Journalism is on a journey, and it seems to be sharing the path with more travellers than expected.
There are many terms used to describe contributions to online newspaper content. Jay Rosen (2006) describes these contributors as “the people formerly known as the audience”. Some call it “user generated content” others “citizen journalism”, while some like the term “produsage”, which highlights the combination of producing and consuming information (Bruns 2008; 2005).
Another term is “participatory journalism”. In today’s society, with the aid of new media platforms and technologies, people inside and outside the newsroom are engaging more and more with each other. These people are participating. They’re creating online networks and multifaceted communities where a range of news can be observed, reported on, discussed and criticised.
So what does this mean for institutional journalism? They are facing a serious challenge to their social function by an activity parallel to their own. Audience participation is redefining the journalistic culture, their values and their practices (Domingo et al 2008). How are the institutional journalists responding to this change?
Gatekeeping is defined as “the process by which the vast array of potential news messages are winnowed, shaped, and prodded into those few that are actually transmitted by news media” (Shoemaker et al 2001). In a 2008 study titled ‘Participatory Journalism Practices In The Media And Beyond: An international comparative study of initiatives in online newspapers’ (Domingo et al 2008) the results suggested that institutional journalists and agencies were withholding their control over the content they released. The features these institutions would provide to let citizens produce the content themselves were mostly just invitations to submit audio-visual materials, story ideas, links to social networking sites and space for citizen blogs. Few of the online newspapers they looked at used tools for community building or encouraged participatory journalism.
It is now 2014, as journalism becomes more and more “participatory”, the volume of information to be filtered can become overwhelming for gatekeepers. Making it harder and harder to maintain control over it. If media agencies do not provide tools online for citizens to contribute, the citizen will just go elsewhere. To online communities designed for participation.
In the past few years ordinary people have captured and published, in words and images, stories of serious global
impact. Most of the time the audience has captured these moments in real time, experiencing it first hand only moments after it has happened. Terrorist attacks on the commuters of Madrid and London, abuse of prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, the chaos surrounding elections in Iran and many different natural disasters. They have carried on millions of newsworthy conversations through discussion forums, comment threads and blogs. Institutional journalism is right to feel threatened. It will have to adapt alongside these monumental changes in communication technology, like it has done throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, if it wants to stay relevant and necessary to this complex and digitalising society.
Bruns, Axel (2005) Gatewatching: Collaborative online news production, New York: Peter Lang
Bruns, Axel (2008) Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and beyond: From production to Produsage, New York: Peter Lang
David Domingo, Thorsten Quandt, Ari Heinonen, Steve Paulussen, Jane B. Singer & Marina Vujnovic (2008) “Participatory Journalism Practices In The Media And Beyond” Journalism Practice, 2;3, 326-342
Rosen, Jay (2006) The People Formerly Known as the Audience, Press Think