Blurred lines: stop trying to define a journalist in the age of social [#Highway2014]


In 2014, is it still important to discuss and compartmentalise what a journalist is? Dan Gilmor, author of We The Media, reckons that the question of what a journalist is shouldn’t be an issue in the age of digital. The question he reckons we should be asking is what is journalism?

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Speaking the 18th annual Highway Africa conference, Gilmor says there is a massive supply of media information. The citizen journalists have risen and they are producing as much, if not more, content than news organisations. What we need to determine is what is accurate and what is trustworthy.

“We have to be better at catching up the lie with the truth,” he says.

There are key factors that journalists should hold true when it comes to the accurate reporting of the news and that shouldn’t change in the online space: thoroughness, accuracy, fairness and independence. Gilmor reckons it is time for media houses and producers to add a new paradigm to their lexicon when it comes to new reporting in the 21 century — transparency.

He argues that, as things stand, journalists and media houses now are not transparent enough. He says that transparency needs to become more prevalent in journalism, because the news is fundamentally about trust between the media house and the audience.

Stop trying to define the journalist

The rise of social media journalism, he says, has led journalist, academics and the audience to debate about who qualifies as a journalist in the modern day.

“If everyone has the tools then who is a journalist?” he asks, “This is the wrong question, better question is, what is journalism?”

He reckons that there is plenty of information that is available online and people a producing a lot of content but not all of it can be qualified as journalism or new.

Gilmor uses the example of the footage of Iranian protestor Neda Agha-Soltan dying in the streets of Tehran, which won a major journalism award before the author of the video was known. He argues that the video was not taken by a journalist but was an act of journalism.

The tools, he says are changing the act of journalism not necessarily who a journalist is. This is okay, it seems because tools are about advancing the industry.

“A lot of the media tools available today are evolutionary not revolutionary,” he says.

He doesn’t think that there are any revolutionary tools that are being created and that the state of news is not being fundamentally disrupted but is in a constant state of evolution.

What this has led to is a state in which professional journalists are realising that the audience knows more than they do and can help. He reckons all journalist should adopt this attitude and begin to use the tools available to them to collect data that is constantly being produced.

This, he thinks, leads to a major shift and the most important change in the media: the move from lecture to conversation. In the last couple of years something interesting has happened in the media. Journalists and media houses stopped lecturing their audiences and instead began having conversation with them. The media facilitated conversation among the audience and about world events rather than just passively consuming information.

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