Networked Journalism: Will it spark a golden era of journalism?


imageAs journalism’s death knell rings far and wide, it is difficult to tune into voices defending the craft. Nevertheless, on the pages of Charlie Beckett’s SuperMedia: Saving Journalism So It Can Save The World, I stumbled upon a resounding statement of affirmation: “This is the most wonderful time to be a journalist.”

Such an assertion made me feel proud of what I have grown to be, but also encouraged me to keep researching one of today’s most practiced types of journalism: Networked Journalism.

True, journalism is facing a crisis. Newspaper circulation is declining; advertising revenue is down; jobs are being slashed. New business models are sought.

But in the middle of this cacophony, is there a place for a new kind of journalism? Is it still reasonable to talk about the future of journalism? I believe so.

Change and media

Some of the most creative and positive thinking may arise from crisis periods. The media crisis has caused a fissure in the existing journalistic order; there is space for new ways of doing and presenting journalistic work.

The history of journalism is a history of change. In the middle of the 19th century, newspapers became synonymous with all the changes happening in industrialising societies. That moment was known as the golden age of journalism, the time when news information started to circulate on a mass scale.
The conditions allowing the proliferation of mass media were very much connected with the technological improvements taking place at the time: cheaper paper, a higher percentage of advertising, a faster rotary press and, last but not least, a growing number of consumers needing to be informed about the rapid transformation of their society.

We are witnessing a very similar process with so-called Networked Journalism, which has increasingly thrived and is still looking for its own place among the established

“Relationships between nodes are asymmetrical, but they are all necessary for the functioning of the network.”

mass media platforms.

Creating interconnected nodes

Spanish professor Manuel Castells defines a network as “a set of interconnected nodes. It may have a hierarchy, but it has no centre. Relationships between nodes are asymmetrical, but they are all necessary for the functioning of the network.” This from his work, Information Technologies, Globalization and Social Development.

Humans and networks have always co-existed. Today they have become the integral tool for organising the way we work and produce. Just as expected, the contemporary journalistic profession has also adopted this model of function and organisation.

As in the 19th century, technology has allowed these modern sources of information to be useful. But in contrast with the journalism printed on the pages of yesteryears, today’s journalists are negatively perceived as gatekeepers, who judge which stories are appropriate to be published, which sources are trustworthy and so on.

Journalists as curators

Networked Journalism calls for journalists to be the facilitators of information. In most cases, though, reporters and editors cannot monitor what does and does not reach the public sphere. The boundaries of what is or is not noticeable or newsworthy are no longer set by journalists.

Having in mind the traditional and unequivocal principles of truth and accuracy, Networked Journalism aims to provide the audience with the tools to actively participate in the public conversation, which usually means creating content in whatever medium: e-mail, mobile phones, digital cameras, online editing suites, webcams or texting and on whatever scale necessary.
Networked Journalism, therefore, has to be regarded not as a final product, but as a continuous process shared in by the professionals and society that takes place in a space carved out by new media technology. This shared sphere is labelled by professor Roger Silverstone as mediapolis in his work Media and Morality: On the Rise of the Mediapolis. Utilizing this concept, Silverstone makes a successful attempt to conceive this cutting-edge journalism.

Networked Journalism is by nature democratic and delivers an unquestionable public service, which I firmly believe should remain journalism’s main principle. But in order for Networked Journalism to take place, the responsibility of the professionals but also of the public is crucial. To exercise meaningfully access to the information, the audience requires what Charlie Beckett describes as media literacy, which means the ability of the public to make use of a wide range of media in order to access and understand the information contained in them. Should the audience want to take this ability to a higher level, it would have to comprehend the information provided by the media to the point of being able to analyze, question and even construct a critical opinion. Once the public has obtained these participatory tools it will be “networked to journalism.”

We’re already there

Whether journalists are in favour of this border crossing or not, it is too late to stop it. Citizens have already welcomed what it means to be included in all the aspects of newsgathering, the production and the publication of news information. We must be aware, too, that there will always be attempts to limit people speaking for themselves.  This is why it is so important that anyone seeking to stand up for freedom of expression should seek to build Networked Journalism.

It is indeed a wonderful time to be a journalist because we can help the audience engage in the challenges we face, which is the first step to overcome them. It is also the best time to be a meaningful and practical link between society and power; doing so helps people empathise with the policies affecting us all.

Networking is the only way of becoming an active member of the changing society. It is also the way commitment to problems emerges, and that is exactly where the greatness of our profession lies. Consequently, another golden age of journalism is about to arrive.

Flickr images from users 45street and Binkiexxx