The Rise of the Better and Faster Journalist

My Mystic Meg-like qualities enabled me to jump the gun a tad last week as I managed to blog on the very thing the lecture was about. So this week, rather than twisting my journalistic knife into this debate after already fully plunging it in, I thought I’d act as devil’s advocate and outline one of the (many) benefits of the citizen journalism cause.

Citizen journalism, or User Generated Content (UGC) is apparently not new. In fact it has been here for centuries, existing in forms such as political pamphleteers, video footage of the assassination of Kennedy and more recently the ‘Zine culture’.

As Dr Andy Williams said in his lecture, “This stuff is not that new”. And no matter what I, or any number of anti citizen journalists say or do, ‘this stuff’ is here to stay. In fact, ‘this stuff’ is deemed so vital and influential, Time Magazine featured UGC in its 2006 Person of the Year in which the person was ‘you’, due to the millions of people who contributed to user generated media. Yep the U in User Generated Content is certainly here to stay. So what makes ‘you’, the public, so great?

Simply put, I think citizen journalism makes journalists better at what they do. We now must get used to the fact we have to answer to a general public who may be challenging what we write or pointing out our mistakes. Often, they will be smarter than us, wittier than us, and more informed than us. But rather than feel threatened by this new, intimate relationship with our readers, we should use it as a way of perfecting our skills as journalists, improving accuracy, style and become more engaging, probing, dedicated reporters i.e. the days of the slack hack are well and truly OVER.

As John V. Pavlik outlines in his book Journalism and New Media, the traditional journalist, who is accustomed to serving in the role of omnipotent storyteller, must now face new challenges, as well as checks and balances. Sure, we may not like it but, as Pavlik points out, democracy can be better served by journalism transforming from a largely one-way discourse to a two-way dialogue responsive to the views and vision of the public.

Due to the wonder that is the World Wide Web, it is now just as easy for the public to get facts as it is for a journalist, thus a journalist must do more than just relay the facts. He must become a skilful storyteller with a global audience, outlining the relevant information yet placing it into a wider context. And today’s journalist has increasingly less time to do this as today’s news consumer wants their news right here, right now.

And back to that wise, old journalist AJ Liebling who said: “I can write better than anyone who can write faster, and I can write faster than anyone who can write better.”

The point is, journalists must now write both better and faster and not only that, we must also respond to the views of the public as a way of serving democracy that little bit better. After all we are writing for the public, thus we must listen to the public.

Journalists everywhere rise; it’s time to get down from your ivory tower, hang up your crown and come down to face your public.

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