THE news is no longer what it once was. Increasingly, news stories are being broken online and social media such as Twitter, Yahoo and Facebook, have become an important part in the new social discourse whose starting point is not the staid and dusty offices of Newspaper House or SABC, but rather, the web of interconnected relationships and electronic communication that we call the Internet.
Some glaringly obvious errors in how news is being conveyed are becoming apparent in the process. Take the Air France disaster. It took SA media two days to wake up, while online, the story about a South African man on the passenger list of the “missing plane” was already a day old, when the news broke in Paris. Or the Boyle entertainment story, written off as a purely British affair by local news editors until it turned into one of the top global stories of 2009 according to Mashable, then there’s the arrest of well-known activist Mzonke Poni, who became the subject of online email, Facebook updates and tweets, causing an international incident that was entirely skipped over by a racist media who cannot be bothered to get out of bed for anyone who happens to be black and homeless, least of all, an activist.
South Africa’s media has always suffered from parochialism and self-censorship. The media down here has never managed to escape the propaganda, restrictions and prohibitions of the eighties and now labour under the belief that the only good international South African story, is a story about one of the Big Five. Why should whales make the front page and not police brutality in Macasser?
Thanks to social media, however, the grey, old men at Newspaper House can no longer dictate which news story of the day is more important. In fact, the fabrications, concoctions and outright lies of brands like Independent News, SAPA and Associated Press, no longer influence a world which has grown up with social media and which has quickly learnt how to expose blatant distortion and outright mendacity in telling the truth. Social media is unhindered by self-appointed “gatekeepers” who are out of step with the times, who can’t be bothered to keep themselves informed.
This loss in prestige must surely way heavily on newsrooms, who fail to see the future is not simply online but social. Readers are not merely following whichever news source they happen to stumble upon, and relating this information to their peers who in turn share the information, but rather engaging in a collective storytelling and narration that involves newsgathering. Any restriction on such an activity which involves information sharing is bound to be unpopular. Take the way the P2P Pirate Bay story has played itself out in local newspapers (as a cautionary tale of what happens to those who disobey patents and copyright) verses the reality online and the truth which is Sweden’s Pirate Party has just gained a seat in the European Parliament, confounding the dumbest of critics at the Cape Times.
Editors of large and stuffy media organisations may therefore find themselves out of a job, especially if they continue to ignore the growing influence of social media.
The days when media proprietors could simply dictate news headlines to slavish hacks who in turn only showed us what they want to see on the front page are over.
Social media has even begun to exposes the shenanigans of the O’Reilly Clan and the Mulroney Clear Channel connection to Blackwater and like they say in Hollywood, the Emperor has no clothes.