I’ve long been an observer of
the way newspaper, radio and TV journalists have dealt with social media. Many simply
snipe away. We’ve heard the weary tones of TV pundits who have been forced by
their Producers to refer to their web page or Twitter accounts at the end of
the programme. Others can’t wait to find a story that confirms their deep
prejudice against any form of mass communication that doesn’t involve them. This
week, the press have discovered the word ‘troll’ and there’s no end of attacks on
Twitter from people who probably had to look up the word on Wikipedia.
TV, radio and newspapers have
been full of this over reaction this week. To take just one example, the
normally rational Simon Jenkins, in the Guardian, describes Twitter as “a harmless pastime for show-offs and
voyeurs…the crack cocaine for the commentariat”. NO matter that journalists
regularly use Twitter to get more reach for their work. No matter that many
Guardian columnists now read like second rate bloggers. No matter that the
newspaper industry is only just recovering from phone hacking practices that
make the occasional troll seem like a choir boy. Journalists are keen to punish
trolls but less keen to punish their own.
What is missing here is good
‘journalism’. Few discuss the detail around the protections that existing laws
provide, whether it be harassment, confidentiality or libel. Few actually know
anything about the procedures which Twitter and Facebook have in place to deal
with extreme transgressions. Few bother to even find out.
It struck me that there’s
some merit in applying Kubler-Ross’s ‘five
stages of grief’ to their behaviour in facing up to the realities of
contemporary mass communication and journalism.
Denial: Work of the
devil. I’ll have nothing to do with it. Most journalists completely ignored
the presence of social media, even when millions were using it and it was
feeding images and reports into mainstream media.
Anger: Snipe and sneer
whenever it’s mentioned. Suddenly, they were no longer silent but openly resentful
and hostile on TV, radio and in print, with the usual ill-informed remarks
about media they had never used and barely understood.
Depression: Why don’t they
want me any more? Panic then sets in as they realise that newspaper
circulation is heading towards disaster. They are in danger of missing out on a
means of communication they need to both ‘pull from’ and ‘push to’, as a valuable
source for stories but also dissemination of their work.
Bargaining: Maybe I’ll give
it a try… Then it literally clicks.
This stuff is here to stay. They take a couple of baby steps and find out that
it’s easy to use but do so irregularly and clumsily, with more than a tinge of
Acceptance: Know how many ‘followers’ I have? Suddenly,
they realise it enhances their reach, reputation and personal brand, and jump
gleefully on to the bandwagon. Then you can’t stop them.
But something else has happened, a sixth phase, which I’d
call the ‘flip’. This is when traditional media relies so much on social media
as a source – Tweets, Youtube, mobile cameras etc .that it resorts to simply
telling people what they already know.
I liken this to two tectonic plates colliding. As the new
online media plate crashes into the old offline media plate, the old plate
starts to be pushed down and as it is submerged, it sends out lots of tremors,
earthquakes, even volcanic explosions. Arguments erupt, as the old world tries
to deal with the new reality. Calls are made for more censorship, arrests, jail
sentences – even torture (Manning) prosecution and persecution (Assange). It’s
the wretched acts of a defeated army in retreat.
There is something inevitable about all this. Technology is
always ahead of the sociology. What matters is that the early adopters and
people with some foresight ignore the naysayers and get on with their blogging,
contributions to Wikipedia, YouTube uploads, Facebook posting, Tweets,
whatever, and ignore the sceptics.