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Online Journalism

reflections on a changing medium

The beginning sections of We the Media by Dan Gilmor served as a perfect introduction to our online journalism course. It provided a context for the study of the emerging format of new journalism and a history of journalism and social media. Also, it was definitely helpful to have a refresher on things like SMS and RSS.

 Particularly interesting to me were the parallels between Gilmor’s discussion of methods of information transmission surrounding important events in American history and our class discussion regarding the media’s response to the earthquake in Haiti. Gilmour explains in an easy-to-follow chronology as how Americans received breaking news first via television news anchors and official footage as when Kennedy was assassinated and later through the media provided by what he calls “citizen journalists” who offered firsthand accounts during and after the 9/11 tragedy. Now, more than ever, the news is coming from all around us in a seamless way as different outlets (television, news sites, corporate and personal blogs, radio, newspapers, magazines, etc.) play off of one another to provide consumers with a mosaic of multiple viewpoints.

This makes me think, however: Through the use of the technologies that Gilmor discusses, which “citizen journalists” will become the new sources for our news? Who will be interacting with the read-write Web? Will the same individuals who have become accustomed to calling into radio shows or writing letters to their local newspaper editors be willing and able to adapt to this new technology, or will they be left in the dust, unable to join in the new discourse? What about those who can’t afford the hardware necessary to participate in these new ways of projecting their voices? I think that this might pose serious problems as the spotlight begins to shine upon the up-and-coming technologies that are a hotbed for ultra-timely news. As the networks that they are part of become less active, the opinions and viewpoints of those who aren’t as tech-savvy or as affluent might soon be forced into the background or even out of the picture.

It is true of all social networking technologies, however, that networks become more valuable as more people use them. This has been true of many other past networking technologies such as telephones. Of course, telephones became more valuable as more of one’s social contacts acquire telephones and link themselves into the network. The Web technologies that serve as a platform for news gathering and spreading are clearly not new—according to Gilmor, modern blog precursors have been in the works for decades—what’s new is the value of the networks from which the new journalism is hatching.


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