The News, Brought to You Today by… Everyone

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 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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13 thoughts on “The News, Brought to You Today by… Everyone

  1. I disagree on a couple of fronts.

    For starters, not sure why everyone keeps talking about social media as a replacement for traditional media. Surely it’s complimentary, particularly when you look at the example you’ve given and Mark Little’s quote you’ve given. It’s enabled people to participate in the media ecosystem. People have been abale to voice their opinions and these opinions have been picked up by traditional media.

    Anytime you look at the hard stats, there is a symbiotic relationship between social media and traditional media. Take the Hip Op video last week. Lots of Twitter activity about it, but it translated into relatively few views online. But traditional media brought it to a much wider audience, i.e. those not on Twitter and other social emdia channels.

    Demographically it’s important to note that social media channels will grow in influence as younger people begin to come up through the ranks.

    One of the more important reasons why I disagree though is news isn’t defined by the speed of reporting. I think traditional media will also gradually move away from having to be the first people to report on a breaking news story and focus more on accuracy. For example, Michael Arrnington’s post about the citizen journalism reporting about Fort Hood is a must read

    While “our expectations of this new world or user-generated news and buzz are different” to traditional media, we will put more responsibility on regular journalists to ensure accuracy and to deliver analysis not available from other sources.


  2. Let me quote you: “So what?”

    Especially in this kind of affair there is no added value to the crowd. It’s amplifying the noise, it’s cultivating the rage, but it doesn’t bring any new insights into the process. It shows that some topic are able to move the masses, whether it’s in the old or the new media. But it is a really bad example for the relevance of the crowd – it’s just a prove that the crowd exists.

    And to put it a little stronger: It’s just football, just a sport, and it’s yet another incorrect decision by a referee as there have been 1000s in the past.

    So what?


  3. I think it’s a mistake to write off the new social media “mob” as if it offers no insight. On the contrary, it widens the discussion, it opens it up to new voices, it offers new perspectives. You get a much more diverse range of opinion through the more democratic media than you do through the old hierarchical media, which restrict the number of voices heard to supposed “authorities” who are paid for their opinions. Of course, if yo open up the debate, you get stupid comments as well as smart ones. What’s significant is that it is NOT a crowd, easily swayed and univocal, but a new forum for debate and discussion, a new public sphere like the old coffee houses, where everyone has an opportunity to present their view.

    It isn’t journalism, of course, but it is much better at mobilizing dissent han old-style establishment journalism because it reduces the atomization that consumers of old-style journalism experience reading their papers in their own homes.


  4. And social media is another way to drive engagement back to traditional media.

    Newstalk drives listeners to the web to comment further and get involved in the debate. On the match night itself, RTE were to have an online discussion forum.

    And many stations have now invited comment from email and now, twitter.

    Piaras put it best when using the biological terms “ecosystem” and “symbiotic”. The only question is, who’s going to end up top of the food chain?



  5. Piaras, we all would love to be able to determine in advance what will work and become viral online. That Hip Op video was funny, but not funny enough to go viral, or maybe it wasn’t tight enough, or maybe it just launched in a bad week, because everyone was too caught up in football this week. Traditional media is still reliable for getting to mass audience, yet the potential for a deeper level of engagement is unarguably greater online – measurable by the number of people who comment or share a link to the video.

    The Fort Hood incident you mention is apalling. Let’s not forget that there is reckless journalism. Self-regulation hasn’t been working as we can see from the litany of libel actions we hear about on a regular basis. I’d put some stock into Michael Arrnington own words when he suggests that “the answer isn’t censorship (which won’t work), but rather in our social evolution catching up with the state of technology. We need to get back to a point as a society where – without thinking – we put our humanity before our ego.”

    Julien, in the bigger scheme of things the outcome of a game of football is certainly trivial. Take this activity and turn it to something that really matters. Did the online protests about Iran make a difference? You could argue, no they didn’t as the reality didn’t change. But what it did do was give people a voice; a larger sphere of influence than they would previously of had. It provided platforms for individuals to come together and as a collective make a greater impact on those who could enact change.

    John, you make a good point about it not being a social media mob. During this week there were plenty of French online and plenty of dissenters from the majority view. Everyone’s view was heard. Everyone had an equal opportunity to speak. Sure there will be points of view that you won’t agree with and there will be others that are just plain mad… but there is not filtering by the old powerhouses of the journalist and his editor. Frankly, I find that refreshing.


