The Internet abolished journalists’ dominance of international news. Twitter eclipsed political reporters’ control of the political debate.
Politicians’ news conferences, broadcast live, are dissected by running commentaries and analysis by a galaxy of often anonymous microbloggers. MSM (mainstream media) journalists have been running to catch up.
Greg Jericho thinks journalists should engage with social media or face irrelevancy. Jericho anonymously wrote a political blog under the handle, Grog’s Gamut. That is until he was outed by the Australian newspaper in in one of its periodic campaigns against those unwise enough to have different views to those of the Oz’s editors. The controversy made Jericho a minor celebrity in the Twittersphere, launching a new career tangent which took him from the public service to the satirical TV show, the Hamster Wheel and the online opinion site, The Drum.
Jericho’s new book, The Rise of the Fifth Estate, is critical of journalists in general and the Canberra press corps in particular. Political insiders were often seen to be inward looking.
Many journalists in the press gallery will interact only with other members of the gallery, and those who do interact with non journalists seem more likely to do so only to argue with critics. For all the concerns about not being allowed to tweet stories outside their area, few do so. Most tweet links to their own stories or to others in their own newspapers.
The term, Fifth Estate, was coined to describe how amateurs could “cover events, provide first hand information, and take photographs, and, in doing so, to reach thousands of people , without any of them having to go near a news website”. This process was most recently evident during Arab Spring in Egypt, where corrupt and censored mainstream media were bypassed by social media activists using smartphones. Foreign journalists who came to Cairo to cover the revolution, plugged into these social networks to create comprehensive, reflective and accurate reports.
While Jericho conceded that citizen journalism might be difficult to maintain, he claimed things were different in political reporting, where the amateurs had ready and continuous access to live coverage of parliament, news conferences and media events. They had the time and the distance to fact check, access data bases and provide considered analysis; practices often neglected by their MSM competitors.
Certainly my own short but tedious experience as a minor political reporter bears this out. For me, the national press gallery appeared to be intentionally deluged with continuously trivial events, releases and faux controversies. Journalists who stayed there too long seemed mesmerised by the punch and judy show, isolated from the exercise of real power , while they speculated about the personalities in imagined leadership challenges.
Its not that the twittering classes are immune from such superficialities. Indeed their anonymity, lack of training or journalism education, freedom from codes of practice, and ignorance of any identified ethical code, meant that the twittersphere was populated with cranks, ratbags and undercover shills who made even the Australian‘s chorus of columnists look almost reasonable.
It was a tad concerning to read one twitt who thought that you didn’t need facts, just opinions, to tweet politics.
Online discussion could, as a result, be a daunting process. According to Jericho, this was the new reality of political debate, and journalists just needed to get used to it. Just because some bloggers were obnoxious, it didn’t mean that they didn’t have valid points to make.
Blogs aren’t places for the faint-hearted; those not willing to argue their case, or who comment on subjects beyond their expertise (or at least in the eyes of others) can find themselves set upon with scorn, derision or abuse.
Twitter, according to Jericho, reflected the “real world”. While he might want some people to behave better, it was absurd to expect it. Twitter merely multiplied the number of “asswipes” one was aware of. Political journalists could not claim privilege and ignore it, telling bloggers, “Leave it to the professionals!”.
If journalists and media organisations can’t see the way ahead involves more than just reporting or broadcasting, they will be left behind. To those who fear true engagement on social media for fear of being labelled partisan, or because some people are nasty on Twitter or on blogs, or out of a worry for developing a reputation for calling out a leader for some of his or her spurious claims might limit their future access to “exclusives”, I say, keep out of the way. The bloggers will run past you.
Jericho, G. (2012). The Rise of the Fifth Estate ; social media and blogging in Australian politics. Melbourne: Scribe. http://grogsgamut.blogspot.com.au/
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