The Journalism Reformation

No industry has been more transformed by the technology changes than the print media industry. We have experienced it through the last decades.

It has been tantamount to a Reformation as the role of the printed publication has had to be completely redefined. Satellite TV was the first major driver of the Reformation, but the appearance of social media accelerated the transformation of the print media from its traditional form to a brand new one. We can only imagine how will the print press work from now on. Perhaps it will result in the demise of the printed word, or maybe it will be transformed into its limited form the same way photography has been transformed when becoming digital. The Kodak company is no longer existing and there is only a very small number of modern photographers, now considered esoteric, who still use film. Film cameras have become antiques to be used by photographers interested in selling high-grade quality photographic prints.

The development of the printing press was a major step in the modern age. For the first time it was possible to disseminate and use the sum total of human knowledge of the time. As humans we were able to ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’ and it was the impetus for an explosion in human development that still continues today. The evolution of social media has theoretically raised the bar again significantly. Individuals have been given a voice through their ability to communicate with the whole world as events unfold.

With Satellite TV, the ability to capture live events suddenly became feasible. Perhaps a sentinel moment was the OJ Simpson car chase. It almost seemed unreal as the farce unfolded in front of the American nation’s eyes. Then the court case that followed, which also seemed like courtroom drama as opposed to real life. The stage was set for a number of landmark major news events from the tragedies of Columbine to the almost surreal terrorist attack on September 11.  The competition between the media often is a driver to the shock.

The use of unedited news footage in particular during school shootings and during the attack on the World Trade Centre set the stage for a new era of no holds barred reporting.

Now almost nothing is censored in this era of life news reporting, and nothing is too shocking. This kind of reporting does create bias and propaganda that leads to often more bizarre behaviour in terms of news generation.

For example, the release a picture of the mangled but reconstructed face of Uday Hussein, the son of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who had been killed by the US army.

Print journalism has changed completely with the social media era. This news media has created new models of interaction.  As opposed to the mass-media model, which has a core characteristic of: “content is produced prior to transmission in a relatively small number of centers, and when finished is then transmitted to a mass audience, which consumes it” (Benkler Y, Wealth of Networks, 2006, p. 221), communication is no longer solely from author to reader (or a group of readers), but it is now the interaction between the two. The World Wide Web is not a one way publishing or broadcasting system.

Yochai Benkler (Wealth of Networks, 2006, p. 284) explains how citizens have gained an active role in transforming the information they receive from news sources:

In the networked information environment, everyone is free to observe, report, question, and debate, not only in principle, but in actual capability. […] They (citizens) are no longer constrained to occupy the role of mere readers, viewers, and listeners. They can be, instead, participants in a conversation. […] They no longer need be consumers and passive spectators. They can become creators and primary subjects.” (p. 284)

Many journalists have had to redefine their work and adapt to a new way of communication and thinking to ensure their financial survival. Many traditional newspapers have reduced revenues and staff, for the technology and the social media have simplified the work of a journalist. Some of them changed the interface of interaction between the writers (which they employed) and the readers (which they target) so the writers would meet the targeted readers needs and interests.

Indeed, the very structure of the offices of many print publishing houses has changed dramatically. In the past, journalists had clearly defined roles as wordsmiths. They were writers or editors of copy, whether it be news or features or articles, whereas now the primary requisite of the new journalist is to be adaptable and flexible and to cover a number of different roles.

Before most publications had teams of photographers, editors and graphic designers or layout people. New technology has made some of the skills that were previously considered to be a requirement to perform these roles redundant. The result is that many staff photographers and designers were made redundant for economic reasons and profitability. So journalists had to take on the roles and they became part of the job description. In this new era, journalists became the new media photographers and designers and newspapers. Although the world’s very top newspapers still retain photographers, the vast majority of images now come from news agencies.

The result is that the journalist who once had a sole responsibility to create news content and articles, now has a more content management type role where they manage a number of roles in the publication process.

Social media has added another layer to the transformation of the print journalist’s role. Many of the traditional journalist roles have now become defunct.

What is a Journalist?

Social media has completely redefined the way that a print journalist works. Reporting on news has become nearly a redundant feature of news reporting for daily newspapers and definitely for publications that have a frequency of weekly.

