull, S 2012 Media Mythbusting: ‘Television Makes You Fat‘, lecture, BCM110, Introduction to Communications and Media Studies, University of Wollongong, delivered 24 April.