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Maybe to be living in times where our world is going through some of the greatest changes it’s ever gone through we’re luckier than we realise. We’re living history, in the process of witnessing how social media, whether through more open institutions, via whistleblowers or citizen journalists, is encouraging more people to challenge and improve the world around them at a local, national and international level. Our institutions are still in the early stages of adapting to a technology which they initially created and which they seem unable to control through traditional means.
We no longer need to rely on the mainstream media to tell us about our world. As the cost of production processes decreases and technology becomes more accessible, more people have the capacity to tell us about their lives and the world around them, the kinds of testimony we may never have heard before, which leads us to question our own worlds and how these changes in our views will impact upon us. How will we react and what exactly is happening to our world? Questions like these are not only having an impact on the public, but on the mainstream media as well.
Many people talk about a blurring of the boundaries between citizen and mainstream journalists and, in some ways, the boundaries are barely recognisable. The idea of a mainstream media, for example, is often accompanied by the false notion that parts of it are somehow universally objective and trustworthy whilst citizen journalists are too opinionated and their work lacks accuracy, an argument which ignores editorial, professional, political and economic pressures.
Mainstream journalism, like citizen journalism, is also made up of individuals with their own interpretation of the world around them, who frame their interpretation influenced by their own experiences and environment, but what may mark the two apart is the idea in citizen journalism that we’re involved in a conversation between peers, rather than receiving a message from up on high.
This will almost certainly bring about significant shifts in how we as individuals, our communities and our societies function. What with events in countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, to name but three, we’re seeing how our world is changing, where the top-down approach in the media and in our governance has ceased to have it all its own way. The mainstream media may have tried to give more of a voice to a diverse range of people but, ultimately, it still had the final say. Today, we can be involved in the whole process and that empowers us in the stories we tell.
It’s not only our media that is changing. Our leaders can no longer expect to have the amount of influence they’ve traditionally had over people’s perceptions by obscuring what goes on behind the scenes. They need to heed our views if they are to govern effectively, not least because we now have the capability to join together to do something about it.
Social media is bringing people together in ways where they can better question the official version of events and those who mediate it. Sections of the mainstream media are trying to adapt. However, there still remains a snobbery within the profession about citizen journalism. Mainstream journalists would be well advised to abandon this attitude now that they’re unable to cling on unchallenged to the old ways of doing things because, if they don’t, they won’t survive. What’s more, they can no longer expect to have the influence they once had because citizen journalism won’t let them.