Technological change, citizen journalism and public policy: a possible combination?

April 3, 2012 in debates




At the end of March, academics, consultants, journalists, and architects of public policy gathered in London to attend the fourth annual POLIS Journalism Conference: Reporting the World.

Panel discussions tackled issues such as: How journalism should respond to the rise of the demonstrators around the world who are becoming more experienced with different media platforms? How social media is transforming the world news is covered? How can data journalism further and reveal information the authorities keep secret? Has the European media, in light of the Euro crisis and the collapse of the European dream, been unsuccessful in covering the failure of the democratic system?

During the panel on media coverage of revolutions – led by Richard Sambrook from Cardiff University – which discussed the Arab Spring as the prime example, reporter Tom Coghlan from The Times suggested that new forms of journalism have introduced a greater interdependence between the traditional media and amateurs, such as citizen journalists. News agencies are increasingly becoming specialized in managing content generated by citizen journalists, which is leading to the formation of a hybrid medium that has elements of both professional and citizen journalism. However, according to Lindsey Hilsum, the international news editor at Channel 4 News, the obsession of the mainstream media to cover Syria is showing the of coverage in the wake of the Arab Spring is poor. Representing the tradition of public service media, BBC journalist Lyse Doucet supported Hilsum, saying it remains important for traditional media to continue to follow these stories.

The questions we pose at the Journalism Strategies conference, from April 19 to 21 in Montreal, are not so different from those that arise from our colleagues across the Atlantic. In a context of hybrid media, what is the role of public policy in Canadian journalism to preserve democracy? How do we account for recent technological changes in the development of public policy? What are their implications for models of funding and organizational structures of traditional journalism? What kind of journalism do we want? These are big questions that deserve a great deal of introspection.

There is a big problem that has troubled journalists since its ascension to a place of great importance in the late 18th century: that of preserving democracy and developing the role of journalism (fact-based, impartial, objective, balanced and reliable). The citizen has not often been at the heart of this debate. Today, in a context where models of ‘hybrid’ journalism are emerging, something halfway between a citizen and professional journalism, how is it possible to produce public policies in the image of our democracy?

As Journalism Strategies coordinator Christine Crowther has suggested: “the policy will not happen by accident but by a chain of decisions.” Which decisions shall we take?

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