Social media fascinates me. I wrote my 4th year dissertation on social media and how the way we source our news is changing because of it. Information is sent at the touch of a button around the world and we can find out what is going on across the globe in seconds.
Whether you’re a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Vine user (not to mention the countless other social media platforms) you’ll probably be privy to as to how these things work. We can keep in touch with friends, share pictures and communicate banal information about our lives. Great! However, would you consider yourself to be a citizen journalist?
Sohaib Athar from Pakistan certainly didn’t consider himself a citizen journalist when he sent a seemingly harmless Tweet one evening in 2011. Unbeknown to Sohaib, when he Tweeted ‘A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. Hope it’s not the start of something nasty :-S’ he was inadvertently letting the world know that the Navy Seals were entering Osama Bin Laden’s compound.
…would you consider yourself to be a citizen journalist?…
It’s how we find news. When Peaches Geldof died, for example, I headed over to Twitter which was booming with people discussing her untimely passing. Celebrities were sharing their condolences, people discussed how she might have met her death and photographs from the entirety of her life were shared. When a helicopter crashed into a building on a foggy morning in London last year, the picture that made front page of the papers wasn’t one taken by a professional photojournalist or photographer commissioned by any news organisation. The picture was one taken by a social media user who shared the photograph with his followers. It was the best picture and therefore was the photograph that was chosen to represent the incident to the world. We find out about terror attacks, political events, natural disasters all at the touch of a button and by our fellow social media users. How can news organisations keep up with such a booming industry of user generated information?
Heard the phrase ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’? Well, that’s what the news organisations have to do to stay relevant. BBC Breaking News, Sky News, Daily Mail, The Guardian – you name it, they’ve got Twitter accounts. Although sharing news quickly and in this community environment has many advantages, there are some important hurdles. Due to the freedom of speech allowed by social networking sites, members of the public with no journalistic training, awareness of media laws or regulations have a platform to share information. This has led to countless cases of defamation and libellous information being made public knowledge.
…countless cases of defamation and libellous information…
When an event or incident takes place, it has the potential to be common knowledge on social networking sites within seconds and at the touch of a button. What then can the news corporations do about the growing phenomena of the ‘Twitter Journalist’? When the general public are becoming more likely to visit social networking websites to validate information during the period before broadcast from professional news sources, it’s clear that news groups need to change their game plan in order to stay relevant in the age of social media.
Whilst it’s unlikely that the likes of Twitter and Facebook will render the news organisations obsolete, it looks as if the future is heading to be completely online. More than ever, we want our information in fast, consumable, accurate chunks and in order to give us that, the news groups will need to compete with those pesky citizen journalists who often get to the story first.