Reporting on news in traditional newspapers with reduced staff means relying on newsfeeds. Often the attribution to one of the traditional newswires will give clues as to the origin of a news story. The news reporter who in many cases is now functioning more as an editor will mould and re-craft the story to either suit a local population of readers or to put a slant on it that more accurately, in the writer’s view, to represent either the political views of their reader or those views that the paper wants to portray to its readership. News stories are written with slant all of the time.

Just as the print news editor in a paper or magazine carefully selects the stories of interest to a more local population of target readers in the paper’s domain of distribution, he or she will also deselect certain stories dependent on their relevance.

Selection of the most important and significant news stories was based on a combination of objective and subjective decisions using specific editorial criteria, and the final decision was often made in editorial meetings.

A traditional print news editor, often with the editor and other section editors having some input, effectively was a maker of news.

News Basket

Social media has transformed the news desk of print publications. In the past, information used to come via fax and press releases and pile high on the news editors desk. As the morning progressed and the deadline loomed, the news desk would amass a veritable mountain of information.

The news desk offered the opportunity of publicity, be it personal or company driven, or notoriety, be it good or bad. If you wanted to get a message out, the best way to do so was to go via the news desk with a carefully crafted press release fax or email. Then a follow up call to remind the news editor of that free press junket you promised next week if the story went to press.

The job of the news editor was to sift through this pile of information and decide on the most newsworthy information and what could be achieved given the space for news and amount of time to the next deadline.

The main stories would usually select themselves. But for the rest, it was like often looking through the spam folder on your email account to see if any of it had any value. Most of the information was not usable, and PR puff material with no real news content. But there was occasional little gems that the news editor considered relevant to the readers and the good editor with a nose for news could see that they had potential for a good story.

The news editor would then create a smaller pile of potentials and discuss them with his team of news reporters and the features editor. Between them they would discuss the most important stories, prioritize them, and then they would be delegated to individual journalists.

The journalists would then go away, research the stories and background material from contacts, look for the best commentators, interview them for quotes, and then write up the story.

A lengthy process, but the end result was that the newspaper would break stories of relevance to the reader and on message for their publication. Even news publications with weekly and monthly periodicity were able to break exclusive news in this way by carefully researching news and keeping good contacts.

The pile of paper disappeared when the news desk started receiving emails, RSS feeds and news aggregators, and using the Internet to research stories. In the new social media age, the news editor has to monitor blogs, follow tweets and updates to Facebook, and to look at trends and memes and popular stories.

Social media has become a new source and in many cases has replaced the original source of news. The Guardian Newspaper is a forerunner in the adoption of a more open journalism and uses apps to invite its readers to interact and contribute what it calls Witness news. It is a similar soliciting initiative to CNN iReport .

In a recent talk at a journalist organization in Vienna, Austria, Chris Moran, SEO Editor of The Guardian Newspaper, spoke on the development of open journalism and the development of the Witness portal.

“Traditionally as print media journalists we think only about the page and our own site. Increasingly in an open digital world we are looking at places where our content is other than on our own site,” he said.


Defining the Reader

Having an ideal reader in mind, newspaper journalists, often give them names to help focus the writer on the message and what is the best way to deliver it. They build up a picture of their reader using the market analysis.

Specialized newspapers will have a focus on a specific subject or they will provide a specific slant on a specific topic. For example, a magazine that focuses on general health might target the general public. General health news might be the focus of this type of publication, for it is the interest of the major public.

A magazine that is focused on a more specific subject, the healthy nutrition, might be targeted at dietitians, nutritionists, health food sector and anyone who is interested in making their own nutrition better. News and articles in this magazine are more likely to focus on specific issues of interest to their readers, such as healthy foods and the impact of the food on the health.

Using various marketing strategies, such as readers surveys, and focus groups, the newspaper or magazine will build up an image of their target readers. As well as enabling an editorial focus this will also define the target to increase readership through promotion and advertising.

As well as the readers interests in the editorial material being generated currently and what useful information that the reader would like to see in the future, this information gathering provides other useful information that directs editorial. Some of the data that is useful to build up an idea of what the majority of readers are like include their age, where they live, where they work, and what are their hobbies. All of this will enable the writer to create an avatar, or more than one, that will enable him or her to create the kind of language that is most amenable to the audience.

Is the Deadline Dead?

