Should professionals rely on social media?

A definitive point for modern politics was during the 2010 elections when social media dramatically changed voting trends. As discussed by Nic Newman in “Mainstream media and the role of the internet,” these were the first elections to receive unprecedented participation online.

Following the shocking stats that 90% of 18-24 year olds do not read a newspaper, political campaigns took to TV, radio and facebook in an attempt to reach younger audiences, and it worked. In particular, an increase in activity could be seen among this age group whose activity increased by 7% between 2005 and 2010.

And why wouldn’t it? At least 1 in 4 of us Brits spend more time online than we do sleeping according to a poll created by Sky Broadband. The survey revealed that 51 per cent of us are suffering from ‘e-anxiety’ if we are unable to check our emails or Facebook page for any extended period of time.

Head of Digital engagement at The Guardian, Meg Pickard, suggests that online enrichment of different views is where social media shines. She said “Where we have seen social media come alive in this campaign is where it has been able to add extra perspective and community or social discovery and fun in the case of posters and playfulness.”

Participation in influential elections and enriching an online community is enviably so important, but what are the downsides to reliance on social media?

Twitter contains information from official and unofficial sources where messages arrive in the order that they are received. Perfect for keeping up-to-date with what people are doing all around the world, but not so perfect in terms of filtering the fact from fiction.

Alfred Herminda in “Twittering the news” suggests that as a result of this, journalists should be open to gate keeping the twitter feed. He describes journalists as a “node in a complex environment between technology and society, between news and analysis between annotation and selection, between orientation and investigation.”

If social media is going to be used by influential professionals, should we expect journalists to filter and gate keep what comes up in our news feed? And if they did, would that take away from the freedom we have as individuals to express ourselves online?

I think the wealth of information available to us should remain exactly that. If we want to learn the facts it should be up to us to decipher what is worth spending our precious 9 hours of internet time giving hits to.

We wouldn’t sacrifice our precious sleep over it if this was the case..

Voices need to be heard

In 2007, a 57-year-old man named John Darwin reported himself to a police station as a missing person. Not only had this man been reported as missing five years earlier, but he was also officially ‘dead’. Darwin disappeared after a kayaking trip in the North Sea, and his wife was given a £25,000 life insurance settlement. The story was researched on google by a non-journalist and she found a photograph of Darwin and his wife that had been taken in 2006, four years after he had ‘died’, proving that he had faked his own death for money. Similarly, in 2009, Ian Tomlinson was killed after a police officer knocked him to the ground. Footage of the ordeal was caught on camera by an onlooker, who was filming the protests. PC Simon Harwood was found guilty of gross misconduct.

These are just a couple of examples of how crime cases have been brought to justice by non-journalists. Technology has given people the tools to make vital contributions to the work of journalism, but is this always a good thing?

Readers have been given a taste of what it is like to practice journalism and they don’t want to stop. ‘Today’s journalists are not sloppier than yesterday’s. Rather, readers are more demanding’, something that was suggested by John Kelly in Red Kayaks and Hidden Gold.  As I discussed in a previous post, citizen journalists are not in it for the money. They are in it for the satisfaction they gain from their voices being heard, reputations being created and exposure of their writing.

But should newspapers be pleased about this?

Jane Singer argued that website interactivity ‘beefs up local coverage and boost website traffic’ in her research of Quality Control (2010). It also adds public interest to their stories – I know that I always have a nose at comments (which are often more entertaining than the article itself).

In addition to this, one of the most important factor of citizen journalists is that when they are at the ‘wrong place’ at the ‘right time’, they now have the tools to report. Almost 50% of journalists surveyed in Singer’s research agreed that on-the-scene reporting from users has proved to be extremely useful in the newsroom. Other uses that were agreed upon included coverage of local events (40%) and traffic and travel updates (46%), all of which need someone to be there at all times, a requirement that simply cannot be met by professional journalists.

However, user generated content (UGC) creates a chance for ‘insults, libel and downright rudeness.’ Websites are responsible for paying up, should any libellous comments be published. Newspapers also need to consider gatekeeping values that the professional journalists follow; the process of deciding what makes news. The internet obliterates this gatekeeping process, which is a procedure that arguably defines the origins of journalism.

This makes me wonder not what the future of journalism is, but what the new generation of journalists look like. If the values of gatekeeping continue to be lost online, will the origins of journalism be lost altogether? Gatekeeping ensures quality and legal news which is the least you would expect from the profession.  It seems that everyone can be a publisher, but not everyone can be a journalist.

The revolution that never happened

When the online convergence began, newspapers were faced with a difficult task of creating a strategy that would allow their paper to work successfully online.

Online strategies from newspapers in Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Liverpool were revealed in a study, carried out by Cardiff Trinity University. From their findings, three problems consistently arose within the newsroom:

Too much work

Because of…

Lack of time

Because of…

Shrinking workforce

All of which, stem from the same problem of lack of money.

