By Heather Marsh
Nov 11, 2013
In the past, media was protected in most democracies because in order to govern themselves, people need access to accurate and timely information on all topics relevant to their governance. The news needs to be the match that starts analysis and action which doesn’t stop till we have change. Otherwise it is silly to pretend that news has anything at all to do with governance. If news requires no action, it is probably not the news we require in order to govern ourselves. If activism requires no analysis, it is probably not informed or effective.
The first right of all people must be the right to communicate. Without communication there is no way to safeguard our other rights or participate in society. Everyone needs a voice and the ability to call for help in emergencies.
Corporate media was long ago co-opted as a propaganda vehicle for corporations and governments, but people still supported it for three reasons: it provided a paying job for reporters, it provided access to an audience and it loaned official credence to the news.
The laughably small amount news media pays for most stories now (if they pay at all) is no longer tempting. Having to write material to fill a slot instead of writing because a story needs to be told, writing only on topics and only to audiences dictated and then having work butchered by editors who have less knowledge of the topic than the author is not the path to job satisfaction or quality information. Editors decide their audience must be fed the exact same story in the exact same way every day. Every story that brings different information or perspective is considered ‘biased’ and modified to reiterate the standard line. News must have an established audience before it is told, which defeats the purpose of news. Articles are produced as quickly as possible, are not interactive like micro-blogging and are seldom thoughtful and crafted like the best blogs. Corporate media reads like advertising copy, inoffensive, unsurprising, unoriginal.
Once this journalism at least brought community respect. Now it is more likely to bring open contempt and public criticism. Many bloggers have received far more recognition and respect by creating their own work and publishing it their own way on their own blogs. They sometimes manage to earn an equivalent or better living as well through a combination of donations, grants, paid appearances, website ads, etc.
The audience provided by official platforms online is now largely driven by online sharing and authors are expected to push their stories on social media when they are published. This could easily be (and sometimes is) replaced by promoting personal blog posts directly to social media instead. For those who are not interested in domain values and page hits, it is far easier to create viral media without restrictive copyright and pay walls. The unrealistic delays in publishing on official platforms make them obsolete as breaking news platforms.
The official status once brought by publication in corporate media is starting to bring the opposite result. Unless the official status is needed to update an archaic resource such as Wikipedia, there is little benefit.
There are many reasons to argue that journalism as it is practiced ought not to be a profession. While a good writer or investigator is always valuable, stories should be published when there is something important to say, not to fill a slot on demand. The people news is happening to seldom need others to translate their experience. First hand interviews and affidavits should replace journalist viewpoints. Our voices, not our votes are what gives us the ability to participate in our world and the people who tell our stories instead of just amplifying them are acting as our representatives with no mandate from us. The best articles are written by people actually effected by the news. They are the ones best able to answer questions and explain to us why their news is important. They should not have to beg some western man to find their story newsworthy and tell it through a western man filter.
Whistleblowers are journalists. The sight of whistleblowers and witnesses explaining what they found and why it is important to journalists who then turn and repeat what they have heard to an audience is a strange leftover from a long gone era. Expert opinions can also come directly from the experts, they do not need an intermediary.
In an interactive, decentralized world, the voiceless do not need someone to be their voice. They need a megaphone.
The idea that news must be constantly new makes it an impossible option for deep ongoing analysis. Once an atrocity has been reported there is not much new to say. With no analysis or action as standard responses to news, the atrocities continue in silence and the audience attention wanders. The occasional bits of isolated investigative brilliance that make it past editors and accountants are left floating on isolated, seldom read url’s where only those that know they exist will find them.
Journalism is a tool to an end, not an end. Investigators and writers who are not journalists may do their work for any or no reason; journalists are meant to bring information that the public needs to know in order to govern themselves into the public domain. The claim that journalists ought not to be activists is completely counter to the purpose of journalism. The only reason an item is newsworthy is if it requires action.
Reporters who are not activists are voyeurs. Their reporting is not journalism to aid self-governance, it is a distraction from self-governance.
There is a reason it is citizen journalism that terrifies governance. Only activists will do journalism for free and it is action that creates change, not passive reporting. Activists are not simply replacing corporate media, they are also replacing corporate NGO’s, those leeches that lie between those that need help and those that provide it and turn those in need into products to be owned and marketed.
NGO’s bring the bureaucracy and the official channels into giving. They stifle the voices of those in need except as pre-packaged marketing gimmicks and they block access to direct aid. They siphon large amounts of the aid for their own empires and spend the rest frequently without consultation with or in the interest of those it is intended for. They are also easily corruptible by political power which gives them their mandate, their access and their funding.
The huge amount of people working in NGO’s because of a desire to help those in need would be far more effective acting directly, responding to voices of those on the ground instead of power points by those who have commodified their need. Direct relationships between activists around the world have built trust and reputations. People in a position to help receive instant feedback on whether their help was effective.
Direct action and investigation can also provide real shadow cabinets to monitor and lobby government ministries and user group regulatory bodies to monitor corporations.
The future of journalism
The future of journalism is not in official platforms, page views and registered domains. The future of journalism is not in Exclusive! and Scoop! The future of journalism is not in celebrities with no knowledge of the topic who are begged to help activists aid citizen journalism. The future is not in Invisible Children or Falling Whistles style plastic-bracelets-to-stop-genocide-in-Africa commercialized snake oil dressed up as activism. Or in the centralized nodes of unofficial-official channels created out of formerly horizontal movements. Or in celebrity journalists. Or in lists of Who to Follow and Thought Leaders.
The future of journalism is in a stigmergical mesh network of amplifiers, investigators and activists who can filter and fact check news in real time, combine it with investigative global knowledge resources and create appropriate local and / or global action. The future is in collaborative investigators sharing knowledge to map everything we need to know to govern ourselves. The future is in activism and aid requested directly by the people who require it and responded to directly by the people who can provide it. The future is in the right and ability of every single person to broadcast their own voice and call for amplification when needed.
The future of journalism is in all of us.