Ask any former journalist what was the single most important aspect of their job and they will say the deadline. In the offices of publishers all around the world the first thing fellow journalists would ask each other is: ‘When is your deadline?’ or ‘Did you make the deadline?’ Then they might ask each other how they are or what did they get up to at the weekend. No other job was more driven by deadlines than that of a writer with half an hour to deliver 250 words on a complex topic. Hitting the deadline was paramount to the daily life of journalism. The arrival of social media has essentially made this deadline idea defunct.

This has perhaps been the greatest influence of social media on print journalism. The timing of the message is no longer significant to a publication. Social media has triggered the disappearance of the concept of the news deadline for print media. The lag time between the time an issue goes to press and the actual printing and distribution of a publication has lost its significance because immediacy has become the most important factor when presenting information that is new.

In the past, immediacy was very significant. It was vital to get the news out rapidly to the audience. Otherwise you will be beaten by the competitor for exclusivity. News desks on deadline day as the final hours approached were places of secrecy, diligence and often not inconsiderable panic. The final deadline must be hit at all costs and the battle to maintain media silence on that big breaking exclusive would determine success of publication sales.

Only in the past few years has the deadlines for release of news contracted to minutes in the case of news. This means that the only way to release information quickly and compete with other information sources is via social media: anyone with a connection can break news as it happens. This has essentially eliminated the need for a deadline, as news stories are often posted as they are written, with edits and updates amended as necessary.

Traditional newspapers have reacted to this change by creating dynamic websites and still rely on their reputation. However, this reputation for news has been rapidly eroded by the immediacy of Twitter and Facebook.

As traditional news makers and news creators the traditional journalist is on a gradual decline to demise. No longer are newspaper journalists the source of the news. No longer do they sieve through reams of paper, or more recently RSS newsfeeds, to decide what the makeup of the ‘avatar’ of their ideal reader wants. They have lost the power they had as part of a news organizations.

How a Journalist Works

Social media has completely redefined the way that a print journalist works. Reporting on news has become nearly a redundant feature of news reporting for daily newspapers and definitely for publications that have weekly frequency.

Reporting on news in traditional newspapers with reduced staff means relying on newsfeeds. Often the attribution to one of the traditional newswires will give clues as to the origin of a news story. The news reporter who in many cases is now functioning more as an editor will mould and re-craft the story to either suit a local population of readers or to put a slant on it that more accurately, in the writer’s view, to represent either the political views of their reader or those views that the paper wants to portray to its readership. News stories are written with slant all of the time.

Just as the print news editor in a paper or magazine carefully selects the stories of interest to a more local population of target readers in the paper’s domain of distribution he or she will also deselect certain stories dependent on their relevance.

This was a combination of objective and subjective decisions decided in meetings.

A traditional print news editor effectively was the maker of the news.

The Rise of News Analysis

With the rise of social media, the question is why then do newspapers still publish news, when there are no longer news breakers per se. Most print publications instead of having their major focus have switched to analyzing news first generated  by other media. It is about putting news in context, comment and opinion rather than news generation.

The day of the exclusive scoop reporting of a major news story is generally long gone. However, there is a possibility of uncovering new stories and investigative journalism can still generate significant new stories and leads.

The necessity for immediacy has definitely curtailed the ability of a journalist to properly research their work. Many publications have limited budgets and time constraints on research. If news is from releases, news feeds and sources from the internet, and then rewritten in house style then the ability to repackage in an analytical way in further depth is the only way that a publication can add its own value. This requires research. Research means time and money and depends on the funds of the individual publishing house.

Repackaging and collating news information in specific niche subject areas for publications with very select readership does have value. The reader gets the value that all of the news that has occurred is all collated in one place. If the reader has the motivation to reading a publication because of a specific field of interest or for work then the publication that summarizes all of the latest news within a time period has great value. Also if the reader is not a regular user of the Internet or social media sites, a publication that collates all of the latest information online will have great value to a that reader.

Timing of Interaction with Readers

Perhaps the greatest influence of social media on print journalism has been in the area of timing of the message. Immediacy has become the most important factor when presenting information that is new. So the single most important issue is getting the news out rapidly to the audience.

Only in the past few years has the deadlines for release of journalistic pieces has contracted to minutes in the case of news. This means that the only way to release information quickly and compete with other information sources is via social media.

Traditional newspapers have reacted to this change by creating dynamic websites and still rely on their reputation. However, this reputation for news has been rapidly eroded by the immediacy of Twitter and Facebook.

