Social media and it’s failings

Social media and citizen journalists are being heralded by some as the beginning of the end for traditional media or at the very least the most important step of a huge revolution within it but just how much of a threat is this new industry to its older counterpart? Will it destroy what we know today as the media or is it unlikely to even leave a scratch?
Citizen journalists are in an undeniably interesting situation right now. They work alone and are under no pressure to deliver, except for the pressure from their readers. They don’t face the restrictions of the so called half-free or quasi-free press that many countries contain. They generally don’t have any commercial influences that would otherwise compromise their integrity and they also have total anonymity where they may choose. This all means that they are in an enviable situation when it comes to volatile issues and stories. They can publish information that a newspaper wouldn’t touch, they can hide behind their log in names when their revelations anger important people and they can write about a subject that is passionate to them, not just one that is lucrative. For the reader, however these freedoms have a darker side to them. Every advantage that the citizen journalist has over his professional counterpart comes at a price. A lack of legal restrictions also leaves the possibility of abuse; the comfort of anonymity also allows for sloppy or dangerous work, the lack of editorial control allows people to work for personal and not always honest gain.
While many media outlets face understandable criticism for their way of doing business, for their commercial interests and their treatment of the issues of the day it is undeniable that many of the controls are there for better rather than worse. Just like reading an article on the Wikipedia, citizen journalism is quickly gaining a name for itself as untrustworthy.
That’s not to say that all citizen journalists are liars; they’re not. The sad thing is that even the honest and brilliant ones face the harsh fact of life that is economics. Being a citizen journalist isn’t a thankless task, but for most it’s payless.
What is likely to happen, however, is a merge in ideas. More Journalists will take up blogging, and more citizen journalists will be pimping their stories to newspapers for hard cash. If such a balance can be struck, the humble reader can rest easy. Standards will be unaffected but more sources of news means more likelihood for truth.
As an aside, while I’m opposed to the notion that the citizen journalism is in any way a threat to professional journalism, I refuse to argue the point that their lack of training will be their downfall. That means nothing in the real world, your eye for a story, your contacts and your ability to cut through crap is what decides your ability to report.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for posting such an interesting article.

    You noted some of the issues of transparency and accountability inherent in online media. I’d just like to point out that traditional print and broadcast media have their own problems in that field.

    Namely, when covering a fast-moving or touchy story, news organizations often resort to “unnamed sources.” This excuse has been abused in order to mask a myriad of journalistic shortcomings.

    - Amy Gahran
    I, Reporter (ireporter.org)

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  2. Administrator 24/01/2006 at 10:23

    Indeed, Breaking News organisations have many problems, for example they often run with a story before they have both sides to it.
    the use of unnamed sources is naturally a must in modern journalism; most of the great journalistic exclusives of this century only come as a result of unnamed sources, and now as we live in a world where information is everywhere it is even more important.
    Naturally it will always be abused too; be it to hide a shortcoming or perhaps to manufacture an entire story from nothing. It is something that can only self-moderate I suppose, that the journalists who abuse this power will soon earn a name for themselves as trashy.

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  3. “journalists who abuse this power will soon earn a name for themselves as trashy.”

    Yep. That dynamic works for anyone in any kind of media — including weblogs.

    - Amy Gahran

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  4. “They don’t face the restrictions of the so called half-free or quasi-free press that many countries contain.” – There’s a lot of restrictions some web publications avoid, but it’s mostly because infringements are ignored, rather then them not applying to such publications. But then again many restrictions on the mainstream media are self-imposed, non-legal restrictions – because the likes of the Irish Times has a mainstream readership, backlash from such readers prevents Kevin Myers ‘getting away with’ calling all children born when their parents are out of wedlock “bastards”, and mothers of such “Mothers of Bastards”, or MoB for short.

    “They generally don’t have any commercial influences that would otherwise compromise their integrity and they also have total where they may choose. This all means that they are in an enviable situation when it comes to volatile issues and stories” – that would be nice, but, generally speaking, both forms of media can be hampered one way or another by bias.

    On anonymity, not all newspaper articles contain the author’s name – from ‘staff writer’, to the nameless. “anonymity also allows for sloppy or dangerous work” – see last sentence, and ‘sloppy or dangerous work’ is not absent from all commercial media outlets, with named or unnamed work.

    “the lack of editorial control allows people to work for personal and not always honest gain” – the strictest editorial control out there might not find some hack been paid off by one group or another. Speaking in less general terms, such controls are a help, but they are only effective when backed by an independent, transparent form that allows for open communication with readers are others – an example of which is the Guardian’s readers’ editor. I’m not say it’s perfect but it’s a hell of a lot better then the likes of the Indo grope where such functions are ‘private internal investigations, the results of which will remain private’ (not a quote) – which just adds to the trust problems newspapers face.

    “understandable criticism for their way of doing business, for their commercial interests and their treatment of the issues of the day” – The same can be said about so-called ‘citizen journalism’, and you can interchange ‘commercial interests’ with religious, morally, ideological etc bias for both forms of journalism.

    “Just like reading an article on the Wikipedia, citizen journalism is quickly gaining a name for itself as untrustworthy” – maybe I read Media Guardian too much, but (as I said above) isn’t the commercial media facing problems similar problems of credibility/trust? For example, people see defamation/libel as nearly a pure legal restriction that newspapers will ignore if they think they can ‘get away with it’, and knowing if they are on the wrong side of the law (or what even judge they get) they will still only suffer a settlement, and/or have to print an apology and/or correction/retraction.

    “I’m opposed to the notion that the citizen journalism is in any way a threat to professional journalism” – if, as you say, a balance is struck and there are more people acting as freelancers to the media, how will this not affect professional freelancers?

    The above is mostly just observations, not judgements. The point being, both forms of media are similar to an extent that some commentators from both sides would outright deny.

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