Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Crying lone wolf

The most talked-about aspect of the "digi revolution" has been the explosion in social networking sites. There are the big guns we're all familiar with- Facebook, MySpace, Bebo. And those which are starting to rise up to face off their well established rivals, such as Twitter, Plurk and Flickr. Jemima Kiss blogged this week about the continental alternatives to such sites, for example the Spanish Tuenti, or the German Wer Kennt Wen. Others which you may not be familar with include a site aimed at networking mums called CafeMom, the self explanatory Horseland and Wired Journalists.

So the possibilities for communication and connection across continents and interests are now huge. But some critics suggest this move to the online world is making us more isolated offline than ever. Instead of going out and making friends, we're "accepting" their requests. And social networking and multi-media has had just as big an influence on the way we work as journalists as it has on Joe Bloggs's friend count, so I was interested to hear a similar worry raised by the BBC's technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones. In his lecture at Cardiff University, he suggested a reporter in 2008 is much more likely to be working as a lone wolf than as part of a team.

When I thought about this, I started to look at it in two ways. Firstly, as trainee journalists we are working hard to become the multi-skilled, multi-talented reporters of the new age and becoming increasingly self-sufficient. As we know by now, we can write, film, record, edit and publish, all on a rather swanky looking laptop. We don't need colleagues. As far back as 2005, and three years is a long time in the world of online, the industry noticed this move away from the traditional ways of working. Jay Rosen writes in his blog the "stand alone journalist has arrived". He also highlights an issue which I have discussed before, about being in competition not just with other publications but with every blogger out there. Somewhat prophetically he raises the possibility of syndicating UGC, which Cellan-Jones pointed out has now become a reality with sites such as Demotix.

But the second thing was whether this isolation will contribute to the decline of 'out-of-the-office' journalism. In a 2007 article for the Committe of Concerned Journalists, Katherine Noyes's interviews with reporters reveal just such concerns. If we as individual journalists have sources at our finger tips, can interview people via live video stream, we need never brace the British weather or have any human contact ever again.

Of course this is not the case. Journalists will always need, and want, to get out there with real, live people. Even the most hyperbolic Tweet is not the same as witnessing events and emotions in front of your own eyes (India Knight joins critics of social networking, discussing how far is too far when replacing human interaction with its Twitter equivalent). But the isolation from colleagues is concerning. If we are turning ourselves into all-singing, all-dancing, journalistic dream machines, who's to tell us when we're getting it wrong? When to take a step back from a story? Or a fantastic idea or angle we hadn't picked up on? Obviously editors will always have an input, but what about colleagues further down the chain of command who are just as valuable? If their role belongs to UGC now, which is added post-publication, could there be a sense of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted?

To get jobs in this climate we have to be technical chameleons, but I agree 100 per cent with Rory when he says a sense of balance must be kept in mind.


tuzbog said...

I'm Turi - founded Demotix - and just wanted to thank you for mentioning it!
I hope you'll join up.
We'll have an entirely new site up in a week, so come back to check us out.

Jessica Best said...

Thanks Turi- will definately check out the new site. I think what you're doing is really interesting so looking forward to it.