As traditional news makers and news creators the traditional journalist is on a gradual decline to demise. The newspaper journalists are no longer the source of the news. No longer do they sieve through reams of paper, or more recently RSS newsfeeds, to decide what the makeup of the ‘avatar’ of their ideal reader wants. They have lost the power they had as a part of the a news organisations.  


Writing Off the Cuff and Off the Record

Journalists who wrote for a specific publication frequently have to tow the line and stick to editorial policy. The advent of blogging and the cult of the personality of the individual writer has freed writers to give their own opinion.

Blogging also tends to be more spontaneous and perhaps because of this has less validity. But because it is the new way for journalists to communicate it has been embraced by the journalist community.

Social media can offer the power of anonymity and this can be used to effectively campaign. Anonymity offers the ability to write off the cuff remarks that used to be perhaps whispered into a reporting journalist’s ear. Gossip was the driver of this kind of news, and reporters frequently would cultivate the contact who liked to gossip and use them as a regular source. Whether the gossiper has good or bad intent would increase their usability depending on the individual reporter and the publication and the readership.


The Online Newspaper

No longer can an individual publication rely solely on its offline reputations built over the decades to sell copies of its print editions. All publications worth their salt will have an online component and presence.

The online version of a newspaper gives a completely different aspects of the view on the news. They combine audio, video and interactive channels of communication with the readers, not only the written word they used to present to the public in the publication era. They even adapt the articles that have been written for the publication, so they can meet the needs of an online version. They sometimes employ other writers that either cover the same subject as the ones covered by the writers in an publication version or simply take the articles from the daily version and convert them into the on-line version (more pictures, videos, links, and of course – make it shorter).

For many of the more famous print publications there has been a gradual shift in the business model. The online component is becoming the most significant avenue for investment and effort. They are slowly transforming from print to online media.

The initial reticence of the major publishing houses to engage the online medium was because of the fear of losing revenue streams. They had to look for a new business model and how they.

For the news agencies such as Reuters, this became a new way to deliver and more efficient way to deliver content to their customers. Their main paying customers remain the news publications.

A great advantage of the web is that publishing has been removed from the clutches of the minority of print publishing monopolies that are still in business. It is easy to start a blog and easy and cheap to start a online publication. Freeware featuring flexible content management systems make it possible to produce professional looking ezines.

One great disadvantage of producing content on the web is the necessity to use SEO in your content. Search engines are not powered to recognize quality content but rather use algorithms based on certain keywords and phrases that if repeated in content will raise the search engine ranking.

Is Social Media the New News?

With the impact of Facebook, Youtube and Twitter on the Arab Spring it is perhaps relevant to ask: Are these social media platforms the new publishers of the news?

One big advantage of this premise is the freedom of expression. All journalism is based on bias. The utopian scenario where every member of the public has his or her own voice and the ability to speak out against injustice at any time seems attainable through social media. Give someone a mobile phone and they can post to social media at any time when they want to campaign.

Given this freedom to speak up has definite advantages. Selective bias and censorship have caused considerable damage to many societies. But there are disadvantages too in that if all material is uncensored then perhaps extremists will be given a voice. And who decides if something is inappropriate.

Reading news generated by a recognized print publisher still has some major advantages, but the question is does the print version offer any advantages over an online version with the same brand. For example, what indeed if any is the advantage of reading The Guardian, New York Times or London Times in the print edition rather than online. These sources of news do have one major advantage over the social media:

·        Transience of the social media as a news outlet. It may be that a major news event only gets a very short window in the social media setting. For example, a viral meme may become a trend. The traditional news outlet offers reminders and summaries of news within a time period a day.

·        Filtering effect. The traditional news sources filter out the stories that they consider irrelevant, and this may suit certain readers. If you do not know where to look for news it can be difficult to find on the web.

·        Validation of news. Because of the reputation of the brand on the masthead the news reporting has validity.

·        Relevance to readers. Selection of news relevant to readers in generally presented in printed editions.

·        Putting in context and analysis. Reporting news has a value for newspapers or magazines in that by reporting it and editing it, then it provides the opportunity to refer to it later in the paper. It thus provides and sets a platform for relevant news analysis, comment, opinion and features.

Who is the New Writer of News?

The source of a news story used to be the journalist. Now it is the general public. If they have the technology then anyone can post to a social media site. The social media users are the ones who determine whether a specific news story should be given priority.

