Social media suffocate journalism
When a like kills the OUR-nalism
I have been told by my heart, not to struggle anymore with what we barelly call ‘social media’… Journalism is not the X Factor. Some news organisations, I’m beginning to believe, have lost sight of this. Just on purpose, I want to retitle the Journalism, in Our-nalism. Our Journalism. Not in a way, we’ve been owned the Reportage, but trying to make clear the labyrinth we face with when we are called to cover a footage or to show up the reportage.
What we — the old ones’ — used to call ‘Good journalism’ , nowadays seems to take a little time to be captured, written and published. From the most simple heavy traffic jam in your city, up to a crime in the capital town. That’s just how it is. In the old days — and I overindulged just a little at my 30th birthday dinner so the old days for me were not so long ago –- journalists used to talk to real people. Used to go out in the roads, in the avenues, covering a reportage by asking people for the one or the other, collecting infos so as to edit their text and go back to their office, sitting down on their ideas and mind-clouds to make out their truth.
Real — for sure — sources. Vivid, obvious, just in front of your eyes. We used to check things out. Of course we got things wrong but by and large most of us did a stand up job, most of the time. We used to have some highfalutin notions that our work had value; that people used to read it and take notice, that we were more than the sum of our parts, playing some sort of fundamental role in a whole new way of rebuilding democracy.
But it was much more easier back in those days, then. The newspaper hacks had the day — or days in some cases — to do it. It was always a bit more of a rush for broadcasters, but the checks and balances of having to have a source on tape, or on camera, were there. In the backyard of your mind.
These days, I spend most of my time talking about the media to bright, articulate and engaging young journalism students. Moreoften in a way I use to call the whole idea in my head as the VIRAL Journalism. OUR-nalism. The Nowadays that is OURS. One of the most striking differences, I guess, in how news has changed is the move toward what Alan Rusbridger has coined as “open” or “mutual journalism”. Famous Guardian have pioneered it as a new way of reporting the world — an interconnected web where the story constantly evolves, where we are all part of the story, reacting to, updating, changing, chasing and commenting on it.
But more and more I’m beginning to wonder what it is that mutual journalism is doing to traditional news values, and to news standards. Fundamentally, what is the value of a reader’s comment? Or a viewer’s tweet? Why do we care what our readers think? Why do we all the time expect or even wait eating nails, for a comment, a LIKE or a post? Most of the commentary is ill-informed, ill-judged, and — often — ill-mannered, libelous, racist, and vile. Sure, crowd sourcing has tremendous value but why do we need the commentary along with it? Twitter reaction is now reported as a valid news story. Re-tweets and comments about what is being reported are turning journalism into a popularity contest. A 100-run speeding trending or going viral is now something to be aspired to. Some, though not all, news organisations are now conducting ‘hit counter’ journalism, where what’s trending and what’s popular gets reported and what isn’t doesn’t. But in the race to be popular does the harrowing, the worthy and the serendipitous get left behind?
This isn’t a rant against the evils of social media and to suggest that news organisations should not be competing in the social media arena is ridiculous. Neither it is an attack on digital journalism – online has the capacity to produce better journalism than the paper version even could. Nor is it an attack on Twitter. Twitter is probably the most powerful tool journalists in the digital era have at their disposal. It has probably had more of a democratising effect than any other media in history. As a tool to disseminate and share, it has no equal.
It is the fundamental values, not the medium, that I’m referring to.
Not so long ago people used to walk around standing on soap boxes and wearing cardboard signs tied with string around their necks. We used to call them cranks. Now we call them tweeters.
Trust. It’s a funny word.
Alexander G. Tanaskidis
Journalist / Reporter