Is print dead? This has been constantly asked, re-asked and over-analysed during the last few years with the expansion of current media developments. However, focusing on the traditional newspaper’s death sentence precludes us from examining the real and very exciting changes that have taken place – and are currently taking place – in the news industry as a whole; that is, how newspapers and news sites are interacting with social media creating news that is centred on your photographs, your videos, and perhaps most importantly, your opinions.
Newspapers and news sites have responded to demands with a new age of digital, personalised and unedited news. Whilst sites are exploring different angles, the overall agenda is the same; giving us an enhanced experience of the news where we all take part. The BBC News website’s ‘Have your say’ and ‘Your pictures and stories’ sections are just a couple of examples amongst countless. CNN uses ‘iReport’ – a user-generated site where ‘the way people like you report the news’ – influencing the way that CCN itself reports the news. And perhaps most groundbreaking is the ‘Guardian Zeitgeist’, a news feed application that literally captures the spirit of the times, pulling in stories from the main site according to ‘social signals’ (i.e. reader trends and mentions on Twitter). The day’s ‘Zeitgeistiness’ is calculated at midnight each day and is frozen in the archives for posterity. We create each day’s Zeitgeist; the news has been democratised.
Since news is now presented as something to which we should respond, actively contribute, and shape, the traditional client-editor relationship in the media has been overhauled. We now expect to have a voice in the news – to play a part in the debate – whereas in the ‘Letters’ section in traditional newspapers, the editor decides which of our opinions are worth publishing. The power has shifted from the editor to us; our opinions have become part of the news and the way it is told.
The relationship between news sites and social media is therefore ever-changing and increasingly significant. Recent turmoil has proved this: the London riots showed the BBC to be getting much of their information from Twitter, enabling journalists to collate news from many different places simultaneously; and Twitter is particularly useful in covering the Middle Eastern conflicts, as Syria for example have banned journalists. Twitter has become a new Reuters. Does this make the journalist redundant by simply using information from tweets? News sites certainly no longer appear to be the front line for news. However, we perhaps need journalists more than ever to sift through the copious amounts of information; not only creating a story, but actually providing an analysis.
If sources from ‘non-professionals’ have become the norm, can we trust the news? What are people’s Twitter agendas? There is no regulating body – or even necessarily an incentive – to maintain a reputable journalistic standards on Twitter. In which case, perhaps we should be increasingly sceptical of the news the more democratised it becomes. Whilst we assume news sites check their sources, these are becoming increasingly difficult to track down with the anonymity of the internet. Or, alternatively, should we potentially regard tweets as having less of an agenda than journalists’ articles, allowing Twitter and its counterparts to provide an oasis of democratisation in the agenda-driven world of journalism?
If recent years have indeed seen the democratisation of the news, can we say that this is for the best? Inevitably, new media can be used for good and bad, but where can the media go from here? Whilst having space to voice our opinions is undeniably significant, is there perhaps too much equality, and have we lost a sense of what is important news and what is self-important rambling?