In an article for the Nieman Journalism Lab, Nieman Visiting Fellow Hong Qu analyzes the role social media played in breaking the news of the Boston Marathon attack. To illustrate this predicament, He used storify to compiled 26 tweets that “broke” the Boston Marathon bombing news.

This does offer the opportunity for campaigning to challenge injustices. But in some cases there seems to be an almost arbitrary selection of what is the most important news story. With the advent of social media, the journalist no longer is left with the dilemma of when to reveal and when not to reveal a source.


What about the Image?

Photography has always been an important component of news. The old adage that a picture tells a story is pertinent even more in the modern social media age. Digital photography is far more accessible and cheaper than film photography. The result is that more pictures are being taken and more are being published on the web.

The fact that images through the rise of digital format of photography, have become cheaper more accessible. Also the size of images required for web based publication is limited by the quality of computer screens. The potential to enhance images means that the quality does not have to be as high. This means a greatly increased accessibility to usable images on the web. With many amateur photographers unaware or not caring about issues of copyright, images are being used freely by many sites without the owner’s permission. This does mean free images for use in publishing media online and in print. Although the quality of images online is not sufficient for print publication.

The evolution of the disposable image however does have one negative aspect. And with the ease of use of digital images, there is also the ease of deletion. The number of images on the web has grown exponentially, but deletion of images involves a certain amount of editing and manipulation does require post-capture expertise. Storage of large image files is time consuming and it takes up lots of space.

Editing and deleting image files to avoid imploding hard drives is based on a decision made in the now on the importance of a particular image. Images of a much larger size are needed to publish images of a significant size in print publications. For newspaper quality paper smaller size images

Deleting an image now disregards it’s potential future importance. The posthumous significance of an image that was once considered to be worthless is not just a theoretical quandary. This was an argument was touted at the time when professional photographers were switching to using digital cameras. And one famous example was cited to illustrate this. The photograph of Monica Lewinsky hugging Bill Clinton was found in film archives. The image that graced most of the world’s newspapers only became significant much after it was taken.


What is News on Social Media?

Writing for an online audience is different than for print publications. The way that people read has changed with the advent of social media. So information has to be packaged in shorter formats. Occasionally these formats are too small to give the full story. This can lead to misrepresentations of news in that there is the conflict of competing for an audience and the temptation to be controversial to gain an audience and the dissemination of the truth.

The ideal reader is in some cases more abstract. News online can in theory be read by anyone. So who is the ideal reader? Theoretically, it is extremely feasible to segment the audience of a particular piece of writing on the web to a particular demographic. But how easy is this to do?

Followers of a specific blog can be monitored and their individual characteristics determined using tracking software. Generalizations can be made about who visits Facebook or Twitter and a distinction be made between the two. But how do you break a news story that will definitely catch hold in one of these social media. Perhaps that is an art more than a science.

Everything is news on social media. No longer is someone deciding on what we should read. There is the opportunity for every single item posted on any of the social media platform to be the next greatest news story.

The viral memes generated on social media platforms have become news. They are reported by the traditional media outlets as being news. So not only is the news being generated by social media users. But the selection of most popular news items on social media is becoming news in itself.

Monitoring spikes of activity on Wikipedia’s network could be a new way for news editors to monitor news. One spike of activity occurred at Michael Jackson’s death in June 2009. Google have just announced the release of new software to monitor these spikes Wikipedia Live Monitor:


In the recent talk at a journalist forum organization in Vienna, Austria, given Chris Moran, SEO Editor of The Guardian Newspaper, on open journalism gave an example of how rumours spread during a riot in London

There was a picture circulated on Twitter showing a manipulated image that showed the London Eye on fire.

Seriously wth is goind on? Is this picture real? Now the london eye‘s on fire!?  #prayforlondon #londonriots

Examining data on Tweets during the period after the spread of this rumour like a wildfire, Moran commented: Suddenly people were beginning to ask questions about the veracity of the picture. This shows that Twitter isn’t just one way. It is flexible. It is reactive. It is dynamic and questions can spread as rapidly as rumours.”

Furthermore, we have seen the stock price of companies falling due to wrong information being spread on different social media. A good example is the hoax tweet about Audience Inc. The false tweet about the company being investigated by the authorities made company shares fall my 25%.

