[OPINION] The false rise of the Citizen Journalist

Social media is changing the way we consume news, but is it for the better?

Hong Kong Umbrella Protests, using social to defy Censorship

Hong Kong Umbrella Protests, using social to defy Censorship

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.

Psst, Buzz? Buzz off!

Google Buzz has been getting people talking, and tweeting about what we’re all supposed to do with it; delete it, or keep it? So far the new service which aims to threaten the livelihood of both Facebook and Twitter has been met with mostly negative reviews with people reaching for the disable button, and unsure responses in the form of waiting to see.

buzz google

Not quite as popular as Buzz Lightyear, but Google Buzz might be just as stellar

Straight off a person can see the usefulness of having their emails, Twitter and Facebook all in the one place, in one tab without leaving. The convenience in an ever more microscopic world is brilliant, but Google have forgotten something; I don’t want my inbox anywhere near my friends.

For most people their inbox is a semi-sacred ground, being filled mostly with auto-mails from magazines, websites, mail exchanged with work colleagues or friends, handy links people might think of and send, planning going out etc. What happens when it all gets slightly mixed up with “oh hey, I’m making toast!” ?

Twitter and Facebook are for friends who we like to keep up-to-date with, but might not always chat to regularly, websites for updates on products or queries, newspapers for news, or even just for exchanging our own news with a wider audience. There is a sense that Facebook and Twitter are, public – like our front gardens; the entire world can see them and chat to us at the end of the driveway, but the inbox is the house front door, we don’t let the milkman in for telly and tea!

The inbox is a private retreat for what we might not want others to see, both for work, and play. Yes, I know, Buzz in a different tab and has very little interaction with your inbox – but at the same time, it’s a mental barrier for most people, and I don’t know about many other people but most of my emails are once off affairs to strangers or people I barely know, besides I wouldn’t have nearly the same amount of contacts as on Twitter or Facebook.

To top it all off; years and years of hair pulling, annoyance and money have been spent ridding our emails of spam, only for Google to let it all back in through the back door? Hmmm…

Google has previously attempted to jump on board the social media bandwagon, with Orkut, which failed to make big splashes in the wider online world, but is still one of the highest ranking sites out there, with over 100 million users (it’s big in India). I can’t help but wonder if Google missed the boat with this one, and was beaten to the post by Twitter.

google buzz logo

We'll be seeing this just below the 'inbox' button, but do we want to?

Even though I’m mostly negative about Buzz and the idea of Buzz, I can see the potential. The issues Google needs to overcome are convincing people to open their front door, not long after we hear of Gmail accounts being hacked, and a general distrust of the company from the public stemming from their seemingly endless power as a search monopoly.

As with Wave, it might just be a case of five years too soon, who knows.