The Rise of We The Media

“The venerable profession of journalism finds itself at a rare moment in history where, for the first time, its hegemony as gatekeeper of the news is threatened by not just new technology and competitors but, potentially, by the audience it serves.”
-Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis from Hypergene, a media consulting and design firm

This quote appeared in a piece commissioned by the Media Center at the American Press Institute. It really struck me as a very good definition of a relatively new term, citizen journalist. Gone are the days of waiting until morning to read the story in the newspaper or feeling at the mercy of local journalists to get our message out.

Today, the 24/7/365 news cycle along with cellphones and Twitter have relegated traditional media to trying to keep up with the reporting done on the street by Tom, Dick and Harriet. Most times, the hand-held cell with a blurry image of the “Big Crash” works just fine for YouTube. And now it works equally well for the “If it bleeds, it leads” 6 p.m. high-definition local newscast.

Wow, how times have changed. When I was a young PR flack in the 1980s, I remember toting one-inch videotape to the TV station only to have it rejected because it was not “broadcast quality.” Ha! Now, a shaky, out-of-focus picture of a plane hitting a bridge will be on every broadcast station and news website. Oh wait, there is the idea of confirming the video is real … right?

And now comes police body cams. A large headline in my local paper reported that local groups are advocating for more of them. This is certainly not unique to our town. After Ferguson and many other police-action shootings, the cry for more accountability and visual evidence is getting some real air time. Again, real video, captured in real time, in a real world, is powerful stuff. Sure, news agencies can get some of this video, but the outlets are not running down the alley chasing the bad guys.

The omnipresent citizen with phone in hand is the frontline reporter now. I’m not going to use the term journalist here because most, if not all, of these reporters don’t have a lick of journalism training. They are simply recording what happens, and usually without a neutrality filter and balance a real reporter would bring to the situation. Still, they are recording history and disseminating it.

I do believe the sea change in reporting and news is evident. How many times in recent weeks have you heard a news anchor say, “Please send us your video, but be careful when you’re filming that tornado”?

One thing you will never hear, though it is well-understood: “Thanks for doing our job for us.”

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