Social Media and the future of journalism

Cardiff Media Blogs

Labour Politician Harold Wilson once said: “He who rejects change is the architect of decay.”

BBC social media trainer, Dr Claire Wardle (@cward1e), told JOMEC post-grads at Cardiff University last week about some of the changes facing Journalism. It certainly seems that if Journalism (especially print journalism) does not change soon, it will begin to decay.

Social media is changing ‘news’ as we know it, bringing a new level of immediacy to the consumer while new technology has blown the traditional economic model of news to shreds.

It allows companies and famous personalities to leap-frog the traditional methods of news transmission. Just take the rise of Youtube, Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook and other online phenomena that have allowed news seekers to obtain what they want to know about directly. I can think of at least one example this week when Dmitri Medvedev and Arnold Schwarzenegger broadcast humorous exchanges on twitter about working out. http://twitpic.com/2wpsuz

Eighty-five per cent of people in the UK have access to the Internet, and have free, unlimited and direct access to news that they want: they can follow their favourite celebrity on twitter or check the stock exchange on an iphone application. As the number of people reading newspapers falls, so does income, and subsequently advertising. The economic model of print media is crumbling.

But does this mean social media eradicates the need for a journalist to interpret what is going on in the world?

Traditionally, the journalist has written stories in a particular house style, often in narrative form, having obtained news from public, official and private sources.

But now, with so many alternative generators of news such as hyperlocal blogs and tweets, one could argue that the modern journalist is just another Internet user, presenting lists of facts wrapped in prose. Some might say the only distinguishing features of journalists are that they write in a prescribed news style for a particular organisation and get paid to do so.

Yet there is still a need for professional journalism.

For a start the internet is chaotic.

Social media does not construct news in an authoritative or organised structure. It is unstructured, unchecked and often unreliable.

Secondly, the immediacy of social media means that people miss out the ‘big picture’ of news if they are not up to date with what has been happening previously.

In a blog about the future of media, Media Consultant Michelle McLellan had this to say:

“Journalists would be better suited by developing skills to fill the information gaps, offering broader perspective and context on the information, and fostering conversation around it.”

Thirdly, social and online media can equip the modern journalist with some extremely powerful tools to educate and involve communities.

In fact, Dr Claire Wardle said that the powers of social media will not drive journalists out of the news production process. Instead, social media can make their jobs easier for connecting people, collating sources and developing interactive news.

So perhaps the most important function of the contemporary journalist is to involve communities in a bigger picture; one that is polyphonic and constantly changing. Journalists can use facebook to find case studies, twitter to collect statements from celebrities or political figures and quote blogs for local news. It involves the same roles as traditional journalism: only now there are more sources available and there is more transparency.

While there are many positives to bring out from the changes in journalism one fundamental question remains:

How can journalists develop profitable models for on-line media to ensure the survival of professional, balanced and transparent news?

What is Social Media? http://slidesha.re/bb1ydV

Vadim Lavrusik on The future of Journalism, Michelle McLellan: http://mashable.com/2010/09/13/future-social-media-journalism/

Claire Wardle http://www.bbc.co.uk/journalism/skills/citizen-journalism/citizen-journalism-guide/social-media-tools.shtml

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