Yesterday i replied to a Carson’s Post item that wondered if the news agencies are simply becoming high-end blogs. I was trying to make an argument that although the mainstream media are frequently relying on the grassroots information, journalism as an institution still has a role (at least i hope so). One of the foundations for this line of thought is an article published last year in “Journalism Studies” 7(4) by Zvi Reich (here is a link, but you will get the actual article if you are affiliated with a library that access to this journal). He suggests that in the current setting the journalists do not initiate information gathering, but follow leads actively pushed by their sources. However, once the lead is followed, it is more of a journalistic investigation in the traditional sense that is leveraging the institutional strength of mass media.
The interesting question in my mind is: what in fact the nature of relationships between citizens-generate content and the mainstream media is? Do people’s opinions and observation suddenly really matter?
In the same reply on Carson’s post i quoted a summary of Tremayne (2007) who tried to describe the relationships between bloggers and MSM in a systematic way. I won’t copy it here, but mention that the main point is that the bloggers do have influence on the input of MSM journalists are getting. However, one of the other people commenting on my remark suggested that the content of blogs themselves is being manufactured by the market forces thus canceling out the “grassroots” element of their input. In a way my own study together with Dor Reich (don’t think they are related with Zvi, but you can never be sure :) shows that even the individual bloggers tend to rely heavily on the MSM content, which supports the “limited autonomy” approach.
And yet today i read a Howard Kurtz’s article in “Washington Post” highlighting the role of grassroots materials in the news production these days. According to that article this phenomenon has a few components:
- The willingness of media to receive the content. Kurtz notes in his articles that many major media outlets are offering this days channels for individuals to submit their content. He notes Fox’s uReport, MSNBC’s FirstPerson, CNN’s I-Report, and ABC’s i-Caught. We can also add the Ynet’s “red mail”, but the idea is clear – riding the Web 2.0 hype the media are opening up for user-generated content.
- The responsiveness of people to actually submit content. Again, Kurtz sight some numbers such as 40K video and pictures in the first 6 month of uReport, 28K submissions to FirstPerson since April, and 60K of videos and picture to I-Report in 14 months. So people do want to share their content.
- The interest people find in the grassroots material. The number of views some pieces are receiving is counted in hundreds of K’s and the there are thousands subscribing to the channels offering that kind of content online.
However what this outline missing is a selection criteria, or a selection process by which the MSM decide whether to give a certain piece of grassroots material further publicity. At the end of the day the number of people consuming TV news is still much higher compared to those who acquire most of their news online. Thus the question of selection becomes an important one. Besides, linking back to the original post at Carson’s, how do MSM decide what civic story to follow up on and how? I also wonder how much of the ideas presented in Kurtz’s article are a Web 2.0 hype effect or to what degree they are signifying an emerging trend? What I think I can definitely sense is an emerging study…