Social media is changing the way we consume news, but is it for the better?
Increasingly the world we live in is getting more and more digital, relying on social media to consume news, events and activities that shape the world. The Arab Spring first started on Twitter, and instantaneously; the world was aware. The same can be said for the Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution, led by social and showing what really happens, away from the state propaganda. The birth of citizen journalism, where anyone armed with a smartphone and a connection can become a reporter hasn’t just arrived, its now seen as natural order.
This has left many traditional outlets behind in the digital dust. An event happening in the Middle East a few years ago would have arrived in the New York Times offices in about ten minutes, ready for the next days print run. With the arrival of social, that transition is not only too long, but the next day has missed 24 hours of updates, mostly articles on the website also reflect exactly what goes into print, lacking the dynamism and fluidity of social. The Guardian are one of the more progressive outlets, their latest website iteration relies much more on live-blogging and matching social in terms of update frequency.
Twitter has made everyone of us a correspondent, Instagram has made us photographers and Reddit has given us opinion forums as experts. The democratisation is a good thing, broadly speaking. Journalists who are supposed to report objectively, do so swayed by their emotions and political leanings, Newspapers have a long history of skewing news to shift copies and television news relies on correspondents who are very often not near the action. Social means that we can instantly get any viewpoints and real time reporting from the ground, uncensored and largely unbiased.
Here lies the problem of citizen journalism, with so many streams of information and competing viewpoints and opinions, how does the average user make sense of it all? What’s more, how do we verify what exactly is happening? People can be as subjective as a journalist, they can take Instagram pictures from certain angles to make things look completely different. How does the average user make sense if everything. The journalist and reporter can, they are bound, if even theoretically to codes of conduct, and are able to take macro views of situations as they unfold, with a deeper understanding of context and reference than the citizen journalist.
Platforms, capable of aggregating social content and trending information, while allowing seasoned reporters and editors to verify on a real-time basis are increasingly the future of news-wires, ensuring that the news desk at the New York Times or Guardian can get content quickly for their site as it unfolds, in a verified manner.
Citizen journalism has had a profound affect on how we consume the news, how we as a connected and globalised world interact and subverted censorship in places like Egypt and China. This does not mean though, that traditional journalism is obsolete, or their websites. It does mean that they have been disrupted and are being forcibly reinvented into something that can make sense of the maddening crowd.
Citizen Journalism doesn’t really exist, not in any truly meaningful way, and certainly not without being condensed and put in reference. Social activism, however and the generation that created it have been able to change the world, disrupt censorship and change journalism into something much more meaningful and much more honest, ultimately ensuring that the world is a much smaller place than at any time previous.