Thursday, August 11, 2011

We Are All Media Outlets

In “Everyone is a Media Outlet” [1], Clay Shirky discusses the idea of mass amateurization and what this means for the media business, particularly journalists and traditional news outlets. To understand this concept of mass amateurization one must first understand what a profession is and why it exists. A profession, Shirky explains, exists “to solve a hard problem, one that requires some sort of specialization” and “because there is a scarce resource that requires ongoing management” (56). In the case of professional journalists, the basic problem being solved is how the public will be informed of the news. The traditional journalist’s answer to this is newspapers, or perhaps a television news broadcast. The scarcity in resources refers to the fact that the cost of printing, publication, production, and distribution were too expensive for just anybody to disseminate news. However, the internet changed all this. The web provides a platform for just about anybody to put out ‘news’ at no cost at all, thereby eliminating that ‘scarcity of resource’. It is because of this that we get mass amateurization of the media; newspapers and other traditional news outlets are no longer the only place where society can consume its news.

We can find many examples of the consumption of non-traditional news in our day to day lives. For instance, one way I hear about news is from The Philip DeFranco Show, which is a YouTube channel. He talks about ‘newsworthy’ topics ranging from politics to celebrity gossip. It is common for me to hear about a particular news story from his show first. Recently I was listening to him talk about the London riots. Philip DeFranco, despite having gotten better at what he does over the years, is technically an amateur. He has no professional journalistic training and when it comes down to the basics he is simply a guy with a camera, computer, and internet connection. There are so many other vloggers (video-bloggers), and bloggers like him that put out content which is consumed by the public. DeFranco himself is quite popular with, 72,332,024 channel views. This is a clear illustration of how an amateur can easily reach a mass audience through the internet.

The Philip DeFranco Show

This change in how people get their news and where people consume media from raises many questions and has many implications that can affect the traditional media outlets. What happens to traditional outlets when their purpose can be fulfilled elsewhere? Will they become obsolete? What does this mean for the type of news we will get? What is the role of the traditional media outlet in society now and can they still turn out profits? Shirky addresses some of these questions. As for the content of the news, Shirky says that this mass amateurization of media has caused there to be a democratization of information. That is to say that what gets deemed as ‘newsworthy’ is no longer only up to a small group of professionals. Shirky cites the example of Trent Lott. Lott was a Mississippi senator and majority leader. He had made some questionable comments praising a senator who had run on a platform of segregation. The mainstream news media ignored it, deeming it not newsworthy. However bloggers caught the comment and did not let it slide. All the public attention the story got forced the mainstream news media to cover the story. “Indeed, the news media can end up covering the story because something has broken into public consciousness via other means” (64-65). Shirky also mentions another outcome: the blurring of titles such as ‘journalist’. What makes a journalist? Is a blogger a journalist? Who gets journalistic privileges (privileges that protect journalists from getting into trouble with the law when they promise their sources confidentiality)? All these questions arise out of this mass amateurization of media. The traditional media sources must start coming up with solutions to these questions in the upcoming years, as the internet is sure to grow even more as a common source of news.

I believe that it is a mistake to think that the only value in a journalist and traditional media outlets relied in their ability to cover expensive publishing and production costs. There is still much value in the profession. Although there are a plethora of different bloggers that discuss current events, most of them still get their information from the traditional media outlets. The Philip DeFranco show viewers are getting their information from him, but he gets his information from other news sites, which he links us to under his videos. Most internet bloggers do not have the resources, money, or access to acquire the news the way professional journalists do. A professional news channel can send a reporter to lets say Iraq to report on the war, most bloggers don’t have this power. A professional news outlet has access to many politicians and presidential conferences that bloggers do not have. There is also the issue of legitimacy. Although I do get much of my news from untraditional sources, I always check the facts with traditional ones because they are more reliable. Professional journalists are held accountable for what they write and are expected to check facts, bloggers usually are not.

Overall, journalists and traditional media outlets are still valuable because their capabilities and accountability surpass that of internet bloggers. Just because there are new sources of news does not mean the old sources will become obsolete. Shirky compares the situation to scribes and the printing press; scribes disappeared once the printing press was made. But old technology does not always vanish just because new ones appear. For instance, when television became popular movie theater owners worried that they would go out of business. They did lose some business, but there is still a big place for them in society. I believe this is the same case with professional journalists and traditional media outlets. While I do not believe they will become valueless or obsolete, I do believe their role will change. Perhaps they will have to think how much they charge for their product, considering the public can get it elsewhere for free. And perhaps they now have less control over what is ‘newsworthy’. I believe the old media and the new media (the internet) must work hand in hand to deliver news to the public .Both can benefit the other and keep the other in check. Traditional media outlets offer a legitmate source, while other news sources have a variety of opinions and publish more than what the traditional sources deem newsworthy. Hopefully the relationship will grow to benefit societies’ consumption of the news.

[1]Shirky, Clay. “Everyone Is A Media Outlet.” Here Comes Everybody. New York: Penguin Press, 2008. (54-80)

No comments:

Post a Comment