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Citizen Journalism as a Catalyst for Transforming Media

How technology is helping Generation Z transform news, media, and communications

New Media on Ulitzer

Another incident on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) hits YouTube, and the world is once again asking the question if BART Police are using too much force, the police acted appropriately, or if BART passengers simply recorded a snapshot in time that could be interpreted at a later date. In the recent past, to find out what happened during an incident such as the most recent BART scuffle, you would be dependent on a newspaper's beat journalist to hang around a police station. He'd get a copy of the official police report, perhaps talk with one of his friends on the force, and transcribe what he gathered.

Now news and media are real time. You can get Twitter tweets and video feeds from mobile phones, laptop computers, and reporters on the scene with CNN (or other international news sources). In many cases even established news outlets are starting to heavily rely on "stringers," or freelancers to provide on-scene raw video for later interpretation by news readers. Nearly every news outlet today asks for viewers to send their "i-Reports" and videos to supplement news reports, and to reduce the amount of time from incident to broadcast.

A very different world from the days of Walter Cronkite, when the evening news would be a well-edited account from a distant reporter, formatted for the time allotted by network news, and face news competition by only a couple other networks (in the United States that would include CBS, NBC, ABC, and PBS).

The Biased Media
Media outlets have changed as well, moving from being a 5WH (who, why, what, when, where, how) style of reporting to networks such as Fox, openly stating they present a "conservative" point of view (Huckabee, Hannity, Beck, etc). This means in many cases viewers who prefer a certain point of view will be presented with interpretation of news events which support their beliefs.

It is also becoming more difficult to determine whether a news story is actually a press release or advertisement, rather than hard news. Even when a government organization or company is interviewed following some event or incident, the person interviewed is generally a professional public relations specialist, who may not find presentation of fact as a desired outcome of the interview.

Citizen Journalism Tends to be Pure
In most cases, when a freelancer or citizen records an event, they provide that record of the even in its raw, or pure state. If you see a home video of a tornado on CNN, then most likely the person providing that video is not providing commentary, only the video. When we were receiving near real-time cell phone video from Tehran during the recent violence following elections, most of the video received came out as quickly as possible, and was then processed in its raw form through venues such as YouTube.

All we really ask from the citizen journalist, to give their story or record of an event credibility, is:

  • An unedited record or account of the event
  • A reference of the event recording's origin
  • A factual context of the event (who, when, where)

We do not always need a deep analysis of an event by a reporter or analyst who's motivation may be based on how sensational they can make the event, which political or religious ideology they should promote when presenting an event, or their own personal opinion. The main thing we need is context, and enough information to allow us to respond to the news if needed (such as during an emergency or other condition).

Media Changes
David Sasaki, in a recent PBS IdeaLab article walked through the changes in media over the past 550 years. Starting with transcribing bibles for the Catholic Church and aristocracy, and walking through the social changes driven by innovations such as the Gutenberg press, radio, television, and newspapers, Sasaki presents a very compelling argument for embracing change. Whether it be eliminating unnecessary reporters and editors, or better understanding the impact of social media and "publics" created through a global-connected community, we need to understand the dynamics of media change to develop a vision of how news media and information transfer may evolve.

In the 1960s you would watch even local news stations for the "Evening News," and you would get a solid 30 minutes of reporting on national, international, and local news. Today, if you watch news programs such as CNN's Headline news, you might get 3 or 4 minutes of hard news, and then 25 minutes of human interest stories filling out the rest of a segment.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to interpret news from marketing, fact from advertising and public relations, or gaining access to raw news.

Chaos Theory and Media
Chaos Theory states that any system is vulnerable to changing conditions either within or encroaching on the system. If the current or historical media systems are an example, we can see innovation or technologies (such as the Gutenberg press, Internet, paper, radio) as a significant disruptor to the media "system."

The Internet is currently a very disruptive element to traditional media, as it provides a platform for applications such as YouTube, Twitter, instant messaging, and other utilities to provide either real-time, or near real-time one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many communications. On a global scale.

The other disruptor is the fact young people have internet-enabled technologies fully diffused into their education and life, allowing the new "Generation Z" visibility into new communication concepts that prior generations may not yet comprehend, or may never comprehend. What will come out of this diffusion of knowledge into Gen Z-ers? Impossible to know, but it will no doubt potentially be as huge an event as the Gutenberg press was to the world of the 1400s.

A generation where the people are the news, create the news, consume the news, and provide the news. There will be casualties as we re-organize media outlets which no longer adequately support the 21st century, but the result will be really, really exciting.

Gen-Z youth are not mentally restrained by the technical limitations and legacy of existing broadcast and print media. With their diffused knowledge and operation of existing and emerging technologies, they have a "clean slate" to develop new models of media, news, social interaction, and global presence. As "baby boomers," we need to continue creating the tools our fledgling Generation Z needs to envision ways to exploit our technology, and further build our global presence and instant access to that news and information they need to live in a wired world.

John Savageau, Long Beach

More Stories By John Savageau

John Savageau is a life long telecom and Internet geek, with a deep interest in the environment and all things green. Whether drilling into the technology of human communications, cloud computing, or describing a blue whale off Catalina Island, Savageau will try to present complex ideas in terms that are easily appreciated and understood. Currently focusing efforts on designing data centers, telecom, enterprise architectures, and cloud computing strategies in developing countries, including Palestine, Indonesia, Moldova, Egypt, and Vietnam. John Savageau is President of Pacific-Tier Communications dividing time between Honolulu and Burbank, California. A former career US Air Force officer, Savageau graduated with a Master of Science degree in Operations Management from the University of Arkansas and also received Bachelor of Arts degrees in Asian Studies and Information Systems Management from the University of Maryland.

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