Idea Mashup: Jeff Howe & Jesse Hirsh on citizen journalists

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ideaMashupWhat happens to our concept of the news when the audience becomes the source? That’s the question we pose in this week’s Idea Mashup, as we pair Jeff Howe and Jesse Hirsh in a digital conversation about the shifts in how news is gathered, accessed and shared.The two sound off on the roles of citizen journalists versus pros, credibility in reporting, and the (illusion of?) a balanced media versus the opinion of the individual.

Jeff Howe is a professor of journalism at Northeastern University in Boston. He is also a contributing editor at Wired magazine.

Jesse Hirsh is a technology commentator and founder of the Academy of the Impossible.

Both Hirsh and Howe straddle the roles of journalist, commentator and examiner of the media, watching the world of news evolve and transform rapidly before our eyes, as old business models evaporate and the relationship between the news maker and the news reader become increasingly entangled.

As Hirsh puts it, “Journalism is undergoing a dramatic industrial change… induced by technology. But technology’s really just the distraction. It has to do with the democratization of news, that anyone can be a journalist, anyone can make a living as a journalist.”

It seems recently, that there isn’t a story that breaks that isn’t narrated by a collective chorus of Twitter “newsmakers”. But it’s not just the sources of our news that are changing – so is the pace. “Social media has accelerated the news cycle.” says Hirsh, “Cable news created the 24/7 news cycle, but social media creates the 14,400, which is how many seconds are in the course of a day. Because it literally is a matter of seconds before you hear the news. And it’s no longer where you go to the news, you don’t open up the newspaper, social media means the news comes to you.”

Fact versus fast
As we come to demand ever more instantaneous information, even the traditional news sources are racing to keep up. And while much ado has been made over the credibility of online sources, most recently following the Boston Marathon bombing, the truth is that in the pursuit of being the first to break 14,400 updates, even the pros made pretty big blunders, forcing many – both newsmakers and consumers – to reevaluate how we value fact… versus fast.

For Jeff Howe, the solution comes from these two factions – traditional outlets and new media sources – working together to find balance between fast and fact. “One doesn’t replace the other, they work together.” says Howe, adding, “I think that enabling collective action, enabling cooperation, concensus-building, and all the usually positive things that happen when people get together on these media is a net positive… One affects the other, no question, to the extent that professional journalists are still able to secure enough revenue to continue writing, they are using citizen journalism in their reporting. They’re using their network on Twitter to identify sources and collect quotes. The fact they have a network on Twitter aids and abets their journalism practice. It doesn’t replace it.”

As with everything else online, these are the early days still, and for the “new news” we are still in the digital Wild West. The real test will be when we cross the threshold of critical mass, so that the audience that run digital newsrooms – be it Twitter or reddit – become their own full ecosystems.

Wikipedia, once a questionable source, is now recognized as being correct more often than not, and part of the reason for that is that there are enough engaged and concerned contributors to balance out the rogues. When something is wrong, it is amended or called out. The hope is that this will be case for the future of collective news making, too, where everyone who shares could have the responsibility of a reporter.



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