Still on the business side, we have experienced companies getting bad publicity as a result of items posted on the social media. For example, McDonalds paid to promote the twitter trend “# mcdstories”. It was meant for the public to share their McDonalds experiences and appending that hastag to their tweets but unfortunately, only negative and bad experiences were shared with the hastag for the whole world to see.

A common wrong use of the social media in journalism is the reporting of deaths of famous people and celebrities. For example, a “RIP Morgan Freeman” page on Facebook raked in almost 1 million likes.

Many clever interviewees have started to demand interviews via email to ensure that they could have more control of what quotes were used and the exact wording. This certainly watered down the impact of many stories but on the positive side reduced misquoting, whether deliberate to create controversy or just malicious, or unintentional mistakes. Now some former sources are less likely to agree to an interview with questions from a tricky journalist likely to trip them up.

They are more likely to want to get their view across in a more controlled way via a social media site. This has advantages and disadvantages. They avoid the slip up they may make when talking to a journalist, but they don’t get the helpful edits to correct any embarrassing or silly errors they make.

A trusted journalist can correct a mistake an interviewee makes but there is no possible correction to an embarrassing gaff that is out there in the web universe for all eternity. A tweet or Facebook post can be deleted but it will never be gone completely from the web.

Celebrities and famous sports personalities who make embarrassing tweets on the spur of the moment are continuously being shackled by the organizations that employ them, nervous PR folk and agents, and, in some cases the multinational interests that provide advertising and sponsorship.

Protecting Sources

Protecting sources is an important part of modern print media when sensitive issues are involved. Policies on anonymity vary depending on the specific media venue, but in general, journalists should avoid sharing confidential information even on seemingly protected sites (such as sharing between friends on Facebook) because it could get leaked further. Sources that contact you through social media should be directed to arrange a face-to-face or phone interview to reveal confidential information instead of sending it via email or messaging services in order to ensure confidentiality.

Case Report: Twitter Revolution

There was considerable debate about and analysis of the contribution of social media to the changes that occurred during the Arab Spring. Some of the proponents of social media exaggerated the impact on the changes that occurred in Tunisia and other North African and Arab countries.

In the New Yorker magazine, The Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell questioned whether social media received far too much credit for its role in the Arab Spring. Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted. Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker October 4 2010. He suggested that the grievances that pushed protesters into the streets deserve far more attention than the tools by which they chose to organize.

“The world, we are told, is in the midst of a revolution. The new tools of social media have reinvented social activism. With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate, and give voice to their concerns. When ten thousand protesters took to the streets in Moldova in the spring of 2009 to protest against their country’s Communist government, the action was dubbed the Twitter Revolution. [But] in the outsized enthusiasm for social media, we seem to have forgotten what activism is.”

He challenged what he claims is an over-inflated view of the influence of social media in the Arab Spring and cites Mark Pfeifle, a former national-security adviser, who called for Twitter to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize: “Without Twitter the people of Iran would not have felt empowered and confident to stand up for freedom and democracy,”

In his article, Gladwell wrote: “This is a crucial distinction between traditional activism and its online variant: social media are not about this kind of hierarchical organization. Facebook and the like are tools for building networks, which are the opposite, in structure and character, of hierarchies. Unlike hierarchies, with their rules and procedures, networks aren’t controlled by a single central authority. Decisions are made through consensus, and the ties that bind people to the group are loose.”

Similarly Evgeny Morozov, author of the Net Delusion in a recent comment piece in the Guardian Newspaper (Facebook and Twitter are just places revolutionaries go. Evgeny Morozov,, Monday 7 March 2011 15.31 GMT), the social media platforms are merely tools and are not in themselves of change: “These digital tools are simply, well, tools, and social change continue to involve many painstaking, longer-term efforts to engage with political institutions and reform movements.”

Morozov goes on to say that the hyped role of social media in the events leading up to and during the Arab Spring provides an American role and influence on events. “A spontaneous uprising wouldn’t have succeeded before Facebook was around – so Silicon Valley deserves a lion’s share of the credit. If, of course, the uprising was not spontaneous and its leaders chose Facebook simply because that’s where everybody is, it’s a far less glamorous story,” he wrote.

He went on to suggest that: “The kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like this at all. The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.”

The Role of Social Media in Crisis Arab Spring as a Test Case, Sema Emiroglu (M.A.)*A Presentation Paper THE 11th Metu Conference on International Relations. The World in Crisis June 13-15, 2012 Ankara, Turkey.

