A colleague recently wrote in a forum post a reminder of previous learning regarding critical reflection in which we had engaged. Borrowing from his post he reminded me that “Merriam, Caffarella, and Baumgartner (2007) include critical reflection as one of the three key elements of transformational learning. It involves reflecting on the content, the process, and the premise” (Vusich, 2013).
This is relevant to this week’s module since critical reflection was an integral part of new learning for me around the topic of citizen journalism. Prior to the readings I had the (not too considered) opinion that while Web 2.0 offered opportunities for information collection, traditional journalism, with its reliance on verification was likely the most reliable way to gather and disseminate “real” news.
Upon completion of the five associated articles that thoroughly explore the phenomenon of citizen journalism, critical reflection has resulted in a personal transformational shift.
“Facts, truth and reality are…the “God terms” in journalism (Zelizer, as cited in Hermida, 2012) with information verification the cornerstone of journalistic integrity. This quote describes the essence of my previously held perspectives regarding news. I want a credible and reliable source from which to receive information. However, Hermida asserts that in so doing, mainstream media exerts control and power over what stories are deemed newsworthy and how they are presented.
Social media; particularly Twitter and blogs are offering alternative perspectives to information gathering. Hermida describes the process through which Twitter offers ongoing pieces of information that is shared, fact-checked, denied or reframed in an open forum that evolves through collaborative discursive processes including citizens and media. The issue of verification in real-time news dissemination is less about definitive facts and more to present “a dynamic and interactive rendition of events” (Hermida, 2012, p. 664). Bruns and Highfield (2012) cited Twitter’s capacity for discovering a story that can then be expanded in venues with the ability to more deeply explore nuances and implications, or to extend the life of a story (such as WikiLeaks) that may have reached its “best before” date as determined by mainstream media players.
I can live with this fluidity – after all as noted by Brennan, any news information is open to interpretation by the individual presenting his/her findings (as cited in Hermida, 2012). Additionally, traditional news gathering organizations may be subject to organizational bias as a result of funding from actors engaged in lobbying activities which in turn influences editorial directions (Bruns & Highfield, 2012).
As I read further I noted several distinct opportunities for citizen journalists:
- One of the key social media benefits for citizen journalists is a lessening of the control of cultural production and knowledge by news organizations into voluntary contributions from a variety of diverse sources. This seems to me to democratize and de-centralize ownership of what and how information is presented.
- I liked the term ‘multiperspectival’ (Lind & Bruns, 2012) in which news gathering in social media represents numerous and divergent perspectives. The culminating factor in my transformation to a proponent of social media’s role in journalism is the Friedman (2011) article entitled Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima: An analysis of traditional and new media coverage of nuclear accidents and radiation.” The author presents compelling empirical evidence to demonstrate substantive increases in the quality and quantity of information that was available for consumption following the Fukushima accident. Clearly, the internet and the collaboration of citizen and professional journalists resulted in in-depth, interactive and multi-faceted information to a global community; far better than the traditional news media outlets were able to provide in the earlier incidents.
- The advent of news curation – (i.e our Storify exercise this week or storylines in Twitter using hashtags) in which participatory journalism offers news, opinion, commentary on specific stories or topics. Curation activities are now the domain of both the professional and the amateur but the advantage is that there is no one individual organization charged with “gatekeeping.” “Gatewatching, according to Lind and Bruns (2102) is the new watchword and allows all of us to engage with news and information as we choose – to capture or compile; collaborate, contribute and inform (p. 7). As a story is curated its discrete elements and components can be assessed for validity, completeness and perspective.
- Most compelling piece of evidence: Voice. Dahlgren (2003) discusses the impact of voice as a social process, in which narratives can be shared and valued. Social media seems to be a core component in the provision of voice. Participation is enabled through Web 2.0 – social media is a tool which ensures that we do not deny voice to those around us; “to deny it to others is to at least implicitly to deny their humanity” (p. 37). How eloquent an argument for the role of social media in citizen journalism is that?
We were asked to consider if the emergence of these new opportunities encourages us to participate more directly in citizen journalism and/or social activism or not.
I think that the early answer is yes; it may be a few tentative tweets or blog posts until I find my voice. I still worry about my digital footprint, but I can see me offering facts and or opinion where I think it might forward a discussion or provide additional insight. This requires conscious self-editing in what we choose to share. I deplore some of the types of whistle-blowing activities that have emerged in a Web 2.0 era; the sleeping TTC employee who turned out to be ill; the finger pointing after the suicide of Amanda Todd. I am not sure that any of these are positive contributions but judicious use is required with any emerging tools.
A caveat for all information gathering is that we are ill-served in accepting any news story without critical reflection as to its veracity, its sources and credibility. Whatever role we choose for ourselves needs to be informed by critically reflective evaluative processes.