If you follow the intense discussion about the future of journalism that is taking place in the media, you will have heard the fears about lack of trust, unreliable information and drop in standards that many editors worry about. There is a recent piece about a glimpse of journalism’s future by BBC’s Paul Reynolds which gives a more nuanced and positive view of the role of the internet in making journalists more responsive and engaged.
But looking back at the origins of the printed media, there are some strong parallels that can be drawn with the internet. First of all, as was discussed by @steffenmoller in our discussion on web2eu, the medium truly was the message when the printed press came along. The ability that groups and individuals had to spread ideas through the printing press was what gave them their power. They could suddenly share information with a much wider audience than before, and this threatened the “powers that be” (church or monarchy).
Secondly, the quality and standards contemporary journalists often cite as a major concern when talking about the internet’s impact on the quality of political discussion was clearly absent, as such traditions had not yet taken root.
Today with the emergence – or establishment – of the internet as the new de facto information source on pretty much anything, new standards are being defined. The web offers a range of ways for people to verify the quality of the information they read. This begins with something as simple as whether or not you trust the author to have verified the facts they are discussing. Secondly, new tools such as ‘structure feedback’ like rating and ranking, and the number of people who start sharing or retweeting a story, can give a more democratic indicators as to how interesting the information is to a large number of people.
The internet also makes it relatively easy for people to challenge a story and offer their own rebuttals and counter arguments. This in no way eliminates the need for judgment, and the important of the ability we require to analyse the quality of information we are being offered, but it means we should no longer defer to the brand of the publication or the name of the journalist alone as an indicator of quality and truth (although this remains an important factor).
We can all choose to express our point of view on stories and, if we feel strongly enough, and spend the time and energy making our case, we have the ability to be heard. We no longer require a press pass or the access to channels to do this. A blog and a twitter feed is enough to get your message out. This is the new reality journalists everywhere need to face.
We are all (potential) journalists now, with a voice. What will make our story hit the virtual front page of Google or Twitter will depend on a range of factors, and the future will belong to those who understand the new dynamics and use to get their voice heard. Just like the first journalists, but with a laptop and a connection.
So let’s be journalists, enjoy our new found power to influence the world and tell our story!