Social media: Is it journalism?

I seem to be forever getting entangled in this debate between social and mainstream media. There is, increasingly, the idea that somehow social media could take a rank in position above mainstream media.

23 Mar 2011 0 comment

What with all the Tweeting, Facebook activity and the current revolutions in the Middle East, one might well be inclined to think that there is great energy in the writings of the multitudes in creating public opinion. And there may even be some truth to this. But where social media writing and mainstream journalism differ widely is that social media as a medium by itself lacks depth. However, due to the enforced content management rules under which it operates i.e. a tweet can only contain 140 characters, one could say its power lies in its brevity. Nonetheless, this power is fleeting.

Mainstream journalism on the other hand lies in the depth of its report, investigation and its words just to begin with. But even with mainstream journalism, there are two types – one that is on the digital platform and the other, the old media which is in the printed form. I like to distinguish between these two because media in the digital form is nonlinear and therefore more interactive as opposed to the other form.

Why I bother to clarify these areas is because I find many of the younger mainstream journalists beginning to believe more and more in social media as a medium for journalism, resulting in them giving less importance to the mainstream media platforms. Journalism in mainstream is a process. It is not an emotional ejaculation. There is a certain amount of planning, structuring and a sense of knowing the impact it will have on the audience (accountability). The process of writing for mainstream media, be it news or features goes through a procedure of news gathering, rechecking facts, sifting through material for relevance and framing the story to suit the audience/readership.

I cannot see any social media writer (Twitter or Blogger) going through this process. Yes, their writings maybe called journalism from a generic point of view, but I would certainly say that we need mainstream journalists who can take the high ground when it comes to accuracy, accountability and transparency in their reports.

In response to my last column in the Daily FT two week ago, I got a long reply from a reader who wanted to give an opinion on my story. Whilst I appreciate the response, what I found lacking in it was the fact that I could not identify the person who had written it. One of the fundamentals of good journalism where I am coming from are these factors – transparency and accountability.

When we make opinion, we must know who is saying what in order to make a judgment on the validity of what is being said. That is something mainstream journalists should not forget. The whole idea of writing a story is not only about what is being written but also who is writing it and why it is being written.

One may argue that having a pseudonym in journalism is as old as the profession itself. However, I would like to point out that a pseudonym is not a secret to everyone. The newspaper and its management know who is behind the name, whereas pen names on the digital platform can be kept completely anonymous. Therein lies the fundamental difference between mainstream media and social media.

A great part of social media is nameless and faceless. While it may have its place in this so-called citizen journalism area, it should not be mistaken for the real thing.

(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website.)

Source : Daily FT (http://www.ft.lk/2011/03/23/social-media-is-it-journalism/)

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