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Meddling with Media - ‘Citizen journalists’ pushing trained professional

Published:Sunday | December 13, 2015 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Penelope Abernathy

Local media are being advised to become creative in their content if they are to survive in an increasingly digital world.

"A good newspaper shows you how you are related to people you may not know you're related to, and it shows you why you should care about issues you may not know you should care about," said Professor Penelope Abernathy, Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina, as she addressed a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Wednesday.

"That to me has not changed in the digital world. It's just that you need to think much more broadly and much more creatively about how you not only create the content, but then curate it. Put it together so that you reach people in many different ways, and that you then distribute it in a manner that they are actually going to see it," added Abernathy.

The United States of America-based media professional was special guest at the forum which looked at 'Leadership in a time of digital change: Examining the critical strategic choices facing media executives'.


Remaining relevant


She is convinced that while the digital technology will significantly further transform the media landscape and provide many more platforms/options for people to access news, the traditional journalist will still remain relevant, as long as he/she keeps pace with the digital revolution.

"There is so much information out there, and so we say we want open government; we want more data than we have ever had. Well, who makes sense out of the data? That should be the role of the journalist," argued Abernathy.

She added that keeping pace with the digital world may mean changing style, such as moving from hard-core news reporting, but insisted that journalists should embrace these changes.

"It doesn't mean you diminish your writing skills, but it means that you learn how to use each medium to the best advantage to tell the story," said Abernathy.


'Citizen' journalism


In endorsing this view, Claude Robinson, communications scholar and educator, said the digital advance which has given rise to 'citizen' journalism does not mean that media houses and editors have less responsibility to explain, clarify and give credible information.

"The strength of the media house was not determined by the fact that the audience couldn't talk back as much as they can talk back now, but by the fact that they were truthful and credible for a long period of time. And that remains fundamental now; it's just that the audience now is being a lot more engaged," he told the forum.

"I think that we are (still) going to have journalists, and by journalists, I mean people that we now know as journalists, not just citizen journalists. Journalists attached to news organisations who are reporting and explaining events on an ongoing, daily basis on whatever platforms there are," added Robinson.