“Facebook site continues to grow in popularity in the region. Facebook users jumped from 19 million at the end of 2010 to 43 million today. Arabic is the fastest growing language at Facebook. Egypt is the single largest source of subscribers, with nearly 11 million. That is about 13% of the population, and about 63 percent of the online population. Egypt is number 20 in the world for Facebook usage. In terms of Twitter though, Egypt had only about 20,000 subscribers or 1/100th of 1% of the globe’s users.”

“Even these critics admit that the ―Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East heavily relied on the Internet, Social Media tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in the early stages to accelerate social protest. This new social media along with online bloggers and mobile telephony, all played an important role in communicating, coordinating and channeling this rising tide of opposition, and variously managed to bypass state controlled national media as they propelled images and ideas of resistance and mass defiance across the Middle East and North Africa. After analyzing more than 3 million tweets, gigabytes of YouTube content and thousands of blog posts, a Washington University study found that Social Media played a central role in shaping political debates in the Arab Spring.”

“From enabling people to disseminate information and organize events in an instant, to providing alternative press in authoritarian societies with little or no freedom of expression, Social Media is qualitatively different from conventional media in empowering citizens and therefore its effects on shaping the course of a crisis are also qualitatively different. With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate, and give voice to their concerns.”

The Rise of Citizen Journalism

The view that citizen, democratic or street journalism was the driver of the change in the Arab Spring also has its supporters. This premise of this kind of journalism is that the public define the news and use social media platforms to engineer change.

There is an argument that AL Jazeera has gone into depth on this in an inside story and a feature on the impact of social media on the Mubarak Government in Egypt. Egypt has been a particularly early social media adopter in the Arab world, with it being the eighth largest country in terms of Facebook use.

Blogs, twitter, Facebook and mobile phone footage have all played some part in mobilising the crowds and getting messages to the wider world. And this despite a draconian crackdown on media and an unprecedented internet blackout.

Egyptian bloggers made up the story the Mubarak was dead and the story was taken up by the major news channels. It took days for the Egyptian government to refute the story.

In an interview on Voice of America, Courtney Radsch of Freedom House, a U.S.-based human rights monitoring group, says mobile phones in the Arab world have become a powerful multimedia tool because most people have them.

“Simply by snapping a photo or recording a chant or taking a video of police brutality or opposition protests and then in many cases they are on the 3G networks, these more advanced networks, so they can upload video and photos directly, without having to go back to a computer, without risking their phone being confiscated.”

This is what she defines “as an alternative and activist form of newsgathering and reporting that functions outside mainstream media institutions, often as a repose to shortcoming in the professional journalistic field, that uses similar journalistic practices but is driven by different objectives and ideals and relies on alternative sources of legitimacy than traditional or mainstream journalism.”

Although citizen journalists are playing a major role in dissemination information about events in these troubled countries, Courtney Radsch says it is unlikely that they will eventually replace traditional journalists.

“It’s not sustainable to rely on anonymous random citizens for coverage of mainstream politics, mainstream economic issues,” she said. “They tend to focus on the fringes, on the issues that are not being covered by the mainstream media or holding the mainstream media to account.”


The media is constantly changing. Especially with the appearance of the new means of the Social Networking. One must be constant in the study of it, and obliged to do so, when performing a role of the journalist or the writer.

Giving your input in Social media as an individual, often means that you are acting as a journalist. You give your opinion and findings out in the world, and never know what the outcome is going to be. As for the professional journalists (in our example, the newspaper writers) the attention to details is necessary. It is obligatory to check whether the information that you have given will affect the public (local or a global one). Because it is the power that you have that you can influence public with your words, pictures, or features.

The Question remains if the power really has shifted from the few moguls who control the traditional media to the masses who have the potential to use social media across open source networks. And yet these vast social networks are as well owned by a few powerful men. Indeed they have become more powerful than their traditional media predecessors. Some questions remain as the new social media are essentially run by North American private corporations and who holds the power strings:

·         What if something on these open networks is perceived as contravening the national security of the country where the company’s reside, ie the US?

·         What if they start exerting their views and opinions on us insidiously?

·         What if they decide that what is being said is contrary to their own personal beliefs or ambitions?

·         Are we assuming these super-powerful social media platform animals that we have created will always remain benign?

 After a recent Coursera course on Social Media



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