Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Is Mainstream Media DOOMED?
My post yesterday attracted a couple of interesting comments from The National’s Jen Gerson and Insurgency Watch’s Christopher Allbritton. Both are highly respected journalists with ‘form’. Jen’s points also led to a thought-provoking post on her blog last night.
So, to continue the conversation, I thought it might be worth taking their points as a Q&A...
Tonnes of the #iranelection tweets were rehashed MSM coverage
A lot of people were retweeting links to MSM pieces, yes. But if you were following close or primary sources, you were also getting the voice of people on the ground. Some of those voices, incidentally, are suspect. You have to take care over who you’re following and how much salt you take with each report. The skill in that is little more or less than a journalist would use to balance sources – and I do think that many people today have a refined enough news sense and awareness of the Internet to be able to make those judgements by themselves. We're big boys and girls now...
Having said that, a guide to decent breaking news is no bad thing - there are a lot of people out there Tweeting links to things that engaged or amused them - and when you start including hashtags, you have a good contextual stream. If you follow the right people, BTW, you get a better editorial pick than if you follow less acute observers. The choice, you will see, is in who you choose to follow. Same with journalism, same with newspapers. I read Jen because I like her writing and find it insightful. I follow @catboy_dubai 'cos he's a pal and is amusing. I like @deafmuslim because she’s a great writer and quite potty – and challenges my view of things. I choose not to read Germaine Greer any more. I loathe the Daily Mail. My choice of, errr, 'media'.
The awesome pics are from wire services
Images from wire services? Yes, of course. They're the images that most Middle East newspapers will use because they haven't got their own snappers on the ground. So I'll take a Tweet of a Getty/Reuters pic today over waiting until tomorrow
But there were also a lot of important images that weren’t wire service stuff. Like this image, for instance, that struck me so much. BTW, at the moment itself I don’t think we’re looking at sourcing halfway decent images – we’re looking at witness report that tells the story. Quality is not the benchmark.
Verifying information doesn’t mean waiting for a second Tweet. It means calling round sources or being an eyewitness yourself.
Although I am, by dint of my own background as a journalist and writer, minded to agree, I also think we’ve moved on a little. While there is undoubtedly room for sober, reflected, contextual analysis (something we see all too little of, BTW, in our regional media as well as international media) there is also room to take the stream of eye-witness report and form a view from that. If you’re seeing 30-40 people on Twitter saying that police are hitting the rioters hard and then getting Tweets detailing injuries, the flow of events would tend to suggest a measure of reality coming from the ground. Combined with real-time reports from newswires or other sources, you’ve got the story in front of you, but the story presented in a way that no broadcaster can equal – eye witness accounts of events unfolding, real people, real emotion, real reaction.
I do think that MSM often fails to meet that standard of journalistic integrity, BTW. Again, particularly in our region, good, balanced reporting that takes the facts, challenges them and searches for balance, completeness and the three sides to the story (yours, mine and the other guy’s) is often notably lacking.
Disinformation is a problem with crowdsourced media
Agree – because you’re actually in the crowd and so you’re as prone to each new rumour and report that’s coming through. Which is why, going back to your first point, it’s vitally important that we DO have people like Reuters and AP on the ground. Or people like yourself or Christopher. But that’s journalism, not media. I have RSS feeds of the major newswires and get the stories as they break. So I can verify the big stuff – which gives credence to the little stuff. And so I can quickly build a picture of which Twitterers are ‘on the money’ if I want to.
But this comes down to the point, I think. I don’t need CNN or Sky to see what’s happening – in fact, the whole #CNNfail thing was about thousands (tens of thousands) of people feeling strongly that CNN’s editorial judgement was deeply flawed in not affording these events top line coverage. I think many news outfits were unprepared, under-resourced and under-educated on the whole Iran story. So what's better, a young, unprepared cub journalist pitched into covering the Tehran story from the Dubai bureau, or witness reports from on the ground?
By the way, I will never forget seeing journalists in my hotel in Amman reporting 'from the Iraqi border' during the Iraq invasion. Not all journalism is bad, but the really woeful stuff has dented public faith in the credibility of journalism a great deal. And no, I don't like that at all.
Blogging triumphalists don't give us enough credit
I don’t much like the tag ‘blogging triumphalist’, you’ll probably be unsurprised to know. I and many, many other people I know feel that we are not being well served by ‘legacy’ or mainstream media. But it’s the media I’m talking about – not journalism. Journalism online can positively thrive, Christopher himself is a brilliant example of that and I’ll add my two personal favourites, AdNation’s Eliot Beer and mUmBRELLA’s Tim Burrows. Both are former print journalists who have taken their work online and who are part of a richer, faster, more agile and more diverse online media that are winning people’s eyeballs because they give us what we want, how we want it and when we want it.
The crucial difference is that we can select what streams interest us. We can follow the people whose work engages us, whether they’re bloggers, Twitterers, photojournalists, writers or videographers.
And, by the way, one of those streams is wire services – the very same ones that fill the majority of the white space on the dead trees that are shoved into the hotel rooms, houses and offices of disinterested readers all over the Middle East every day. I don’t need to wait until tomorrow to read a watered down version of Reuters’ piece on Tehran, it’s on my desktop in two seconds thanks to RSS. And the pictures, too. AND the eyewitness reports that flesh out my own personal understanding of, and emotional attachment to, what's going on.
Twitter is one part of this emerging new media story, one of the information streams open to us thanks to the Internet. As consumers, we are increasingly using these information streams to customise and streamline the content we believe is relevant to us.
We don’t need translators or people to hold our hands and give us the context that we, poor mortals, are too dumb to seek ourselves. And if that’s journalism’s defence (I do not believe it should be, BTW), then God help journalism.
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