  6. Lar, just saw your comment. Yes, the clever media people will seek to leverage the new communications channels. In answer to your question, I look to my own behaviour when it comes to sourcing news. Currently I’d say it’s 60-40, broadcast media versus social media. Just two years ago that would have been 95-5. In another year or two I suspect it could be somewhere like 20-80.


  7. Interesting post and I’ll certainly look forward to , it’s the first I’ve heard of it.
    The concept of citizen journalism is interesting, but I think that what we see in social media is certainly separate to the traditional coverage of news, but is not a replacement for it. The benefits of social media are great – I loved watching Twitter update on the night of the football. But this was a conversation. It was people sharing their opinion on what happened. I don’t think it’s right to look at this as the alternative to news coverage. In situations like this, people can react quickly in social media, but we still look to the ‘traditional’ outlets for the authoritative coverage. They’re the ones that will know first if the game is going to be replayed. They are a primary source of information and traditional journalism is certainly not dead.
    I think there should be a happy marriage between social media and news, but that we shouldn’t look to social media as outperforming news outlets. It provides a discussion point for what originates in mainstream media. In some cases, it becomes the starting point for news. I think that this will happen more, but that traditional media will continually adapt to adopt social media tools rather than disintegrate among the noise of social media.


  8. Lauren, well put. It is right to say that social media involves conversation about news and events, but it is also a source of news – what we call citizen journalism. Broadcast and print media has lost its monopoly.

    James, touché 🙂


  9. “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.”

    Ouch! Some interesting points, but why do you let your arguments be shaped by such aggression towards “old media” and a fixation on this “journalism” elite class” and so on? Sure, there are bad points about old media, there’s plenty of gremlins in the new!
    I joined a paper from school, worked my way up, have tried as best I can to learn from journalists and writers much better than myself and I am humble enough to know change is happening and that newspapers need to roll with it. It’s going to take a while to figure out how this all works – and I don’t think anyone in the so-called new media has got it all figured out either.
    First of all, quick doesn’t automatically mean good. Sometimes people want a considered view, the very opposite of instant reaction.
    I was filing from the match in Paris for a “traditional media outlet” and I’m guessing a few people read the Indo the next morning. I for one don’t feel threatened by the new media channels, like you I feel they are complimentary but I have to ask – while the speed of crowd shaping news and instant response is impressive, what does it actually amount to? Did people actually sit down and read the thousands of tweets posted within munutes of each other? Do they study carefully the online petitions? Apart from the fact it has been posted fast and offers an instant reaction, do people actually take seriously the many expletive ridden rants posted by a great deal of contributors with no shred of coherence, no thread of argument, reason or analysis?
    Do people really have time to look for the good stuff online amid the absolute drivel and dross and endless streams of foul-mouthed abuse?
    For the record, I was not aware while sitting attending the Stade de France or interviewing fans in Paris the day before, an investment on behalf of my newspaper to bring readers coverage of the match, of the presence of any “new media” colleagues. They might be able to vent their spleens within seconds of the game ending, but being there is something that readers still want their journalists to keep doing.



  10. Ciaran, I certainly did not mean to come across as agressive in tone or substance. The colour you refer to is in response to some condascending attitudes I have witnessed from journalists in relation to people engaged in new media and indeed to their own colleagues who are starting to dip their toes in the water. While you are certainly enlightened, I think you’ll agree that many others in your profession are not.

    You are right when you say that quality is at risk when it comes to social media. It does provide a source of news, but since there are no standards, no guideliness or editorial processes then quality and accuracy will suffer. Most people who blog have no formal training in writing articles. They are not paid to write their blogs, manage facebook or twitter accounts. And yet they are becoming increasingly popular sources of information and opinion.

    And the lines are blurring. You have invested years in honing your skills. You are paid for that and rightly so. Your profession will certainly outlive you and I. However as more journalists blog, and more bloggers report on events; the waters start to get very muddy.


  11. You’re certainly right about the condescending attitudes of some journalists towards those engaged in new media and otherwise on the bleeding edge. I found it particularly grating this week to read one well known tech editor having a cynical swipe at Irish organizations experimenting with next generation social networking platforms. The mocking tone was really quite shocking and actually irresponsible for someone in such a position of influence.


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