Online, an everyday Twitter user or blogger has the potential to gather a greater following than a newspaper, but such power of voice must be accompanied with appropriate responsibility, and traditional news outlets should take steps to ensure they aren’t muted by the incessant noise on the web.
“Anybody has the potential to become a mass media,” said Anette Novak, World Editors Forum board member and former editor-in-chief of Norran, a regional Swedish newspaper. “Power of a mass media publication has to be balanced with responsibility.”
Amadou Mahta Ba, chief executive officer of the African Media Initiative, argued that “almost everyone has a voice.” The underlying assumption of such a claim, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of WAN-IFRA Larry Kilman responded, is that “news media has the responsibility to maintain ethics and credibility” when other so-called news providers do not.
While panelists disagreed whether “citizen journalist” is an appropriate title, the consensus was that “citizens are part of the community of information, and we respect that,” as Agence France-Presse Global News Director Philippe Massonnet said.
This fact is exemplified during natural and political disasters, when untrained individuals are often the first to report at the scene. “That role has to be protected,” said Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression.
“Journalism is defined by the function, not by the degree,” La Rue said. “Some people are experts on the reality, and they are not trained journalists.”
Though several years ago many surmised that services like TweetDeck could destroy traditional news wires, the same argument is rarely heard now, Massonnet said. This shift suggests that many have come to value the credibility that accompanies professional news reporting and is often absent in the Twitterverse.
“Today more than ever we need strong news brands ... in which people trust,” Massonnet said.
The same trust cannot be instilled in the average Twitter feed. Novak recounted how in order to become editor-in-chief, she was required to take a course and work next to an experienced peer for some years before she was ready to shoulder the responsibility herself. Now anyone with a cell phone can proclaim himself a journalist without any training. For this reason, it’s more important than ever for credible news organizations to disseminate their content and dispel false information circulated by those parading as reporters.
“We need to transfer our knowledge, and it’s extremely urgent,” Novak said. “We are moving into the biggest transition of knowledge in the history of the world.
Realizing news outlets are now not only competing with other media houses but also a slew of Twitter users, publishers must find a way to revive the “dying industry,” Novak said. To do that, publishers need to establish new identities and connect with their audiences.
If they do, “I believe that we will not only survive, but we will build a better world,” Novak said.