Dangers to news reporting?

13 11 2013

This recent opinion post in The Australian titled “Lost in the Twitterverse” calls to mind the challenges of a world that can ‘talk back’ to media outlets, policy makers and politicians.

The author states that:

This mad plunge into social media-driven journalism would be mildly diverting if it wasn’t so dangerous to the future of news reporting. Hard-core media values – truth, accuracy, fairness, balance, perspective, objectivity – are being lost at precisely the wrong time, as the news media faces the challenges of falling revenue, distracted audiences and a loss of skilled practitioners. For newspapers, the danger is that many are abandoning their core mission in a democracy, bounding towards meaningless info-tainment and fleeting fashions.

What the author misses, is the fact that publics (the general public, advocacy groups, community groups) have always used any available means to comment about events and to ‘fact check’ information. In Goya’s day it was with illustrations. Where online ‘citizen journalism’ really took hold was in activist spheres, usually as a direct attempt to correct untruths and omissions made by news reports. There are many examples to refer to – refugee activism in Australia, the Arab spring, the  #occupy movement, Anonymous, Gezi Park, and, of course the big precursor to these events/actions – the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999.

A couple of years ago, I went to a Media140 event in Canberra and was quite amused at how journalists were trying to claim authority over social media tools, especially Twitter, as if they were gatekeepers to authoritative information. The truth is, they came late to the conversation and have been behind the game ever since.

I am not disputing other points in this post about journalists needing to connect with local communities face-to-face, that should be a given. For example, the author states:

Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are wonderful tools for journalists and the industry as a whole in terms of marketing. They can be used to promote stories, maintain contacts with readers and pass the time on the bus for those with short attention spans. But social media is neither a substitute for reporting nor a reflection of what is important in our democracy. Those reporters who inhabit Twitter – we can think of a legion at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald – rather than getting out into the suburbs of our great cities and towns invariably get the pulse of the nation completely wrong. It’s a path to ruin.

Perhaps. Or maybe it is time for journalists to look at how communities use these tools, and why.  It is clear that connecting with local communities is what many advocacy groups do very well. One only has to look at the Bring David Hicks Home campaign on GetUp to see how grass roots community activism can illicit changes in attitudes and policy. It is worth stating too, that these activities are not designed as forms of journalism, they are designed to get the attention of journalists and policy decision makers to effect the desired changes.

People who source news online want credible and reliable information, which is why many people are looking further than the local newspaper to augment their knowledge of a topic. The real danger to news reporting is continuing to ignore the capability of Joe Average of being able to decipher what is ‘news’. Also social media ‘news gathering’ and citizen reporting is about the transparency of the information – making it more accessible and open.

Something this anonymous author fails to get.

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