Are celebrities the new gatekeepers?

As suggested by Andrew Currah in his work ‘What’s happening to our news?’ due to a 24/7 news real, emphasis has been shifted from news gathering to news processing. This lack of attention to detail within the content because of the speed at which it needs to be produced has damaged the news agenda and the way we gatekeep stories.

But if we are saying that the news is not as good as it used to be, we need to justify whether or not journalism was flawless in the past.

David Broder from the Washington Post describes the newspaper that arrives on your doorstep as “a partial, hasty, incomplete, inevitably somewhat flawed and inaccurate rendering of some of the things we heard in the past 24 hours.”

So was there ever a golden era for journalism?

The news has always been limited by speed and accuracy, only we never had the time to mull over the mistakes in newspapers before they were disposed of and forgotten about. The difference in the digital age is that news can be read time and time again by consumers as they are preserved in the internet archives.

If accuracy has always been an issue, what are the real changes in journalism?

Boris Johnson

Evidence shows that there has been a growing demand for views and comments of the journalists. It’s a fair requirement of the consumer to want to know facts and what the journalists think of the facts themselves. But now comment sections are taking over space where news would originally be, and there has been a visible increase in ‘celebrity’ columnists. The Daily Telegraph pays Boris Johnson £250,000 for his weekly column – an 82 per cent higher pay packet than his Mayor of London salary.

The news agenda is being shaped by consumer demands and need to fill space with no time to go out and find the real news.

And while consumers want to read what celebrities have to say, celebrities are also controlling what is said about them. PR stunts conveniently timed with album release dates or film premiers consistently make the news. Shifting the power of the journalist as a gatekeeper, to the power of the celebrities who have influence over consumers.

In drastic cost cutting measures, newsrooms often rely on unpaid interns to produce the work of those who they could not afford to pay any more. This lack of staffing and time is having a serious effect on the quality and accuracy of the news being produced. The PCC’s data shows that volumes of complaints have increased by 70 per cent in the past 16 years.

These are just a selection of alternative ways in which the digital revolution has impacted journalism, other than the well debated issues of time, money, quality and accuracy.

How do you think journalism has changed in the digital age?

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What makes news local?

Buying a newspaper in a certain area, makes news local. Watching the news on TV in a certain area, makes news local. But what happens when local news can be found online, accessed by anyone, anywhere in the world? Is this still local?

As argued by Ross Hawkes in ‘What do we mean by local?’ The idea of “community” cannot even be described as a purely geographic phenomenon, with many people having a greater empathy and connection to an online social group than to their physical neighbours.

But how many people, who have no connections with a particular area, actually interact on local news sites with comments that mean something? An online local community could still be around, only we assume that because anyone can comment, anyone does.

Interaction has inevitably become a huge part of the news production, and has clearly been a reason for raising debate over whether news can still be local.

But something we need to remember is that interaction is nothing new. Letters to the editor have been in practice for years and there is arguably little difference in the two types of communication.

Of course, writing a letter is a longer process that requires time and effort to think of content worth sending, and online comments can be a result of impulse. But the main thing they have in common is that anyone can contribute.

People are less likely to read a local paper if they are not in the area, but the point is, they still can.

Local news is about creating a community and community shouldn’t be invite only. We have arrived at a stage in journalism where discourse is created on a many to many framework and people want to be involved in the discussion. It is the readers that are arguably maintaining the buzz in journalism and this is something that should be celebrated, no matter what their postcode.

The social media effect

The convergence from print to online, advances in technology and citizen journalists have all impacted mainstream journalism. But how much has social media in particular made a difference? Based on my own naivety and closed mind to journalism before the internet, I rarely considered the effects of twitter, facebook and other social networking sites on hard journalism.

As suggested by Nic Newman in his social media study (2009), there are three main ways that social media have changed journalism:

  1. Telling better stories: there is always someone who knows more than you do, news organisations are crowd sourcing comments, pictures, videos insights and ideas.
  2. Making better relationships: Engaged users tend to be more loyal and spend more time, making them more valuable to advertisers or for promoting and selling other company services.
  3. Getting new users in: With audiences spending more and more time with social networks, these have become the obvious place to look for the ‘hard to reach’ or reconnect with former loyalists.

