Journalism largely consists in saying “Lord Jones is dead” to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive – G.K. Chesterton

There used to be a layer between traditional media and citizen journalism, in that people would ring into radio shows with their stories or contact newsrooms about an event and journalists would ultimately decide whether the story would see light of day.

However citizen journalism and traditional media are now coexisting side-by-side. Stories which traditionally would not have been picked up by mainstream media, such as the Sony DRM scandal earlier this year, have taken on a life of their own and spread like wildfire across the Internet. In Ireland we’re beginning to see the signs of this as activists such as Patients Together begin to become more organised. As a result activists’ stories are beginning to get picked up by the press much faster.

At the end of the day the public have always been the source of the media’s stories. However a level of arrogance seems to have developed in media circles about the public’s role in journalism. Niall Cook hits the nail on the head with two of his posts. Firstly he points out the Times’ opinion of bloggers, who called them “unsophisticated, prejudiced, conspiracy-obsessed, hyperinflated and plain wrong.” I might be some of those things, but talk about a sweeping statement! Working in PR, we’ve said that about a few journalists also :D

However, it’s his follow-up post that really drives home my point. Cook quotes an article in the latest Nieman Reports which states “The main difference between traditional journalism and citizen journalism is that traditional journalists are sent out to cover things they don’t really care about… But a citizen journalist is not out to cover something, but to share it.” It’s the emotion felt by activists that gets their story across the line.

A traditional journalist’s job is to give us a balanced account of the story. They don’t make the news, they report it. A citizen journalist’s job is to share their view of the world with us. Thanks to tools like blogs and podcasts, it’s much easier for them to do that.

The public have always been the media’s source of information. Previously, they had only been able to pass on that information to journalists who would decide what was newsworthy. Now individuals can share their stories with the world and the wider public can decide what’s newsworthy or not. Importantly, a story which only appeals to a small section of society is now able to be communicated to that section much easier than before.

Niall Cook links to a handy diagram to illustrate what is being deemed as the new “emerging media ecosystem”.

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4 Responses to “The public’s evolving role in journalism”  

  1. 1 Niall Cook

    Great summary, Piaras. I still have to read the article in the Nieman Reports in full, so I’m sure it will prompt further discussion. Merry Christmas.

  2. 2 Vincent Hazleton

    You do a good job of capturing the active (rather than passive) nature of internet use. The key question is how do users become connected? Certainly in the early stages of use it is inefficient, requiring large amounts of time to find content of value. (Because it is the holidays-I now have a fair amount of free time to look.) Meaningful dialogue requires a commitemnt of time and energy-limiting the possible number of meaningful connections. Another issue is the tendency of information to increase in an exponential fashion, making organization theoretically impossible. Journalists, like others, operate under real time deadlines that limit their opportunities to search for information. This means that they are most likely to find things that are easy to find. This is similar to the classic drunkard’s search. He looks for his keys under the street light because it easier to see things there-although he dropped the keys in the dar.

  3. 3 Piaras

    I honestly think that Internet users are only properly becoming connected now and the trend is likely to grow at a vast pace over the next three years.

    I’ve been a heavy net user for the last three years, but I’d say that I’ve only become connected over the last year thanks to the likes of this site and RSS. Things are going to continue to converge as new tools like Flickr or Skype emerge. It’s going to get to the stage where the classic drunkard won’t be able to lose his keys because they’re stuck on a keychain.

    I think that journalists will still be under the same limits, but they’ll have developed more sources of trusted information which should make their jobs that bit easier.

  1. 1 PR Opinions


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