From Audience to Activists: How Mobile Phones Are Continuing to Change the Face of Journalism

The rise of digital and social media technology has not only changed journalism and the role of journalists, but the role of those who we once thought of as the audience.

In his piece “The People Formerly Known as The Audience”, Jay Rosen, writer of the blog PressThink, addresses the shift of the audience as passive listeners, to active participants and producers of media. Gone are the days when one was subjected to the constant stream of content from major media outlets. Now anyone, anywhere, has the ability and opportunity to create and express through online platforms; as well as curate the type of media that they consume. Users now have free reign to determine how they engage with media, “what application, what device, what time, what place” says Rosen.

The mobile phone has become an evolutionary site for media and journalism. The use of the mobile phone, has in some respects paralleled the transition of the audience from consumer to producer, as the mobile phone has become more than a source where one gains information, but a site for knowledge production.

Not only are ordinary citizens able to participate in these sites, choosing what news they consume, giving feedback and spreading news, but with the growing sophistication of mobile phones, citizens are able to access information instantaneously, anywhere at anytime, and share information.

Unlike traditional media outlets, with their heavy equipment and large camera crews, mobile phones give citizens a discrete and convenient tool that allows them to share information, photos, and videos, as well as being granted access that was never before thought possible.

The convenience and popularity of mobile phones has given those formerly known as the audience the ability to take photos, and capture and spread video quickly and efficiently through platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, Snapchat, and ParaScope, to name a few. Not only are these platforms used to capture and share anecdotal moments from our lives, but by enabling citizens with the tools to share, these platforms have transformed the duties of citizens within society.

Through mobile technology, those formerly known as the audience can now be considered social activists. It has become somewhat of a social responsibility to capture injustice and let it be known through our mobile devices. By taking photos and videos with our mobile phones we no longer have to become bystanders of prejudice, racism, and tyranny. Through the lenses of our mobile phones we can become journalists, documentarians, and enactors of social change.

In recent times, an issue that has been heavily documented by mobile phones has been police brutality. Having citizens capture unlawful and unjust police behaviour has sparked tremendous uproar and has played a large role in shaping movements such as the Black Lives Matter movement. The police brutality in the Ferguson demonstrations captured through cell phones and spread across social media showed just how powerful mobile phones and social media are in shaping a movement and bring recognition towards this movement. Through social media and mobile phones, citizens have shed light on the realities of police brutality and it is hard to imagine this movement without the use of this technology.

Though we can argue as to whether citizens become journalists by sharing things captured by their mobile phones, it is clear to see that mobile phones have changed how we view our social responsibilities.

Considering the duty to share as a social responsibility, sharing through mobile phones and social media has become an integral part of the way we raise awareness and activism.