Here lie the remains of a diary I attempted to write last October. I found this topic incredibly interesting, but like most of my writings it remains incomplete and un-published. The topic, however, is relevant, and warrants future study. The implications of a new media system which allows unfiltered access to anyone who may be interested are exciting. I shall be watching future developments in crowd-sourced journalism very closely.
Greetings from Missouri,
I am unhappy to announce that I am writing this post from back in my perch in the midwest. After spending the last five days being intimately involved with the Occupy London and Occupy Wall Street protests, I have returned home to take care of some business I postponed all summer.
In the past week, I have met some truly dedicated and inspiring people working diligently to change the corporo-political status quo. They are people from all walks of life and all corners of the world, standing together as a cohesive community intent on change we truly can believe in. Our cries of discontent were at first either ignored or marginalized by the mainstream media but were picked up by blogs and smaller independent outlets from all over the world. Video logs, photo diaries, livestreams, twitter, facebook, freelance articles and talk radio shows all provided raw, unfiltered information on the occupation and its gradual spread. It has created a new media paradigm which is poised to tip the titans of journalism on their side and prove how empty their role in providing information truly is.
It wasn't until a few violent acts by the now infamous NYPD "whiteshirts" were caught on video and went viral that the major press organizations yawned and lazily opened one eye to examine the protests. Then, after the incident on the Brooklyn Bridge, where over 700 citizens practicing their First Amendment rights were arrested and stuffed in paddy-wagons, the MSM arched an eyebrow and curiously wondered what was causing this racket. They sent their shock troops; reporting teams armed with shotgun mics, tank-like cameras and an army of editors in support from the news room to cover all aspects of the protest. Making sure, in the process, to interview as many diverse viewpoints as possible (so as to get the clearest picture, of course) and film the most offensive signs that FCC sensors would allow. Or, as John Stewart put it, that mainstream media coverage comes two ways, blackout or circus.
Coverage was horrible and biased by the usual suspects, lazy and routine by the majority, but in-depth and comprehensive by a select few (RT -- I'm looking at you). The pundits then did their job, which is to box a huge story into a tight little package and then bicker about it without reaching a consensus. In the end, the MSM process left the average consumer of news with only a vague understanding of the Occupy movement, as they often do with many important things. Their coverage of the Iran protests was measured and inadequate. Their coverage of Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya was fraught with inaccuracies and fear-mongering. Their coverage of Spain was completely absent. Finally, their coverage of nearly every Occupy protest was dismissive and often covertly hostile.
However, in the face of such a pitiful showing by the media groups with the largest audience, the protests spawned a new method of outreach using live-streams, youtube and the power of twitter and crowd-sourced journalism to fill the gaping holes left by the rest of the MSM. It began with Iran, as videos were uploaded to Youtube which were able to show the world the raw footage of protesters being brutally suppressed. It continued with Spain, as hundreds of thousands took to the streets and photos and videos were immediately uploaded displaying the power of solidarity. Egypt and Tunisia exemplified the possibilities of the new crowd-sourced media paradigm as they led directly to the downfall of two somewhat oppressive regimes. Here, in the United States, it allowed for a refutation of the many gross inaccuracies pushed by the same media powers which treated the far smaller Tea Party protests as events of equal or greater renown.
Looking towards the future of crowd-sourced journalism, I see many exciting possibilities. There are a great variety of tools which are available to nearly everyone and offer the potential for very large exposure. The most important development has been the cheap availability of cameras. Nearly every cell-phone manufactured in the past four years includes a built in camera, most of them capable of recording video. While the quality was poor at first, the latest generation of camera phones can record nearly high definition audio and video. DSLR cameras, flip cameras and other HD recording devices are now cheap enough that nearly any consumer can purchase one. They have also become so compact that they offer little encumbrance to those who carry one. Contrast the new camera technology with that used by television news outlets for the past sixty years. Even ten years ago, to own a camera which recorded studio quality video would cost thousands of dollars and weigh twenty pounds. A cameraman covering a story was often hampered by their cumbersome equipment, and the price created a barrier which few individual consumers could afford.
