The rise of new digital media and the evolution of news

Abbie Bradford

A guest blog by Abbie Bradford who is studying multimedia journalism at Bournemouth University and is working with us for two weeks.

Over recent years, the rise of social media has been beyond what anyone would have been able to predict. It now plays such a vital role not only within our social lives but within the business and news sector too.

With a simple touch of a screen people can instantly share their pictures, videos, thoughts and opinions with the world. What wasn’t predicted was how much the rise of social media and new digital media platforms would change the way that we receive our news.

Thinking back, the first time we used to hear about a story was when we picked up the morning paper to see a revelation splashed over the front page, or tuned on the evening news to hear the latest updates. But the rise of people interacting with social media has changed everything.

Social media gives users the ability to share information to a very large distribution within a matter of seconds, a power only previously accessible to news platforms. The purpose of social media was so that people could share this information about their own lives, but now the shift has seen people using social media as a platform to interact and share information about the world around them.

News platforms used to be the gateway in which information and news could be shared with the public, and journalists were the gatekeepers. However, social media platforms eliminated the need for this gateway, giving everyone with an email address the ability to share information with the world at the touch of a button, and thus the rise of citizen journalism.

But is citizen journalism killing professional journalism?

In a changing world, the way that the public consume their news has adapted. We now want to consume our news in a way that is convenient to us. And at a time which is convenient, which naturally, is immediately.

If we cast our minds back to the horror that occurred in May 2017, when a suicide bomber targeted an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena. The event was a moment that the world stood still but the spread of information on social media certainly didn’t.

An official timeline of events showed that the bomb was detonated at 10:31pm, and the first tweet appeared at 10:34pm, speculating the loud noise potentially being a popped balloon. Five minutes later, a video of people panicked was tweeted with the user stating that two loud bangs had been heard and people were running away looking distressed.

The initial response on Twitter allowed people stuck inside the arena to understand the event as it unfolded and also gave police key information which was crucial to their response.

In the hours that followed, Twitter was used as a platform for key communication, sending messages about who was safe, what was happening and where to seek refuge in real time.

This is an example of citizen journalism in its rawest form.

The media were then able to use the information being distributed to spread the news of the incident. Videos and photographs were visible in the media for months to come. Content that simply wouldn’t have been available if it wasn’t for citizen journalism.

To label users of digital media platforms spreading information as ‘journalists’ may be a stretch too far, but there is a very blurred line which will continue as time goes on and evolution into the digital age continues.

So how does this change the role of the media?

News outlets and journalists used to be our sole source of news and the responsibility and role of breaking news stories relied on them. Now it’s more the case that by the time the TV news broadcasts a bulletin, or a paper has time to print, people already know.

This changes the media’s role dramatically, but does this mean that professional journalism is dead? No, not at all, just reborn. The role of news media is no longer about breaking stories to the public, but instead acting as a trustworthy source of explanation and context.

Think of it as an iceberg. Breaking news stories and informing the public sphere about events is often adopted by citizen journalism and digital news platforms; the tip of the iceberg. Then the journalists act to reveal the larger surface under the water. The context, information, arguments and counter arguments that still need to come from a trusted news source with credibility and journalistic integrity.

The world is always adapting and changing and the media, I think, more so than any other sector. The media and its role of the fourth estate has adapted to suit the demand of a changing world and this new controversial relationship between journalists and citizen reporters has arisen.

The demand for news content being immediately available with multimedia elements is a near impossible demand to fulfil. But it becomes possible with citizen journalists collect the content and making it publicly available.

So, what is the relationship between citizen journalism and professional Journalism? I believe that it’s not one of conflict, but instead a relationship of necessary mutual dependency in a changing world, and one that will continue to evolve as new digital media does.