Accuracy in the Hands of the Audience
It’s a world of contradictions. “The state of storytelling in the internet age” by Read This Thing, details the extremes in the current world of digital journalism. People believe what they read online while at the same time questioning the validity of the internet. Saying “I read it on the internet”, a phrase Read This Thing argues, is the same as stating it’s not true but Google is the first place people go to find something out. These divergences stem from the power of media distributors being eroded by advancements in technology. This has created a shift in influence in favour of the audience and their search for truth and accuracy.
This is not the first time that the infrastructure of information has been turned upside down. The Gutenberg Press had a similarly chaotic effect. Before it, the Catholic Church was the sole source of knowledge and truth, which is how it retained its power. With the invention of the printing press, the power structure was upset, because the Church was not the only informant. Suddenly, there was a way to mass communicate ideas, leading to an increase in sources of information. People could choose sources, which took power out of the Church’s hands and put in into the audience’s. It created the possibility of people getting their knowledge and perspective out to a broader community who were thus able to form a more accurate understanding of their world.
Today we can see a similar shift with audiences gaining power with the ability to choose their sources of information and create content of their own. Much like the revolution of the printing press, the World Wide Web is enabling people in the spread of knowledge. The internet has given people power that was formerly in the hands of media distributors. We can see the huge demographic of internet users tapping into that knowledge base to create a more accurate understanding of their world. Read This Thing agrees, hypothesizing how an article written by a journalist in Guam could become popular in Auckland, New Zealand by garnering thousands of views, people can access information that previously was not available. This is just one way the audience is more powerful than ever before.
Conversely the audience also has the ability to rip a story apart. People have new found strength in their ability identify errors in reporting and fact check. The ease and depth of information which they can draw from is unmatched and this is improving the accuracy of news. It has transformed the role of the audience into something more active: from sharing to commenting to fact checking, they are not just viewers they are participants. The increase in perspectives means stories are more rounded out, previously unreported view points are able to gain visibility. Creating a more comprehensive story because it paints a more accurate picture is therefore a more truthful one.
The increased emphasis being placed on the audience to be part of the journalism process applies to more than just the telling of stories. It includes censoring too. With the huge variety of sources and never-ending stream of media, the job of picking and choosing which stories to pay attention to has fallen on the audience. Previously, the job of editor entailed picking what was relevant and authentic. While this remains the case, the break down of the traditional top-down media structure allows audience members to get information directly from the source as well as choose the stories they like. This can be seen with people taking to Twitter to get facts straight from sources as they live report them. The increased power of the audience has placed them in the role of editor, sorting through the slew of digital information. Audiences can assemble their own truth from the abundant resources.
Increase in the availability of sources means that people are able to get a better sense of the truth. Meanwhile, the audience has gained the ability to fact check improving the accuracy of stories. With the audience becoming their own editors, the conclusions they come to are through their own means, creating an individual sense of truth.