ok. I needed a catchy title for this post, and yes, I do not think that journalism is dead, but I do think that most journalists will be, if they do not understand what is going on in this new connected world. I will proceed gradually. If you are a journalists and you agree with all of the statements listed here, then yes, your job is dead and you should think about finding another job.
1. Journalists are the gatekeepers of information. No they are aren’t anymore. Today I gather most of the information I need simply by using twitter and facebook, or, if I am looking for some specific technical informations, I look for blogs written by experts in the area. Information’s landscape today goes much beyond journalists and traditional media, since everyone can reach everyone at any time, independently form their physical location. This is not valid only because of the internet, but also because of mobile phones.
2. Journalists are the one that have access to information before anyone else. Again, this was valid before, because journalists could get access to place and information much easier than others, but also because an information needed to pass from eyewitnesses through them to get out. Today eyewitnesses get information out before they even talk to a journalist: they tweet it, they facebook it, they blog it, they text it. For this same reason the meaning of “Breaking News” is becoming blurry and definitely not part of the “journalist” jargon anymore.
3. Journalists are the only one that can push information out more then anyone else. Again not true anymore. it is till true that probably there is not blogger that has as much readers than the New York Times or the Guardian, but the aggregated number of bloggers, twitter accounts or facebook pages that can push information out will always be higher than a single media outlet.
So what is the role of journalists? Is journalism really dead?
I was lucky enough to participate and moderate a panel titled “Verifying Crowdsourced Information – Journalists as Curators” and featured Matthew Eltringham, Founding Editor of the BBC UGC Hub, Erik van Heeswijk, Digital Editor-in-Chief of VPRO, David Clinch, Editorial Director of Storyful, and Charlie Beckett, Director of LSE Polis. The panel was indeed an incredible discussion on how user generated content can be and is indeed used both by traditional news outlets such as the BBC or by new typology of media initiatives like Storyful.
What emerged in this panel was the extreme importance of context and analysis as well as the value that traditional journalisms has in terms of the ability to apply traditional media tecnics, like investigative jounralisms, to new media . In this context all panelists agreed that the rise of social media is an opportunity for journalists to turn user generated content into high quality news sources. But this also require traditional media to accept the new important role that social media is playing in today’s information landscape and the new role that journalists need to create for themselves.
A couple of months ago in a lecture given by Ethan Zuckermann in Nairobi, I asked him how to handle the difficult relationship in between traditional media and social media actors. Zuckermann replied back by saying that there should be no real difficulty and that the both actors needs to accept that they are now covering both tasks: journalists needs to be also social medi actors as well as social media actors needs also to realized that they are performing journalism tasks. The video of his presentation is here and I really suggest you to watch it!
Of course the usual argument used by traditional media stating that there is not such a thing as citizens journalism, since journalists are the only one that can do in-depth verification and analysis is not valid anymore. Looking at this very interesting article on the use of Twitter during the hurricane Sandy, it seems that “the crowd” itself is getting very close to elaborate spontaneous ways to verify information.
Looking at studies like this one on the spreading or rumors on Twitter, we can already identify ways in which “influential sources: on Twitter manage to spread counter- rumors in a timely manner. This specific study does also highlight how incredibly important the roles of journalists is in the sphere of social media. I had the pleasure to listen to a presentation done by Farida Vis, Research Fellow in the Social Sciences, Information School at the University of Sheffield, UK (@flygirltwo) on her study about the use of Twitter during the London Riots and 2 points she made were very interesting to me:
- The crowd on social media seems to still trust more than anything else traditional journalists and media, as shown in this graph:
- the use of less sophisticated content (like videos taken with the mobile phones) did not only not affect the user experience, according to the number of users accessing an using it, but increased the physical security of the journalists on the ground
To conclude, this is what I think is the situation right now:
1. Traditional Journalism will still exists as long as journalists will understand that they have no choice in embracing social media and the technology revolution.
2. The added value of journalism, being it in the creation and implementation of verification technics or the reliability of their voice as opposed to the noise of the crowd need to be created and demonstrated, it will not be given for granted forever.
3. There is not such a things as citizens journalism as opposed to “traditional” journalism There is journalism, and it both a new and an old concept that needs to be continuously adapting to the change in the reality of information systems.
4. Tools like Storyful and the BBC User Generated Content Hub are demonstrating that journalisms is not really changing, it is doing the same things it was doing before but in new ways. The skills and the knowledge are there, we only need the will.