Seems anyone with access to a computer can be a ‘journalist’ these days.
Of course, that depends on how you define a journalist. If you define it as someone who has a platform on which to publish or broadcast news and views, then everyone is a journalist – thanks, mostly, to the internet.
It’s not only on the web that we’re seeing ‘monkey journalism’. Sky News, CNN and the BBC are using amateur video shot by anyone who happens to be in the right place at the right time and captures something interesting. Yet the public has no idea what kind of “vetting” process these videos go through before being broadcast on air.
But the internet still poses the greatest dangers, as well as some potential benefits, of ‘monkey journalism’. As long as the reader understands the difference between this and traditional journalism, there is less potential harm to result. Unfortunately, they often don’t.
Blogs and forums pose the greatest problems. Social networking sites like Facebook are less problematic because they have settings to limit access to certain groups. Although, nothing posted on the web is ever completely private. On the other hand, most blogs and many forums are fully searchable on Google. Yet, often the content is provided by people who frequently use a pseudonym. They feel powerful while writing anonymously and often make statements that would never be allowed in conventional journalism. Short of getting a lawyer to force the forum owner or blog host to reveal the true identity of the writer, which can take several years and hundreds of thousands of pounds, the victim has little recourse.
‘Real journalists’ often get a bad rap and there are certainly bad ones in the profession. However, those who work for major media outlets have strict guidelines to follow. Every organisation has a journalistic standards and procedures manual with guidelines governing fact-checking, libelous or slanderous statements, identifying sources of information, and identifying the line between opinion and fact. In addition, each reporter has an editor overseeing what he or she creates. And, when in doubt, they can seek specialist legal advice.
‘Monkey journalists’ have no such guidelines, have no one to whom they report to, no legal advice, and have no policies and procedures manual to consult. They are free to make malicious and untrue statements. They are also free to make you a hero, even if you might actually be an arsehole.
Often people featured on blogs have both been victims of, and also benefited from, ‘monkey journalism’. If you are in the public eye, you are a potential victim. There are some great bloggers out there and blogs are becoming a popular source of information, news and opinion. But, the internet is relatively new in terms of legal precedents being set. And it is a difficult medium to govern, whether legally or ethically.
No one can argue that a good publicist and developing good media relations can exert considerable positive influence on your image in the traditional media and there’s no better example of this than the power South Tyneside Council’s press office has over the Shields Gazette.
But its lot harder to do when every man, woman and child in the world has the right to publish their thoughts.