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.

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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…