The BBC has an interesting news piece today on the role digital devices play in speeding up the availability of eyewitness accounts, video, and photos to the world when disaster strikes. I thought one observation was especially interesting:
Many people commenting on online photo sharing community site Flickr said it was their first port of call to get news and images.
And here I thought I was the only one. While Google News remains my first choice for information, I too use Flickr when I want to see what's going on through an eye-witness' perspective. For me, it started during the presidential inauguration protests this January and has become an increasing obsession ever since.
All this begs the question: are traditional news media becoming increasingly obsolete?
Yes and no.
On the one hand, yes, the media is fighting a losing battle...when it comes to getting the scoop. The more people are armed with picture and video phones, the less likely it is that the media will be the first folks on the scene. And the less likely it is that the public will turn to the media for these accounts. This, of course, has interesting implications for news aggregate sites like Google News - how will they choose who to accept stories from? How will they determine which stories show up as headlines and which receive little attention?
Which brings me to my second point: the news media is dead/long live the news media. The era of the scoop maybe gone but the media will continue to play a very important role - perhaps even on a larger scale - in terms of agenda setting. Agenda-setting theory - as defined by (my former professor) Maxwell McCombs and his colleague Donald Shaw in the 1970s - holds that the media set the public policy agenda by highlighting certain issues more so than others. In other words, the media doesn't tell the public what to think. Rather, it tells us what to think of.
And so, in a society where virtually every human has the potential to become a news producer, I suspect that we'll increasingly rely on the traditional authorities - NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, the NY Times, WSJ, Washington Post, and perhaps NPR and PBS - to tell us which stories to pay attention to as well as a few newbies like Google News and perhaps even Flickr or Technorati. As such, it remains important that we, as media consumers, are vigilant in demanding the highest standards from these organizations. And I'm not talking about Judith Miller standards either. I'm referring to a journalist ethic that places the public interest above that of the news organization and its corporate owners.Posted by sarah at July 8, 2005 11:11 AM