If you have been following my weekly posts you will know that I last discussed the idea posed by Eric Raymond that networked systems always beat hierarchical ones because more is accomplished at a faster rate due to mass participation… “Given enough eyes all bugs are shallow”. Last week I was referring to this in terms of Apple vs Android and the concept of a single closed source entity vs a collective open sourced network. Well today I would like to revisit that concept from the angle of traditional legacy media channels vs illegitimate citizen journalism.
Traditional Legacy media channels are your television networks, radio stations and newspapers (so basically anything owned by Rupert Murdoch). This model operates on a one to many archetype where information in scarce and value comes from the production and distribution of content. In this media paradigm the News Corporations become the authority on what is considered news and the selection of content is as simple as deciding what information might be interesting. As New York Times proclaims they are “All the news that’s fit to print” and you don’t really get much say.
Axel Burns makes a point that correlates well here “while the audience retained the right to buy or not by the paper and to switch on and off the television this amounted to a choice between news as it was offered or a self-imposed news blackout”(that’s not the exact quote but it’s something along those lines).
These days the Legacy media model still exists but is arguably on the cusp of becoming obsolete. When millions of web users create content every day that can be freely accessed, the creation of content becomes valueless and instead attention turns to the aggregation of content- the sorting, tagging and packaging of information into personalised bundles of interest. This has given rise to new media model where news is collectively generated and shared by individual users over social platforms. Instead of seeing a story from one news giants perspective who is limited to time and space you are able to gain the full perspective from the hundreds of snippets of the same story from all over the web. Think of it in terms of footage, when a news team cover a story they have one camera man capturing from one angle and that is all you will see on the television but if you search the hashtag of the same story you may find hundreds of videos from countless angles filmed by people who were there on their smart phones. The value in this instance comes not from the individual videos uploaded by the users but in the platforms ability to group them under a unified tag.
“Yes they were built entirely out of 140 character messages but the sum total of those tweets added up to something truly substantial like a suspension bridge made of pebbles” (Steve Johnson).
News giants would have you believe their dated model still holds value in the authority. They argue that citizen journalism is ‘illegitimate’ journalism and that the only shinning beacon amongst the dark depths of the information avalanche is highly produced content that guarantees quality and validity. While there is truth to this ideal (the internet is a disturbing place), it is not always the case and I don’t just mean because every week Channel Nine runs a story on why sugar is bad for you (Goddammit that’s not news!). I am talking about what I mentioned earlier when I said all bugs are shallow given enough eyeballs.
Participatory news platforms like Twitter and Reddit are always on and moving so fast through iterations that inaccuracies are weeded out by the enormous public faster than a singular news entity could even dream of. Meanwhile having such a small amount of staff working as hard as they can to pump content out as quickly as information arises results in errors slipping through the cracks. Remember the time that Danish news channel accidentally thought Assassin’s Creed was real and used it as backdrop to their news story. To illustrate conflict in present-day Syria, TV2 used an image from Assassin’s Creed digitally depicting Damascus 720 years ago. While that little mistake managed to make it all the way to air it was picked up and shared all over social media within minutes. What was that argument about legitimacy again?
On the other hand the concept of citizen journalism does bring froth a debate about privacy in the public sphere. The thing about legacy media is they are slow but by being legitimate they must go through all sorts of legal steps ensuring they have permission to film people before sharing it on television. Whereas citizens on the street record who ever, whenever and with very little regard for privacy. If we think back to the Vietnam War, that was the first time real footage of war was shown on public television and is a major contributing factor for opposition to the war. These days war is painted differently to prevent opposition, its ‘Nintendo warfare’, showing only soldiers behind computers pushing buttons. Citizen journalism gets around this being real people sharing real footage as it is, uncensored and raw. This also means however that in delicate situations like war we are seeing videos surface the net of mothers crying over dead children, with their mutilated bodies open for public display. While this is necessarily for revealing the true nature of war and stopping people from turning a blind eye to it, it generates the question where do you draw the line between truth and respect?