All of which paint a promising future for mainstream journalism. The Evening Standard website is home to many regulars in the comment sections, ASHLEY BOGLE-FRIMPONG being one of many who frequently comments on the site. I would however argue that regulars would have an adverse effect on anyone new to commenting – as if to protect their online territory. I would also add that although broadened debates are positive on a surface level, they can cause legal problems for the paper, require strict regulation and anonymous comments can encourage readers to be abusive.

Selection of regular and anonymous comments on a story about knife crime

Newspapers have room for these diverse voices, opinions and arguments. But what about the BBC? If impartiality is their core value, can they ever be compatible with social media? Former BBC chief news correspondent, Kate Adie, famously described blogs to be ‘amateurish, filled with errors and not credible,’ ‘egotistical nonsense’ and that ‘journalists shouldn’t have time to blog, there are too many stories waiting to be told.’

In some respects I understand her anger with bloggers, stereotypically faking it until they make it. But in an industry so saturated in competition, those who want to make it don’t have a choice but to get themselves out there. The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about after all.

In spite of Adie’s views, an overwhelming majority of the BBC and its audiences encouraged User Generated Content (UGC). Over 70 per cent believed it improved quality and authenticity and 61 per cent felt it was good for the public to be involved.

The media savvy Guardian newspaper agreed:

“For the last 10 years or so we lived with this notion that we knew everything and handed out the pearls of wisdom to the people lucky enough to receive them. If you can invert that and actually say that the expertise lives outside the newspaper, on some many subjects they know more than we do. The moment you can get that thought in your head, then you realise that there is great treasure in these commentaries.” Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian.

Do you think social media is an important development for mainstream journalism? Newman explains that high profile changes are being made to standards, guidelines and training, so could this mean a change to the way the BBC is run? Let me know your views in the comment section below.

Trust me, I’m a journalist?

James Curran is only one of many, who have shared their views on what they believe the future of journalism to look like. By discussing journalism of today, it can become easier to understand what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to change in the future.

Curran argues that the internet is enriching old journalism, is compensating for the decline of print journalism and because of this, he believes the ultimate industry could be created if both old and new joined together. Ambitious to say the least, but he has a point.

When reading Curran’s The Future of Journalism (2010) it became clear that without trust, the relationship between reader and journalist would crumble. An idea that I believe print and online media could learn about from each other. 

The old

Curran suggests that ‘newspapers are doing more harm than good’. The fight for readership in an industry saturated in competition often results in distortion, sensationalism and shocking headlines. This can lead to public misunderstanding, yet readers trust the story because they trust the name of the paper. Can this kind of manipulation be justified, just because the paper has earned a trustworthy reputation? Or has public enlightenment simply been lost to competitive print media, who can abuse trust in order to sell papers?

The new

Bloggers are faced with an opposite situation. Readers may not have heard of the blog, but can get to know the writer through online interaction to gain trust. They do not have the professional training of a journalist, so you wouldn’t necessarily trust them to deliver hard news. But given that they haven’t been handed the reputation of a recognised paper, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They must work for a reputation off their own backs which is a time-consuming process that requires hard graft and for no pay.

So why do they do it?

Bloggers hold a burning passion for their chosen topics. A passion has arguably been lost in ‘creative cannibalisation’ that is churned out in newspapers to keep up with demand.

If anything, it is the bloggers who are keeping old journalism alive, (hear me out). They have a hunger to write, have the time to research, and most of all, have readers who trust them, real journalism. Blogs are free, so of course it can’t quite be as simple as that. But it certainly holds some truth.

The readers

Curran believes that ‘journalism will find its future when it finds its audience.’ So who is getting it wrong? From what I have discussed, it would appear that bloggers are the ‘journalists’ who know their readers. But in Britain, 79% of users in 2008 had not read a blog in the past 3 months. Bloggers may be able to interact and get to know their readers but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have many to talk to. 

The solution

If print journalists were removed from the comfort of their newspaper’s reputation, would we still trust them? Perhaps the secret to a successful online convergence lies in the trust of the journalists as individuals, so that we can erase the reliance of a brand name to find ‘good journalism’, provide support independant and local media outlets, and create a more positive future for journalism.

If only it was that easy…