Image by bunky's pickle via FlickrAnother Arab Media Forum already! It hardly seems a year since the last one. It's now become traditional for me to celebrate the birth of this little bloggy thing (with this post) during the 2007 forum, as it is that very event wot was taking place as I first hit the 'Publish Post' key.
This year's forum features more social media stuff than ever before, but that's not really terribly difficult as it has previously had the token panel or two, last year there was even a blogger. I have to confess I didn't bother going this year. It didn't really seem terribly relevant - many of the discussions are taking place in an environment where change is driving a huge movement away from traditional media sources - even here in the Middle East where we are, as all agree, lagging. Broadcast is less challenged than print, but the low quality of regional printed news media will just exacerbate the speed of movement.
I was interested to see that 'a participant in a session on citizen journalism' (Gulf News didn't bother naming him/her) talked about the National Paints fire, the news of which was broken by our very own Albert Dias (@albertdias), quickly followed up by a Twitpic (Twitpic or it didn't happen is increasingly the standard). We managed to get Albert on the 'phone for the opening of the Dubai Today Radio Show which made for a brilliant and dramatic opening to the show as Albert provided us with a cogent and intelligent commentary from the scene, 200 metres away from the holocaust that was devouring the huge paint store, his voice surprisingly calm against the background of explosions and sirens. And yes, BTW, I'm delighted we scooped GN online by at least 45 minutes.
So was this the 'citizen journalism' that the Forum was, yet again, debating? Well, not really. Albert wasn't a journalist, he was an eyewitness. It's just that he has access to much more efficient sharing networks: breaking the story on Twitter doesn't mean reporting it. It's just that we get access to the cold, hard facts that are the stuff of journalism. The journalism came when we decided to broadcast his voice, questioning him with a listenership, and principles of reporting, in mind.
That role, the role of taking the evidence and collecting it to give as rounded and objective a picture as possible, will never change. More of the responsibility for it is being put in our hands as we sift through sources of hard news and data, shared sources of fact and opinion. But we'll always need people to bring it together for us. It's just that we're going to want them to be online and, ideally, to be independent and have a sound reputation. Mendacity, in this environment, is not really an option- and trust networks, reputational networks, will become the cornerstone to popularity, and therefore revenue, into the future.
Journalism doesn't actually need huge publishing houses and hundreds of makeup artists and printing presses and all the rest of it. It doesn't even need massive recording studios, satellites and specialised receivers. The networks in place today, even with the lack of lower prices and higher bandwidth in our tragically under-served region, provide journalists all the access they need to inform and serve their audiences. But they will never again be the only source of information available to consumers.
A debate they might just get around to having next year. Or maybe not until the presses finally grind to a halt and they realise that nobody cares anymore.