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Watch out, journalists – the amateurs are catching up on their reporting

Once more we have seen it happen: The terrorist attacks in Mumbai have demonstrated how amateurs and and social networks are playing an essential role in distributing news in major events.  More and more readers are finding that they get the news faster – and sometimes even more accurate – on the social networks than from the professional media.

Should the journalists be worried about this?

Yes and no, I would argue.

Yes, they should be really worried if they think people will only trust the media in covering the news. They should be worried if they make no attempt at following what is going on in the social networks when big news are happening. They should be worried if they think amateurs have no role in distributing the news.

Unfortunately that is the attitude of far too many journalists. They should be worried like hell. Because that kind of attitude is a safe road to undermining the qualities of professional journalism. Media where this attitude is predominant will loose in the long term. It is a simple as that.

But no. Journalists have no reason to worry if they are willing to redefine their own role in the new digital era. Because there is no less need for professional journalism. But the definition of what constitutes professional journalism is changing dramatically.

Today’s journalist need to combine a number of different qualities:

  • She is a great journalist – in the traditional definition of the profession. That means that she is good at collecting news, prioritizing and presenting them in a simpe and understandable manner to the readers.
  • But she also realizes that journalism is no longer a one-way communication. Instead she communicates constantly with her readers and actively uses social networks in her edtiorial research.
  • She doesn’t only communicate with her readers, but collaborates actively with them. She has a geunine understanding of how her readers use Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and other web services to collect information,  and wants to work together with them in gathering a complete picture of what is going on.

The terrorist attacks in Mumbai has been yet another example of how the media no longer have a monopoly of collecting and distributing the news. Actually, in most cases you will find the news faster on Twitter and similar services.

Acknowledging this, journalists still play a useful role, though. Because the more news, facts and digital noise, the more important is the role of the competent interpreter – like the professional journalist.  But the journalist needs to have a genuine understanding of how also there are numerous other sources of information available to the readers.

So much for the theory. A number of media and blogs have written about how the Mumbai attacks have played in the media and social networks. Here are some examples:

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About the author: Experienced media manager and journalist. Enthusiastic about digital media – and eager amateur photographer. Currently Chief Communications Officer at Schibsted Tech Polska in Krakow, Poland.

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