#EveryoneIsAJournalist: Who should be called a journalist?
Journalism is an age-long profession that has influenced the development of many nations around the world. Journalists popularly referred to as the “watch-dog’ of the society; have helped to keep the society abreast with the happenings in the society. They wield so much power. Government and big companies have fallen based on stories written by journalists. The powers of journalism and journalists have indeed been felt world-over.
One attaché that gave journalists more credibility was the medium they report for, thus it was not uncommon for a Journalist to introduce themselves with the medium they report for, be it newspaper, magazines, television or radio. This form of journalism was solidly hedged on the two-way communication model, where the journalist writes to the people and the readers respond through letters to the editor, and the likes.
However, with the advent of social media platforms, the communication landscape has taken a dramatic turn towards dynamism. Social media networks and online publishing platforms like twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blogspot, wordpress, medium, etc., have now given everyone an opportunity to publish “news”. The concept of what forms “news” has also changed to what the audience takes as newsworthy as opposed to what the journalist and their editors feel should be “news”. In today’s world, citizens ‘make’ the news.
The social media space has given rise to a formidable army of social journalists. The concept of social journalism also known as public, participatory, and democratic, citizen or street journalism refers to “nonprofessional journalist” playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting and analyzing and dissemination news and Information. It is not uncommon these days for a flippant issue such as women cooking for their husband to flood public discourse for days, most time generating millions of impression across several social media platforms. Everybody is talking and sharing news. This has also given rise to social influencers who have seemingly usurped the traditional powers of traditional journalists. In terms of followership, blogsites like Linda-Ikeji, Bella Naija, Naij, Olorisupergal etc., now boast of huge numbers that traditional media can only dream of.
Though many people still read news that is produced by the traditional media, many of them feel that traditional media are too slow or that there is an agenda behind their reports. Even among the informed and enlightened, there are those who say in “loud whispers” that news headlines and content on major newspapers, radio and television are only those whose principals “gathered” journalists to cover the events and then placated them with “envelopes”.
While this attitude towards traditional media has been around for a long time now, the prevalence of mobile devices that can record pictures, video and have constant internet connection combined with the growing popularity of social networking sites has actually made it possible for people to produce and share news themselves — without screening.
This form of journalism is far getting wider acceptance even by the traditional media. Most of them have even gone as far as encouraging people to submit this kind of materials to them for broadcast. The CNN I-report is an example of this. Most traditional media channels now compliment their channels with social media and blog platforms in order to reach out to a large number of audience that have migrated to the digital space. Citizen journalism has aided real-time and on-spot reporting; this was evident in the period of the Arab uprising, bring-back-our-girls campaign, etc.
As a result of this polarization of journalism, an issue that needs a rethinking in this era is the matter of who to call a journalist. Should we call anybody that reports news a journalist, even if they are not properly trained for the job? A lot of stakeholders have implied that since these social journalists gather and publish their own stories they also merit the title of “journalist”. However, the truth is that Journalism goes beyond writing a story, the main core of the profession is the principle of ethics.
The soul of age-long journalism has been juxtaposed. For instance, the dogmatic principle of “If you are in doubt leave it out” has been sacrificed on the altar of “first to publish” — as this is the borderless cancer of social media journalism. Ethical journalism takes time to investigate stories, and get all parties to the story to present their case, this has been lost in the 24/7 reporting style of social journalism, were uncorroborated and defamatory stories have become a hall mark. In the social media market space, the sellers widely outnumber the buyers!
A case in point is the Trump transition in which analysts who attempted a post-mortem of the historic US election that brought Donald Trump to power have noted that ‘fake’ news on Facebook contributed a great deal in dissuading people from voting in Hillary Clinton. Many at times, unsuspecting audience members consume and share these fictitious stories. Agreed that social media channels are rapidly transforming the socio-economic and political public discourses with cultural implications as social media can no longer be ignored. However this dynamism cannot and should not replace the core principles of journalism, as such social media participants do not qualify to be called ‘Fully hatched journalists’ because of grooming and training drawbacks. Social media journalism does not approximate professional journalism.