Friday, May 27, 2011

The Internet and Social Media Have Redefined Journalism

Citizen journalist, blogger; call them what you will, but with the pervasiveness of the Internet giving them a platform, amateur scribes have become a permanent part of the information landscape. Social networking sites, content sites and blog sites offer them a platform to air their views and report on events that might not be covered by more traditional news organizations. Sometimes, though, the more traditional, or mainstream, Internet news sites, such as AOL, Yahoo, or Huffington Post, tap into this population for well written pieces on interesting news.

This is competition for hard working, card carrying journalists, but then, free lancers have always been around to keep the full time scribes on their toes. The real challenge of the new type of journalism is to bureaucratic organizations that like to control the messages that get published, and that have more or less established relationships with the mainstream media establishment. It now has to learn to work with this new breed of journalist; the private citizen who gets wind of a story, has a means of getting it into the public eye, but who might not know or feel obligated to follow the same procedures that employees of big news organizations follow.

The Internet, for instance, has redefined local news. When something is posted on the Internet, whether it’s a news media site, a personal blog, or a social networking site, it is global, regardless of the intent of the writer. Unless the site is restricted, and few news sites are, it is open to view by anyone, anywhere who has Internet access.

Social networking sites, such as Facebook, for instance, have privacy controls, but they aren’t foolproof, and if anyone else has access to the information you post, in essence, everyone has access. There have been instances of people abusing such access, but that’s not the real issue. The real issue is that what you post; in discussion streams for instance, is basically in the public domain once you hit ‘send,’ and can be relayed, reposted, and shared around the world. How, then, do you control who says what, to whom? The answer is, unless you prohibit employees from using social networking sites, you have no control. And, banning access is really not the answer, because it’s difficult to enforce, and efforts to do so can create more problems than allowing it.

Organizations that avoid social media are increasingly finding themselves behind the information power curve; out of touch with customers and employees alike. I don’t have a ready answer, other than to say that we need to accept that the information landscape has shifted, and we all need to learn to navigate it. The information super highway is a reality; we can travel along it, or we can be left stranded in the ditch.