Emergence Of Citizen Media And Its Impact On Traditional Media

15/01/2015 8:02 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
CHANDAN KHANNA via Getty Images
A reader holds up a copy of an English-language Indian newspaper with a front page report on the attack by gunmen on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris that killed 12 people on January 7, at a newsstand in New Delhi on January 8, 2015. A stunned and outraged France began a national day of mourning January 8, as security forces desperately hunted two brothers suspected of gunning down 12 people in an Islamist assault on a satirical weekly, the country's bloodiest attack in half a century. AFP PHOTO / CHANDAN KHANNA (Photo credit should read Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

In the article 'We the Media', Dan Gilmor points out a fundamental shift in the nature of information sourcing and distribution that was earlier the prerogative of the 'Media'. The fundamental shift being that now the audience decided what is important and what will be trending rather than a media house. Bloggers and other participative journalism platforms have emerged as a source of competition to mainstream media by publishing information, reporting real time, sharing opinions and pushing it out to the whole online community with no involvement of any traditional media.

The buzzword for this phenomenon is 'Citizen Media'. As per the Wikipedia definition, the term citizens media refers to forms of content produced by private citizens who are otherwise not professional journalists.

Citizen media is causing fundamental changes in the media landscape that will impact how we produce and consume information in the decades to come. The changes can be broadly classified as:

1. Media is now much more democratised because it is open to many people.

2. A fairly fundamental change is that consumers are now producers and vice-verse.

3. Also, we now have a read-write Web that allows people to write easily on the Web.

4. Journalism has traditionally been a lecture--journalists tell you what the news is, you either buy it or you don't. Now it's moving into something like a conversation and the first rule of a conversation is to listen.

5. And journalists have not been listening, many times readers know more than journalists. This isn't a bad thing, it is just an opportunity to do better journalism.

6. The democratisation of access to media means that the audience now has many choices and most of them are free.

7. Media organisations are asking the public what they know about things and also about what they want reported in media.

To understand the genesis of the 'citizen media' phenomenon, we need to understand why earlier the traditional media houses had a monopoly on journalism and what has changed. The biggest barrier to democratic media was the prohibitive costs of printing, publishing and broadcasting. To offset these costs, the media outlets relied on advertising revenue. The high entry barrier effect of printing, publishing and broadcasting costs got destroyed by the internet, where everyone pays for the Internet, and then everyone gets to use it. And when the advertisers and everyone else, were all able to use the Internet to advertise at much lower cost with an increased reach, this gave them an opportunity get out of their old relationship with the publisher, and they did!

This seems like the end of the road for traditional media with shrinking revenue streams from both advertising and subscription on the one hand and decreasing monopoly on information on the other with various forms of online blogs emerging as source of competition. While mainstream media currently sees only individual blogs as competitors, what is really interesting is that the competition of traditional media is with blogosphere as a whole. This is not just a competition between sites, but a competition between business models. The world of Web 2.0 is a world in which 'the former audience', not a few people in a back room, decides what's important.

However, before we sound the death knell of the traditional media, we need to consider the fact that mainstream media does much of society's heavy journalistic lifting, from flooding the zone --covering every angle of a huge story--to the daily grind of attending the government meeting, court hearings etc. This coverage creates benefits even for people who aren't news consumers, because the work of journalists is used by everyone from politicians to district attorneys to talk radio hosts to bloggers. So the question looms "Who will gather all the news, cover all the events and uncover all the scoops if the print media dies?"

This question is of immense importance as it is NOT whether particular media houses will survive this new reality but how journalism itself will survive as it revenues are eroded by the advent of the Internet and who will play the watchdog role that the media largely played in society.

While the debate rages some adaptations are being experimented with in the media. For instance, The Citizen Journalist by NDTV India is such an example of an adaption where ordinary citizens can record and post their news stories with NDTV. The online Oh My News in Seoul, South Korea is also fascinating. They have 40,000 citizen journalists around Korea who have agreed to post things there. They have professional editors who edit things that get posted, so it's a hybrid. The Huffington Post in India and abroad allows bloggers to post articles online and encourages more democratic participation in the journalistic process. These are wonderful experiment and may show the way forward for traditional media to adapt to the advent of citizens media.

A thing to remember though is that traditional media still holds the edge in generating original and credible content. Credibility of information is going to be traditional media's competitive advantage. Another aspect of media that we should not overlook is the fact that news agencies play a role in organising our lives and providing us a summary at global, national or local levels that the blogosphere or citizens media is unable to do currently. Secondly, the traditional media plays a crucial role in setting the agenda that stems from their credibility. This was evident in the Anna Hazare movement, the Nirbhaya protests, the rise and fall of AAP and the landslide victory of BJP in 2014 national elections. This is so because the citizen media is in itself a consumer of traditional media and is still some distance away from being able to lead public opinion and set agendas. Secondly, the bloggers or the netizens posting, sharing and generating news on the Internet are not full-time journalists and cannot devote exclusive time to follow up or cover a news item to the depth that is required for sustained impact.

In summary, I feel that we are in the middle of a journalistic revolution where a hybrid model is required where the credibility of the traditional media is coupled with the democratic nature of citizen media. In the end, I hope that 'journalism' comes out to be winner as otherwise society as a whole will be the loser.

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