Last week’s media scandals demonstrated perfectly how journalism and news are evolving in terms of public participation. The Guardian fought for press freedom. Jan Moore made assumptions about Stephen Gately. Both resulted in a twitterfest of enquiry, news leads and outrage from the public that led to victorious outcomes. By allowing the public to do the investigating, the mystery was revealed of who was behind the super injunction that gagged Guardian reporting. Trafigura’s alleged toxic waste dumping is now in the public eye. Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir was made to apologise after 22,000 complaints were made to the Press Complaints Committee (PPC).
Social networking tools in both cases gave the public the opportunity to shape the outcomes of these events. They offer people freedom to speak out and with speed.
Without the internet the offended have little or no voice. A slow trickle of snail mail will not have the same impact as the barrage of electronic complaints made over a weekend. Social networking sites give passionate people a platform to speak out through blogs and twitter. Before the internet revolution what could we do? send in a measly letter to our local MP or newspaper that may not even be opened. On the internet no one can hide away the criticism from the public. People often don’t act because no one else is acting. If we can see others are reacting, it encourages us to make a stand too. It also gives the lazy or less motivated the ease and facilities they need to give them that little extra push and do something about an issue that has ruffled their feathers.
Social networking tools have enabled news and reaction to spread at speed like never before. As the Guardian/Jan Moir events were unfolding, there were about 10 new tweets every minute. Armed with a twitter account, each person has the opportunity to reach out to hundreds or thousands of people. If someone ‘retweets’ your post it will then be seen by everyone in their network and so on. As well as publishing individual concerns and opinions, relevant web articles can also be flagged up through links and tweets. This in turn gives the writer more power by reaching out to more people.
However, in some respects this new found freedom has been abused. By giving people a new found voice they are now ready to shout back at any journalist who dares to step outside of the norm. Whether the words in Jan Moir’s article were purposefully racist or just ignorant and clumsy, I personally think it’s good that people get the chance to comment about this type of thing.
Well, on one hand I do, on the other I’m a tad worried that freedom of opinion may be spiraling out of control to some extent. If we want to continue to live in a society with freedom of speech then surely we have to accept that people are going to publish things we don’t agree with sometimes, that angers us now and again. I believe that when we are truly in disagreement with an issue we should flag up our issues to the author using this great new internet tools (but not through harassment, more through intelligent debate!) What I don’t think we should do is jump on the Twitter bandwagon harassing writers, making PCC complaints every time something slightly controversial is published and a blogger kicks off about it, this will only scare journalists away from speaking their true opinions and we’ll end up with a bland middle view journalism.
In general however it’s good that the gap between media and public is closing, people now feel a part of what is going on – they have the power to investigate and solve. If people do not abuse this power too much, the public and the media can work together and maybe win future victories. Together they can help build a truer, richer picture of the world. Journalists cannot always be everywhere, they can’t spread a message too far on their own. The press can’t always be the first to crack open the mystery, and The Guardian/Trafigura case is a perfect example of new journalism.