New is a product of journalistic routines and standardised procedures of selectivity. In other words, news is a privileged ‘packaged story’ which is largely driven by the values and beliefs the media wishes to present. This makes media organisations to be quite power in the social, economic and political spheres as they have the ability to dictate and define what news is. However, such pursuits prove to be more dangerous when that consolidated power is only shared by the top few media proprietors. The centralisation of media ownership threatens freedom of expression and limits a diverse public discussion on relevant issues. As Elizabeth Hart claims, it damages ‘the quality and depth of national and international media’ (Hart 2011, p.400). This clearly reflects the current age of Murdochracy, with giant media mogul, Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited controlling 70 percent of metropolitan newspapers and 23 percent of the regional dailies (Hart 2011, p.406). Such ownership and control reflects the way in which legacy media relies on a traditional centralised network, whereby communication is restricted to a one-dimensional model in which legacy media broadcasts the message to a passive audience.
However, thanks to internet, information technologies and our smartphones, the network typology is quickly shifting from a centralised one, to a distributed one in which individuals are no longer passive consumers of news and content, now, they have become active prosumers who contribute to the creation and distribution of news and content. This is because the internet allows mass decentralised communication. In particular, social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Reddit empowers ordinary citizens to contribute, share and aggregate news. Through these platforms we can easily share photos, messages and videos across the internet, allowing users all around the world to access and engage with such content. Thus the advances in digital technology and the growth of the internet have empowered a new era of citizen journalism. This means that we now live in a participatory culture where ordinary citizens are also contributors to the community through self-expressed user-generated content. Essentially, we can dictate what is important.
Furthermore, not only can we produce news, we can also produce it instantly to the masses online without the constraints of time and space which legacy media has traditionally been confined to. In fact, in many instances, we are able to make the news before traditional news broadcasters can even get to it. This is clearly evident with social media platform, Twitter. As Gina Horton (2013) writes “Twitter is a key player, and the list of news stories that break on Twitter before they do on mainstream media is staggering”. As she notes, the death of Whitney Houston was reported on Twitter one hour before mainstream traditional news media picked up on it. Similarly, users in the Twittersphere were the first to hear about the death of OsamaBin Laden, one day before Barack Obama announced it to the world.
Another classic example of Citizen Journalism at play was when a 13-year old girl filmed two young women assaulting and abusing an elderly man. The amateur footage was later handed in to the police and was also posted on YouTube which circulated across social media sites. Channel 9 aired the Footage on a Thursday night and by the next morning, the names of the young women were circulating on social media. Members of the public also called the police and by late Friday afternoon, both women handed themselves in to the police. This one example demonstrates the way in which the combination of the mobile phone and social media has made it harder for offenders to escape liability.
In fact, traditional news broadcasters have also recognised the changing patterns and have thus embraced this participatory culture. For example, after the activity of citizen journalists during the 2004 tsunami and the 2005 London Bombings, in 2006 CNN launched its iReport Initiative which allows people from across the globe to share and publish stories, pictures, videos and breaking news in one space. This demonstrates the way in which CNN relies on individuals (who were once passive consumers) to share news stories.
Thus the smartphone and the internet have revolutionised the way in which audiences now engage and participate in the reporting and distribution of news. The media landscape has dramatically shifted from a centralised media network of production to a distributed production, aggregation and curation of information flows. Now, news is no longer restricted to the gatekeeping mode of information and production utilised by legacy media. Essentially, such technologies have led to an innovation in journalism: now, ordinary citizens have the power to share news instantaneously at the tip of their fingertips. As Kate Bulkley reported, many agree that such technological developments have added a richer dimension to current affairs.
Bochenski, N, Calligeros M, 2014, ‘Gold Coast bus attack: two women leave elderly man ‘upset and shaken’, Brisbane Times, 28 February, viewed 20 September 2016 <http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/gold-coast-bus-attack-two-women-leave-elderly-man-upset-and-shaken-20140228-33pyl.html>.
Bulkley, K, 2012, ‘The Rise of Citizen Journalism’, The Guardian, 11 June, viewed 20th September 2016 < http://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/jun/11/rise-of-citizen-journalism>.
CNN, ‘CNN iReport’, CNN iReport, viewed 20 September 2016 < http://ireport.cnn.com/>
Hart, E 2011, ‘Case study 6: media ownership’, in J Bainbridge, N Goc & L Tynan (eds.),Media and Journalism : New Approaches to Theory and Practice, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, Victoria, pp400-408.
Horton, G 2013, ‘What is Citizen Journalism and How Does it Influence News?’, Brandwatch, 18 September, viewed 20 September 2016, <https://www.brandwatch.com/2013/09/what-is-citizen-journalism-and-how-does-it-influence-news/>.