As suggested by Steen Steenson in his blog, technology ‘might not be the main driving force behind changes in journalism’. He argues that newspapers are just publishing the same written text, only they are doing it online, and that interactivity, multimedia and hyperlinking is still rare. I agree that many other aspects are having an influence on changes in journalism, including money, time, and skills. However, large news websites are flooded with multimedia. So whether he is only accounting for local news websites, or he believes the changes have happened so slowly that they cannot be revolutionary, is open to interpretation.

Screen shot of the Guardian’s website, filled with multimedia videos, hyperlinks and interactivity

Newspapers could converge efficiently if they had the money to provide training in online journalism, recruit a sufficient amount of journalists to support the work load and combat the unofficial expectation for workers to exceed contracted hours.

Technology may be causing problems for print, but it is also providing a platform on which journalism as a whole can develop and excel.

Television is a prime example of medium that has been welcomed into journalism. As discussed by Steenson, TV took off much quicker (8 years in US), compared with the internet, which took more than double this time.

But I don’t believe this happened because the internet is less revolutionary. Television is a very straight forward concept, especially when it was first available; it had four channels and you could watch programmes on it. Whereas, the internet…how exactly do you explain internet to a novice? The internet provides is a tool that gives you the ability to do and learn so much, it can be intimidating for many people – especially those who have not been brought up using it.

In contrast to this, radio has been largely unaffected throughout the online revolution:

“Who would have thought in the 1950s and 1960s that radio would still be a powerful technological platform several decades later? Imagine the argument: who would want only sound, when you could have both sound and vision?” Steen Steenson.

Is this because we as receivers do not always wish to be fully immersed in journalism? If so, can the same be said for journalists themselves?

The high demand for copy on now multiplatform journalism, forcing many journalists to work over-time for no extra pay, were amoung the main findings in Cardiff Trinity’s study. Being fully immersed in online newspapers that are active 24/7  proved overwhelming for many journalists who were struggling to switch off.

As with all forms of creativity, it helps to take a step back and let the work (and the journalist) breathe. It is only when you have time to research the facts that high quality work can be created. No-one has the ability to compete with the internet that never sleeps, so why are we trying to?

The online convergence: who just can’t hack it?

In a profession that revolves so heavily around people, it is surprising that journalism has struggled through convergence to online in the same way that we are conditioned to adapt to change in life.

But who or what is to blame?

The journalists

Over the past decade, a clear division has been made between journalists, those who have got to grips with the ‘online revolution’, and those who have remained loyal to their print roots. In Paul Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog, he puts emphasis on the need to recognise and take advantage of these changes in order to keep the business alive. A view which is view largely identified amongst young professionals, “I am young enough to know that change is everything” – a 20-year-old reporter for a national daily newspaper who took part in Francois Nel’s ‘Laid off’ study. Other respondents to the study felt ‘delighted’ to be out of the job that they felt was ‘not the one I had 30 years ago. Now it is a hard slog, mountains of work for poor reward. No time to do the job properly.’

The readers

Out of everyone, it has been the readers who have adapted efficiently to the online revolution. It is the majority of readers who have embraced social networking, interactivity, and become citizen journalists themselves. But just because readers have adapted well to online news, does that make the year-on-year decline in newspaper readership acceptable? Have readers forgotten to appreciate where news came from in the first place? And if this is the case, does it even matter to them at all? The readers are not toying with a profession that requires full immersion, engagement and passion. When the job feels rocky, the journalists feel it too.

Passion for the job

Nearly 70% of journalists, who took part in the ‘Laid Off’ study, said they would ‘still have chosen journalism as a career – even if they had known what would happen to the industry’. For most, the profession defined who they were, and the majority felt that journalism was much more than a job for them. Is it because of this that many have struggled to let go of the industry that they grew to know and love? In spite of losing their jobs, they still felt ‘deeply committed’ to journalism. It seems ironic that the passion of a journalist to hold onto a good thing, as they would when gathering news, is what is could potentially be letting the industry down.

Money

As superficial as it sounds, the business simply cannot thrive on passion alone. Nel’s study would not have been carried out if the redundancies in journalism had not been made. I find Paul Bradshaw’s positivity admirable when describing the ‘reduced cost of newsgathering and production’ which seemingly ignores the large scale debt that print publications are faced with. He does however notify that technology has produced time effective, cost reducing ways to publish news. This is of course true, and worlds apart from the working conditions shown in the video below of the guardian just over 50 years ago.  

Bradshaw also glazes over all the jobs that have been lost because of role convergences and money, or lack of it. Journalists are expected to be multitasking, multitalented hacks and carry out jobs that would originally be allocated to individual experts. Journalists are now expected to be able to film, edit, write, and design, all with flawless execution, of course.  

‘The value of your organisation lies not just within its walls but beyond them too.’ Paul Bradshaw 2009

It was a lot to cover in a first post, and admirable if you’ve made it this far. But what is clear is that these debates really are open to interpretation and most are as yet inconclusive – which is why the revolution is so interesting. No-one knows where it is going, we can only back up our arguments and shout them the loudest – because that means you’re right, right?