“You will always have partial points of view, and you’ll always have the story behind the story that hasn’t come out yet. And any form of journalism you’re involved with is going to be up against a biased viewpoint and partial knowledge.”

~Margaret Atwood


Participatory Culture: Harming or Helping Journalism?

The ability, which has now become a cultural expectation, to participate and be involved in New Media, and to create media content, is known as Participatory Culture. This phenomenon adds a whole new layer to the idea of “Media Convergence,” or the combination of an old media and a new, into a single media product.

Many “new media scholars” argue that participatory culture actually creates a more democratic media field. By inviting the audience to create, respond to, and produce media content, the true opinions and feelings of America are being shown to a larger degree than ever before.

The flip side of this, though, is whether or not this kind of expression can be considered journalism. On one hand it promotes democracy, it resembles a more grassroots style of information production that avoids playing into the political economy of the media, and it creates a unique center of cultural convergence. On the other hand, it demands a new way of consuming information: one taken with a grain of salt.

The best known example of participatory culture is Fan Fiction. This is yet another way users can get even more involved with media. Reading books or watching a TV show is no longer the only option: now entire profiles and websites are designed to prolonging the story, creating fan-bases, and bringing stories to life in different ways. This kind of convergence is not only possible, but demanded.

Media companies love this, and have added a new layer to horizontal integration: Transmedia Exploitation. Perhaps the best example of this is Marvel Comics. Marvel took a comicbook story, like Ironman, and flew with it. Now Ironman has 3 movies, spinoffs, more comics, clothing, action figures, shows, amusement park rides, and more. And that is only the product created by Marvel. Ironman’s fan base is creating even more: new comics, new stories, new websites, everything…and for FREE.

This idea can be translated directly into the world of journalism. The amount of people creating content for free, hoping to be noticed and picked up by a larger company, may encourage more work and ethics to go into the work, or may do the exact opposite.

“Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.”
~Henry Anatole Grunwald

Changing Definitions – How Journalism has evolved throughout the 21st Century

New Media have affected the world of journalism in so many ways, creating an online world where audiences are now users and producers of content. While this is changing, the definition itself of journalism is evolving as well.

The conceptions surrounding journalism have gone from an audience ingesting information, to users creating the information content themselves, across a variety of media platforms.

While this may produce a more democratic environment for users by giving every one a voice, does this harm the Society of Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) idea of what a journalist should represent?

On one hand, there is no moderation of ethics, fact checking, or even professionalism on most blogs or sites that are self-proclaimed journalistic feeds. On the other hand, giving everybody a voice and opportunity to work with journalistic information could create an environment that thrives with information diversity and truth.

With the constantly-changing definition of journalism that is seen in today’s media-centered world, this could be perfectly fine if we learn how to consume our media differently.

That, there, is the key.

We have fallen into the pattern that is shown as our ultimate destruction in post-apocalyptic movies such as Idiocracy or Wall-E. Consuming media blindly, without any discretion, for shock-value Wall-E-2-fat-humansor simply because it is easy to believe what the TV or Internet is saying, is not consuming media correctly.

With bloggers emerging every day calling themselves journalists (myself included), we need to understand that truth is relative. Though some news sources are far more trustworthy than others (the New York Times, etc.), it is important to take news with a grain of salt. The more people educated outside of the field of communications or law try their hand at participating in news culture, the less accurate news stories have the danger of becoming. By comparing and contrasting sources, and doing a bit of personal fact-checking, we can create an Internet environment where journalism has changed, but is still reliable to some degree.

If your interest in this topic is sparked, you’ll be glad to hear that I’m not the only person thinking about this. Below are some links to articles that have rounded the way I think about these issues, and that go a bit more in-depth with the relationship between technology and journalism:

Journalism in the Digital Age
A project much like this one done by students at Stanford University.

Changing Definitions of News
Pew Research Center for Journalism and Media.

Ten Ways Journalism Has Changed in the Last 10 Years (Blogger’s-Cut)

The Meaning of Journalism in the 21st Century.
An article in EuroNews, an online news source.

What is New Media?

To fully understand how media and journalism are changing, one must understand what New Media are. One definition states:

 “New Media are outlets and content that use digital technologies to deliver and advance messages typically in a way that allows for participation and collaboration.”

A slightly easier way of understanding new media is looking at it like this:

New Media Are:

Global Connectedness
Digital/Current Technology
Anytime/Anywhere Content

Essentially, New Media create an environment where most digital media is subjective, manipulatable, interactive, and networkable. It is constantly changing and developing, and inviting audiences to become users and producers. Another blog post will be dedicated to the effect of Participatory Culture on journalism, but for now it is crucial to understand how New Media has turned all kinds of media from something observable, into something interactive. TV programs now invite audiences to Tweet responses to be shown on screen; magazines and newspapers can be found on one’s doorstep and online that invite comments.

Journalists are now constantly linked in, whether it be Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or any other social media. Stories are constantly being shared through different platforms, inviting anybody to write them, publish them, and comment on them.

This new world of information sharing is creating an environment where anybody can be a self-published journalist. New Media has been associated with the adage “the shrinking of the world,” but the world of information-sharing is growing substantially. Everybody wants a piece of the news, and now has the opportunity to be part of creating it. Blogs are free and easy to start, and companies are more than ready to hire people to write for them.

What does this mean for the future of ethical journalism? More to come in a future post.

“The media has changed. We now give broadcast licenses to philosophies instead of people. People get confused and think there is no difference between news and entertainment. People who project themselves as journalists on television don’t know the first thing about journalism. They are just there stirring up a hockey game.”

~Gary Ackerman