Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Internet "the future" claims journalist

Yes, this was an obvious conclusion from the Future of Journalism debate, held in John Rylands Library as part of the Manchester International Festival. The two hour session was chaired by Media Guardian columnist and local legend Steve Hewlett, all joviality and bulldog nous, allowing this four way tete-a-tete to flow. The subject focused on Journalism in the "new media age", dramatised with some aplomb by the cheekily journalistic title:

"Has the advent of citizen journalism made the traditional media obsolete?"

The focus fell on the shifting interplay between traditional news-providers, such as the BBC, and their audience. When anyone around the world can write, respond and add to your debate, they asked, what does the journalist offer? Is everyone a potential journalist now? And with no implicit control over what is who writes, or what is written, how can editors steer an issue?
As Comment is Free editor Georgina Henry pointedly remarked, "All of us in the [print] sector are losing readers. Advertisers are shipping over to the web. It's inevitable."
She went on: "You can't have total reign over what people write. The idea's absurd. And in encouraging free debate, you can only have measure of control on your own site, nowhere else."

The thing is, when you allow readers to comment, you implicitly support their viewpoint's validity. And when stuff like this gets posted to Henry's own site, you have to wonder how to control people without the dreaded word censorship:

Noah88 writes:

You can hardly blame the politicians for trying to exploit the media. With the exception of a few, most journalists are lazy incomptent [sic] wankers, only too glad to take a spin-doctor generated press release, copy and paste it into the paper and go to the pub. The miracle is that anyone still pays to read such crap.

I suppose you can excuse some of them on the basis that ratings/circulation are everything, but places like the BBC have no such excuse. Sadly they're usually the worst culprits, shamelessly broadcasting the latest government propaganda in double-quick time so they can get onto the real issues like Big Brother and Paris Hilton.

Yes, this is an extreme example, but you get my point. By allowing free comment, you leave yourself open to one-sided or exaggerated arguments, you affect the balance of your story. Again, inter-connectivity of your debates can be your downfall. By quoting Noah88 out of context, I've done the same disservice to him as he did to the original article. So, how to control the flow of argument and relevance is one of the hardest questions facing editors today.

Again, it was Hewlett asking the most relevant questions: trying to assess in what way "the Great Unwashed" - as he disingenuously described them - could affect the news agenda.

Could there be, and should there be, points when non-journalists can influence the angle of a story? At what point does the news-provider throw its cards in and allow its audience into the commissioning process?

The questions posed by the panel did somewhat conjour up images of shell-shocked, Luddite journos of the old school, warily eyeing RSS feeds, twitching into their typewriters and downing another pint. Journalists have had a long time to get used to the internet; providing multimedia angles to their stories will, I think, be a requirement in the near future. You only have to look at America to see where, technologically, our media - and therefore our journalism - will be.

As homework, I want you all to check out the following links. Honestly, they're ace. Some great video and animation, advice on writing your blog and plenty of "research" for writers to while away the hours with. Enjoy.

http://www.move30.com/- an online community of video- and photo-journalists

www.mediastorm.org/0014.htm - the best animation "cover" of a music video, and some really beautiful in-depth cross-media journalism

www.albion.com/netiquette/corerules.html - beginner's haven - web writing 101.

www.press.umich.edu/jep/07-01/al-hawamdeh.html - seminal essay on web journalism

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