Traditionally, the role of a professional journalist came with a simple map and directions to navigate the media industry. Journalists were assigned the responsibility of “gathering, assessing, creating and presenting news and information” (American Press Institute, 2017). As solo travellers, their one-to-many map ensured that their publications could be disseminated to society on a one-way communication line (Flew, 2014). Consequently the map was monopolised by high barriers to entry and the agendas of professional journalists or dominating media conglomerates (Johnson & Kaye, 2004). However, these directions were designed to navigate the primordial lands of legacy print, radio and broadcast journalism, when audience engagement was limited. Whilst these forms of journalism still exist, the hyper connective evolution of the internet has transformed the environment into a many-to-many communication paradigm, by allowing multiple users to contribute or receive information simultaneously (Jensen & Helles, 2016). Such a shift has created the foundation for the unmarked lands of participatory culture
What is Participatory Culture?
Participatory culture emerged with the evolution of “user generated content, social networking and online sharing capabilities” (Flew, 2014). This culture is dependent on a networked society and interactive media, whereby “producers and consumers are…increasingly participants who interact with each other” (Jenkins, 2006). This increased interactivity has given rise to citizen journalists, who now have the ability to comment and share articles or post their own stories (Flew, 2014). As can be seen from the video below, introducing citizen journalists has challenged the traditional power hierarchy of the public sphere.
Such limited distinction between professional journalists and amateur bloggers gives power to the public, as the “Ladder of Participation” proposed by Arnstein (1969) identifies the three highest levels of participation as “partnership, delegated power and citizen control” (Arnstein, 1969). This suggests that the more a consumer contributes, the more dominance they gain (Arnstein, 1969). In other words, the ability of your Uncle Bob to publish Facebook statuses on the price of petrol and produce daily Instagram weather updates, has the potential to degrade the value of a professional journalist.
Now that journalists are no longer the sole travelers of the media industry, their endurance in the field requires new survival strategies. Such techniques include the leveraging of participatory culture to redesign the traditional map (Starobin, 2009).
New Directions to Journalism in a Participatory Culture
1. Create depth through media convergence:
Flew (2011) recognises that “new media enables a greater degree of interactivity… due to being more open to dialogic communication”. With contemporary media communication now travelling down a two-way-street, journalists can harness such dialogic communication by encouraging audience involvement through cross-media practices (Starobin, 2009). This has specific application to broadcast news journalism, with programs such as Channel 7’s Sunrise encouraging the audience to tweet, Facebook or Instagram their responses to the show’s publications. This real time interactivity, public conversation and acknowledgment of audience contributions during broadcast, enhances audience engagement by providing individuals with a sense of involvement (Flew, 2011). Furthermore, encouraging the audience to repost their responses stimulates public interest and intensifies the dissemination of publications (Garcia-Aviles, 2012). This leveraging of participatory culture allows journalists to develop and maintain their reputation in the industry, thus gaining a professional advantage.
2. Construct niche audiences:
Instead of viewing amateur bloggers and other user-generated forums as competitors, professional journalists should acknowledge these individuals as directories of potential information. The ability of the audience to interact online provides journalists with a valuable insight into the attitudes and knowledge of the community (Flew, 2014). Such material allows journalists to navigate public interests and develop niche publications which differentiate the Instagram hipsters from the Twitter politics fiends. In a competitive
environment, where “true loyalty only develops when there is an emotional connection from the audience” (Batsell, 2015), providing targeted
information which engages the audience distinguishes professional journalists from their amateur travel companions.
3. Find diverse sources:
The online publications of amateur journalists can not only dictate areas of public interest, but can also provide valuable sources for professional publications. Today, journalists are expected to link concise online articles to extensively researched blogs, summarizing tweets and first hand instagrammed images (Flew, 2014). However, due to the traditional journalistic limitations of “time constraints, geographic area, resources and deadlines” (Ingram, 2012), including primary engaging media and information in publications is not always a realistic option. However, embedding or linking the publications of amateur bloggers, photographers and videographers ensures that professional journalists are able to navigate the contemporary expectations of constant news updates, whilst still maintaining their high quality standards (Garcia-Aviles, 2012).
You have reached your destination.
The value given to these directions and the actual destination is largely dependent on the traveler navigating the landscape. As a current citizen journalist, I am able to appreciate the tools that have allowed me to already begin navigating this once monopolised land. However, as an aspiring professional journalist, I tentatively understand that my conception and survival in the industry is no longer determined purely by my journalistic ability, but is now more dependent on my ability to navigate using these new directions.
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