It has been an interesting week in Ireland, when the passion of football and the reality of flooding provided a distraction from the economic crisis and upcoming budget. It has been an interesting week also in watching these news stories unfold in new ways.

The elite class of journalists and media hacks are being supplanted in their role as purveyors of news. They are being replaced by often anonymous  individuals, empowered with new technologies that allow them to become influencers of common opinion in a very short space of time. The public are transitioning from passively consuming news to participating in shaping and reporting it.

In reality we continue to do both – consume and participate. Yes, we do still watch TV, listen to the radio and read newspapers. But instead of expressing our views in our small physical circles we are expanding our spheres of influence immeasurably.

A dejected Irish team salute their fans. Photo from Flickr courtesy of smemon87 (CC)

On Wednesday night a travesty occurred as Ireland felt cheated out of a potential victory over France with Thierry Henry’s obvious handball. Outrage was felt immediately in homes, bars and clubs all over the country, but simultaneously it was spreading like wildfire online.

A recent phenomenon has seen many who are watching or attending events, record and report their views on Twitter. By using a shared reference (hash tag), anyone can see everyone else who is tweeting thus creating a self-forming community of participants. The shared tag on Twitter on Wednesday night was #frairl and the community consisted of both Irish and French. The outrage was palatable on Twitter and the #frairl tag was soon accompanied by #cheat. Thierry Henry’s own Twitter profile, became a focal point for outrage. This account has since been shut down by Twitter as a result of “strange activity”.

Within minutes new Facebook fan pages were established seeking to galvanise fans behind a common cause. One such page, the “Thierry Henry should Apologise to Ireland” page had 600 fans within a few minutes, and after just three days has nearly 25,000 fans. In the aftermath of the match, Facebook has become a platform for sharing information, news and expressions of disgust and outrage.

Very quickly, the footage of the Henry incident was uploaded onto YouTube. Within the first three days the top 5 home-made videos have been watched almost more than 2.2 million times.

Bloggers blogged, bulletin boards buzzed, new websites were established, petitions were signed, Wikipedia was updated and even a computer game was developed.

Traditional media outlets reported on the match and the aftermath, but I’m very tempted to say so what! The user-generated content and activity has been streaming through much more quickly and has been far more engaging. Sure the production quality is often inferior and the accuracy isn’t always spot on, but then our expectations of this new world or user-generated news and buzz are different.

The traditional elite class of journalists don’t like this. A passing comment from a national radio commentator the next morning reporting on the hive of activity on social media the previous evening ended his report with a telling “have they nothing better to do?” Of course they are right to feel threatened. Their world is changing and if they don’t change with it they will be left behind.

It is encouraging to see initiatives such as the soon to launch journalist.ie which is a new website aggregating posts from Irish journalists who are blogging. It sets out to “select and share quality content written by journalists and area specialists”.

I’ll leave the last word to Mark Little, a Montrose golden-boy, who is to take twelve months leave of absence from his day job to set up a global online news service that will seek to bring together quality news reporting with social media. Mark is a recent convert to social media and attributes his awakening to the speed at which he saw breaking news on protests in Iran stream on Twitter. In a recent interview with Media Contact, Mark explains that “news is no longer a product you can sell; it is a process in which people expect to take part.” Too true.

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