About Katie B :)

I am a third year Journalism studying at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario. I am currently living and studying in Melbourne, Australia at RMIT University looking to get a broader perspective on Journalism and life in general

Under Threat: How Twitter has the journalist in defence mode

There has been an illusion amongst journalists for a long time about getting “both sides of the story,” which is beginning to recede in the digital age. No longer can journalist hide from the criticism from a finished article. Journalism is becoming a dialogue in which there will be constant discussion around a piece of journalism and it is time for the journalist to be ready to converse.

Greg Jericho of Grog’s Gamut delivered a lecture last Thursday at The University of Canberra to discuss how Twitter and other social media outlets are changing the way that journalism functions and in turn how journalists should adapt. “Suddenly they come on Twitter and they are confronted with responses to something that they have said,” says Jericho. “And too often political journalists…think that Twitter is filled with annoying people.” Journalists have long been privileged with an authority that grants their work a sense of finality, however on the internet no story is ever finished and there is no definitive or authoritative account. For the most part, this idea that there can be a response to a piece of journalism is new to journalists. While yes, there has always existed the comments section at the bottom of online articles, nothing compares to the opportunity for feedback that Twitter offers. Bloggers and tweeters are used to the conversational nature of these social media platforms, “Every statement on Twitter is made with the view of there being a response;” says Jericho. “You know you’re not just making it to nobody, you’re making it to your followers.” But journalists are mostly alien to this conversational style of critique. No longer is their work seen as an authoritative account, but as a beginning of a dialogue where the story will be challenged, discussed, interpreted in a de-centred discussion among the audience and, potentially, the journalist.

Twitter, as a platform for dialogue between journalists and audience, is an example of how modes of open journalism are changing the role of the journalist. Gone are the days of publishing a piece with finality. There is no longer the security of posting a story on the web that is unchangeable. This is causing the journalist to go into a defence mode. While they know they must be present on Twitter, partly to show their unbiased and neutral view, they are apprehensive of the open nature. In his lecture, Jericho mentioned Peter van Onselen as an example of a journalist feeling under attack on Twitter. After writing a post that received negative feedback from only 10 followers, van Onselen felt the need to defend himself, tweeting “The one eyed ALP supporters on Twitter are right silly me. The PM is doing a bang up job well done #oopsiadvocatedavotefortheALPin2010 #wakeup” in what Jericho describes as a sort of “High Broderism“; “you’ve got it wrong, I’m not biased I’m telling the truth because I once advocated for the ALP…you can’t accuse me of being bias because I’m in the middle.” Just an example of how journalists feel under threat due to response and in turn how they must defend their unbiased views.

Jericho notes that this defense from journalists is a product of the new lack of control and destruction of the old conditions. He says, “They are unable to cope with this, what I think is a widening gyre of social media, in while journalists words are taken and spun away from their hands.” No longer does the journalist have the final say in what they produce. So what does this all mean for the authority held by journalist? Basically, that it no longer exists. And the journalist better get used to it.

While the author of a piece will still be crucial, they must get used to the fact that their piece will  no longer be finished when published but instead be altered, adjusted, explained, discussed. “No longer will it be the columnist that provokes outrage,” says Jericho. “It will be someone who provokes discussion.” The journalist must become comfortable with engaging in discussion and realize that this is all now just part of the process.

Jericho quotes John Bergin, the director of social media and the digital news at Sky News, “This dialogue between the formerly passive readers and the active journalist is never going to go away. It’s going to be there whether we are still using Twitter or not,” Bergin says. “This is going to need a different set of skills from journalists.”

Social Media and Open Journalism

Social media is embedded into the everyday life, influencing the way people communicate around the world. Not only is social media an important communication tool, but a production tool in open journalism. It is a two way communication tool that is making it much easier for people to share their ideas, give feedback and interact about an issue. Open journalism is a system that seeks to organize the ideas of many contributors as a mode of production, there is no way that this would be possible without social media. Social media offers a means of collaboration, as well as publication.

The video below shows how connected people have become within their own lives and how this has created a desire to share their personal discoveries with the world wide web at the click of a button. People want to participate, they want to share their ideas, contribute their findings and give their opinions. Open journalism welcomes all of these contributions and seeks to organize them in a comprehensive way.

Often when people engage as citizen journalists they don’t see what they do as “journalism” they simply believe they are “sharing”, which is the fundamental function of social networking.

Defining Open Journalism

Rather than considering open journalism a mode of journalism or as a type of journalism, we consider open journalism a system, or a form of organization including different forms of journalism that are often produced by a third party. Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-cheif of the Guardian, describes open journalism as:

journalism which is fully knitted into the web of information that exists in the world today. It links to it; sifts and filters it; collaborates with it and generally uses the ability of anyone to publish and share material to give a better account of the world.

The Guardian, as one of the leading examples of how open journalism can function successfully, developed these ten principles of what open journalism is:

  • It encourages participation. It invites and/or allows a response
  • It is not an inert, “us” or “them”, form of publishing
  • It encourages others to initiate debate, publish material or make suggestions. We can follow, as well as lead. We can involve others in the pre-publication processes
  • It helps form communities of joint interest around subjects, issues or individuals
  • It is open to the web and is part of it. It links to, and collaborates with, other material (including services) on the web
  • It aggregates and/or curates the work of others
  • It recognizes that journalists are not the only voices of authority, expertise and interest
  • It aspires to achieve, and reflect, diversity as well as promoting shared values
  • It recognizes that publishing can be the beginning of the journalistic process rather than the end
  • It is transparent and open to challenge – including correction, clarification and addition

From the above points it is clear what The Guardian sets out to achieve with open journalism. It is important to recognise that without those third parties participating in open journalism, the system would seize to exist. In the article Anyone Can Know by Sue Robinson and Cathy DeShano, there is extensive discussion about citizen journalism and its contribution to mainstream press.

Since the early 2000s there has been a dramatic increase in trust that the public has for ‘qualified’ bloggers, sending the message that journalists need to move over and make room. This trust increase has been good for society as the it encourages citizens to participate in their democracy now that they have a say in the news production. And for those that are doing it well, there is no shortage of recognition from the public. In 2005 it was shown that over half of American’s who read blogs believed that bloggers should have the same rights as traditional journalists. This information shows a clear shift from traditional consumption of news into the digital age.

The case study that was observed and reviewed in this article concludes the necessity for citizen journalists to work together with traditional journalists. This is where open journalism comes into play and recognizes the traditional journalist as the curator of information. There seems to be a competition between the objectivity, credibility and accuracy of the traditional journalist and the connections, freshness, volume and transparency of citizen bloggers. Open journalism is an opportunity for the competition to turn into a collaboration. Both journalists can use their set skills in order to work together and create journalism that encompasses all of the aforementioned skills.

Open journalism is an ecosystem where in all the parts must function together to work effectively. Open journalism is the tool that manages, filters, links to, and collaborates with all parts to create a platform for anyone to share or publish material.