Week 12 — Citizens as journalists

It’s no secret that things with journalism have changed. That is what I have been hearing. It is what I have been reading and talking about. But It was not until the readings this week, however, that I really got the message. It has been a message in the making or evolving over the years. However, my eye has been on reestablsiihing a journalism practice–the legacy press of old. What I realize now is that I was focusing on the values and ethics of that press, and I can see that they do not change at their core.

Thus, with the advent of social media the journalism seascape has a new element. Journalism is journalism just at the ocean is the ocean. For me, though, up to this moment, social journalism has been a dot on the horizon. Now that is has pulled up to dock, it’s one of those mega cruise ships–I can take things a little further. It’s is not just the cruise ship, but it is all the people on board, having a good time, or trying to, with the vast entertainment at hand. They really do not have a purpose but to try and make the best of things, and there is plenty to do and it comes with the ticket. But now they are about to get off the boat and get back to the “real” world.

So what has changed is that this. Social media, because of its capacity to deliver information in various and evolving modes, has become an equalizer. Where information was siphoned through a legacy press that relied on limited sources, not resources, the information or picture that emerged in any report has limited. It may have been accurate, and even then there was no guarantee that it was, but because it had these limitations, people who relied on it to make life decisions were rather limited in their choices. Now with social media the delivery system is much more vast, but the ability to obtain information is too, so that more voices can enter the conversations.

News operations, especially the legacy presses, are trying to find sustainable models that use the social media more completely to fulfill their mission–but even that mission has been compromised because  revenue has dried up. Community journalism and/or public journalism is providing creative means of leveling the playing field. In many ways, what they offer under new labels is what good, sound journalism has been offering and will continue to offer. For instance, investigative reporting is and has been investigative reporting no matter what label it has.

So I think I get it. Social media, if used well, breaks through limits of the past that relegated readers to being passive receivers of information, that, while meant to provide them with information to make informed decisions, really kind of boxed them in. Today, readers can get more comprehensive information that provides a much more well defined context from many more sources.

This in turn, however, requires from readers a commitment to journalism that was not required of them in the past. Readers must now be participants, sharing concerns, attending workshops, requesting more information, pointing our coverage that would be more helpful, and even providing information.

Among the readings that are important in this regard were these articles and webpages:

Bob Steele writing on Poynter’s website, “The Ethics of Civic Journalism: Independence as the Guide”
The Journalist Resource’s webpage featuring “Tools for verifying and assessing the validity of social media and user­ generated content”

While I am encouraged by this development, rather than being stymied by it, which I was, I do find one issue with journalism that is disconcerting. Yes, there are others, but this one occurs to be as one that needs to be addressed, because rather than helping to alleviate the divisiveness in society, the focus on conflict has increased it. Conflict gets attention. And it gives the impression that every situation has two sides. It is rather simplistic in its approach. And, here is my point–I agree it may be a stretch–a conflict driven reporting not only divides society into faction, it provides the false impression that individuals are stock characters in some sort of shot out at high noon on the streets of Tombstone.

I would like to see more emphasis on the mission of journalism as more focused not only on individuals–making an individual’s life better, making an individual’s vote more informed, etc.–but on the individual’s role in society, how individuals have a responsibility to others. I think this would get people out of a false sense of individuality to a more healthy and realistic sense of what it means to be an American.

I am not certain how that would look, but I am fairly certain that it will involve the emerging era of journalism even if it has not been spoken of in this way.

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