In his tweet, Giner opined that 'Journalism was opinion journalism from about 1700 to 1900; news journalism from about 1900 to 2000; and from now on analysis journalism.' I know it’s hard to get the context of what you might want to say in 140 characters, but I beg to disagree.
Globally, journalism has always been all three. The difference in terms of how much is practiced is more geographical. The US tradition of journalism, for instance, is balance and reporting – if the source says `the moon is made of green cheese` the author’s duty is to write it down accurately and fine someone who will say the cheese is actually blue, no matter how ridiculous the premise. In Europe, the tradition is editorialising - to fearlessly lampoon the idea of a dairy-product based satellite of whatever colour with an argument in favour of anorthosite and basalt crust composition, no matter how much this might upset Wallace and Gromit.
But there is truth in his final point. It is to do with the impact of pervasive access to powerful forms of publishing and the disintermediation caused by blogs, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms that have made it easy for news makers to go direct to their audiences. Take, for instance, Steve Loynes’ column in The Huffington Post.
As more sources of news go direct by posting their content, a journalist’s role becomes even more about deciding what to amplify and what to ignore. Turning the craft from one that leads to one that follows.
The most cited first major example of news being broken by citizens’ via smartphones and emerging social media was the crash landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on New York’s Hudson River in 2009. An interesting recent example was Twitter co-founder and Square CEO Jack Dorsey’s decision to blog his side of his 'reduced role' at Twitter story. A few months ago, when Facebook was buying Instagram, Mark Zuckerberg typically also chose to go direct by putting up a note on his Facebook page. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is also not shy when it comes to sharing his views via his Facebook page, and Apple CEOs have been addressing or, recently, apologising to their acolytes directly for years through blogs. Virgin’s Richard Branson too has taken to directly propagandising his financial services and other ambitions directly on LinkedIn. See PR Makes a Train U-Turn for more on Branson’s strategic communications skills.
Even Manchester United footballer Wayne Rooney took the initiative by tweeting pictures of his newly implanted hair from a smartphone in the back of a car whilst returning North from the operation in London. Within seconds his speckled, bloody pate was all over the web. The tabloids followed suit the next day desperately looking for new angles and allowing their subeditors free reign on a great silly season story. The point is that seconds after any of these commercial superstars put up their news, it is picked up, shared and tweeted. Sometime later traditional news publications and blogs typically also publish it as classic news posts, but these days not before trailing it on Twitter, usually sometime after those in the know already know.
Some, being expert, add analysis, but in the end both individual citizens and mass publications were doing the same job — they were amplifying the news, spreading it across various mediums. But this blurring of the line between what is news and what is a tweet, photo or a blog post means the role of media and its relationship to information is changing. Content abounds, so the issue is who does what with it and when. You can be as loud as you want, if no one is listening or has influence you are wasting your time.
Back in the last century a journalist’s job was to find timely, interesting information report or analyse it, depending on which side of the Pond they were sitting, re-purposing it for a publishing organisation which would distribute it to paying punters for consumption.This is what we have called news or features and an army of PR flacks, ultimately more numerous than the hacks on which they preyed, part fed the machine. Up to the end of the 20th century the machine only distributed content through the big four — radio, newspapers, magazines and television.
That, in turn, meant that newsmakers had to go to gatekeeper - media outlets - in order to share their message and get it amplified through implicit endorsement and large circulations, listening or viewing figures and reach those they wanted to reach. But as Dorsey and Co show, the rise of universal internet connectivity and social media has changed everything.
Blogs, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other such platforms have made it easy for news makers to go direct and build their own audiences, with journalists following behind.
So where does that leave the hack? Unusually it leaves those that practice their craft in the Old Country at an advantage, not just choosing which stories to write and publish through conventional channels, but deciding what they choose to share and amplify. A key skill when even BBC reporters admit that they follow agendas set by Twitter.
Sharing, say on Twitter or re-blogging, sends the same message as doing an original news report, but it’s the selection – the editing – that signifies the journalist’s interests or what they see as differentially important. Some, of course, just re-tweet or re-blog everything they produce, but the leaders in this new world of content are the ones that select and selectively amplify. This is the new front page - a signal that a piece of information or analysis to which it’s worth paying attention.
In the future when Dorsey, Zuckerberg, Hastings, Cook, Rooney and Branson and a host of other savvy stars and CEOs are the norm, the journalist’s role is no longer just delivering news. The value-add will have to go up, judgement, sharing, curation and the development of the assurance of personal brand are going to be vital roles for journalists to play in the future, and that means having to marshal(l) their messages and then turn them up to 11.