The New Free Press

Column A: Free Press

Column B: Mobile Phones

Column C: “The People Formerly Known As the Audience”

By Kristen Belsher

Who controls the media? Is it even being controlled by anyone anymore? These are questions that stem from the idea of what exactly “free press” is. It used to be pretty simple — those who had the money to run the newspaper were the press. Today, it’s a lot more complicated.

Journalism used to be very one-sided and one-directional. The flow of news went from journalists to the audience, producers to consumers, and that was it. The audience couldn’t talk back. However, many new technologies in recent years have changed that. The audience isn’t just an audience anymore — they can be journalists too. With social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, regular people can get more news out faster than journalists can. Perhaps the biggest technological tool to have changed that is the mobile phone.

Imagine telling someone who used a Gutenberg press that nowadays, all you have to do is pull a tiny brick-like object out of your pocket and you have the world at your fingertips. You could access a whole planet’s worth of news on the internet. You could take pictures. You could upload those pictures. You could share interesting stories. You could communicate with people. And this poor guy with the Gutenberg press is slaving over it just to print out a few pages of the Bible.

The article “The People Formerly Known as the Audience” sums it up perfectly. We’re not just an audience anymore — we’re an “Active Audience”. We participate in media. We record news with our mobile phones only to relay it to other people through those phones and upload it to social media. We’ve graduated from only being able to read the news to “publishing and broadcasting [it] ourselves when it meets a need or sounds like fun.” It no longer matters if you have a degree in journalism or not — all you need is a mobile phone.

The press was always supposed to be “free” — free speech is a basic human right. However, it’s gotten even more free than previously imaginable. When everyone has access to everything, there’s really no stopping just regular citizens from their own free speech. As the article sums up, “You don’t own the eyeballs. You don’t own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones. You don’t control production on the new platform, which isn’t one-way. There’s a new balance of power between you and us.” This means to say that journalists and regular citizens aren’t that different anymore. Now the audience can talk back and even put forward their own content. Essentially, they can decide “what their point of engagement will be” — will they participate in media or just be a bystander? What kind of news will they even choose to read? What will be on their front pages?

This new free press has left an overwhelming number of options, all right at our fingertips. The advantage of the mobile phone is that not only can you produce your own news when you’re there, right as it’s happening, but you can read it whenever you want too. You’re waiting for the bus? Read the news. On a crappy dinner date? Read the news. It’s now more accessible and more free than it’s ever been before — in fact, it’s nearly impossible to ignore.

So yes, amateurs and citizens have taken over with their mobile phones and are creating so much of their own news that journalism is getting drowned out. But is that a bad thing? Isn’t it better than now everyone has equal access to free speech? Or is the new free press only leading us somewhere more chaotic?

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