Time to uphold professional journalism in the era of social media

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Last week, I was invited by a family friend in the village to persuade their son not to change his mind on his university course of choice.

He had received an admission letter to a public university to study Journalism and Media Studies. This was his dream course from his primary school years.

“What has changed your mind Kevin?”, I asked the young man as I began my assignment of convincing him to stick to his passion of being a journalist.

Kevin may not be alone in this dilemma. Other students too could be facing the same scenario.

The perception of certain courses on changing market needs, course status and prospects, etcetera are contributors to this phenomenon.

But specific to Kevin, his concern was to whether professional journalism still matter in the light of citizen journalism that has opened doors for everyone to ‘write’ and disseminate information.

According to Kevin, the profession is drifting to a craft that does not require him to go to school for it. After all he has been blogging.

With the advent of social media, everyone courtesy of a smart phone, internet minutes or bundles can communicate and pass news or information to other parties. Never mind the type of ‘news’ shared.

Countries like Sweden and England have witnessed unprecedented upsurge of citizen journalism that has threatened to de-professionalize the journalism career.

Realigning to the social media era

Indeed, besides journalism students, media practitioners more than before have had to grapple with the entry of social media platforms that has completely changed the media industry landscape.

A number of media training schools are already introducing courses on social media to equip trainees on how to leverage the platform to discharge their professional duty of informing, educating and entertaining.

Some institutions like Birmingham City University in UK is already offering a Master of Arts degree in social media to prepare students face the challenge coming with the platform.

Some newsrooms have even had to come up with what I call ‘community desk’ to help monitor the social media conversation, follow leads and solidify the stories.

News room managers have now aligned their structures to incorporate the position of social media editors.

Professional journalism still matter

My opening remarks to Kevin was the fact that professional journalism still matters. In fact, the emergence of citizen journalism in the age of social media revolution has only added demand on the professionals in the field to show the difference between them and citizen journalists.

It has not given the latitude to a professional to abdicate the responsibility of being accountable of bearing witness to the news – this is a journalist’s role and not that of the platform-social media.

A professional journalist represents public interest, he or she must listen to people’s voices, research facts and present them fairly devoid of opinions and bias.

They do not publish or run with untrue stories- a commonplace in the social media channels where users are in rush to ‘break news’ to the online community. Professional journalism calls for truth.

It’s a fact that the Social media platform is a fertile ground for stories and a professional Journalist should take the trouble to sift through this avalanche of ‘digital noise and verify facts.

Simply checking out on the facts, checking anything that is checkable is what behooves a professional journalist.

Social media positives

The social media has demystified the magic bullet theory that regards audience as passive recipients of information.

It has democratized media and gave equal level playing field to the known and the unknown in society. The voiceless now have the platform to talk. The public can now give their feedback to the media outlets through participatory journalism.

A social media account is now an accepted extension of a person. The media has lee way to quote people’s comments on their accounts without necessarily meeting them physically or talking to them on phone.

The social media platform has given the mainstream media the opportunity to tag along with the audience and participate in community conversations.

It can be argued that social media has in some way answered the question as to who watches the media – the watchdog of the society.

In some quarters, social media is referred to as the fifth estate. Arguable it monitors the fourth estate for errors such as misreporting, inaccuracies, or unfairness (the same way it watches over society).

Professional journalism still matters but there is no doubt that the current journalist has to be more technology-savvy as news organizations become more digital-centric. The current media spectrum therefore calls for multimedia skills.

The writer is a PR &Corporate Communications practitioner

kimutaingeno04@gmail.com

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