New, easy to use photo and video editing software has also provided a great boost to the citizen journalist, allowing for immediate consolidation and publication of their media.
The other major technological advance which has opens the door to the new media paradigm is the availability of mobile internet. Wireless hotspots and high speed mobile internet have rendered the satellite news truck a dinosaur. Fast, efficient internet allows for immediate upload of new photos, videos, livestreams, social media posts or blog posts. There is no longer the disconnect between filming an event, editing it in a studio, and then feeding it to the public. A journalist now only needs a camera, laptop and internet access to upload a story and immediately share it with interested parties around the world.
At first, I was skeptical of Twitter. Having used Facebook, MySpace, Hi5 and dozens of other social networking sites, I was already sick to death of social media by the time Twitter exploded. However, after looking into it further, I realized that Twitter has the potential to be the most useful social networking platform yet developed. While Facebook feeds our inherent narcissism and desires for social interaction and acceptance, Twitter is a tool to mobilize the masses.
Twitter first caught my attention in the aftermath of the tornado in my hometown of Joplin. Traditional media outlets were overwhelmed and slow to respond in the first few hours. There was simply too much devastation and chaos to consolidate information for a news cast. I was desperately seeking information about the tornado's path, how large it had been, and if friends and family were in danger. After seeing nothing but the same clips replayed over and over again by the channels who already had teams on the ground, I went to Twitter to fill in the gaps. Instead of filling in the gaps, Twitter provided nearly the whole story. I was immediately able to access photos from Joplin residents, able to assess the path of the tornado, confirm the safety of friends with Twitter accounts, and receive the most up-to-date information the moment it broke.
The journalistic potential for anyone in the thick of a news-worthy situation to send a tweet which can be easily searched, referenced and shared is immense. Photos can be seen by millions in five minutes, videos can be linked and shared, the vast echo chamber can amplify one tweet to a thousand tweets in seconds. Twitter can break a story hours before the first journalist even catches a whiff of it, and provide a constant stream of updates at little to no cost for both the producer and consumer of the news. (Of course, we have seen instances where Twitter has been suspended, this is a dangerous precedent which serves to remind us that the system is not without flaws.) The worldwide protests we have witnessed in the past couple of years have been built and cultivated thanks to Twitter, and there is good reason to believe that the future success of such movements will benefit even more from the service as the user-base grows.
Another hallmark of the new media paradigm ushered forth by the Occupy movement was the coming-of-age of the Livestream. I spent the majority of my time in Zuccotti volunteering in the media and communications tent in the center of the park where the livestreams were based. A 24 hour news network was built and operated from underneath a tarp in the middle of a park in Manhattan. Subsequent livestreams were put up and operated from multiple Occupy protests all over the country, it allowed for communication among groups and maintained the feeling of solidarity among participants all over the world. Livestreams allow for continuous, alternative coverage of events by anyone with a channel, internet connection and camera. It levels the playing field with television news networks and offers a huge potential for exposure and less (or more) biased reporting. All this is done with a very small investment. A service which was once only available to networks with corporate backing or a significant budget for equipment is now open for all. Livestreams streamline (no pun intended) the broadcast of the news, without the need for an entire news studio to churn out a story.
I believe that all these things and many more are the characteristics of a new media paradigm. It is currently in its infancy, but growing at a immense rate. Each new development only speeds up the eventual downfall of the traditional media system. Newspapers and magazines are already under immense pressure. They are moving away from print and focusing on online publication. Cable and network news programs are under fire from all sides for being bias, corrupt, stupid and sensationalist (after all, their advertisers mean more to them than their viewers). Their flaws are so deep that The Daily Show and Colbert Report have made a living skewering their credibility and providing just as much (if not more) news in the process. My former professors at the University of Missouri may not see it, the current media titans can probably sense it but don't believe it, the public is slowly waking up to it, the few which have seen it know it, but there is a new media paradigm on the horizon; and hopefully it can remain a pure, free system of raw information which allows the people to live free from information asymmetries if they so desire.