Social Media: Power to the Pimpled

Whether he was serious or not, Andrew Marr’s scathing description of citizen journalism certainly threw an interesting shade on the subject-of-the-week at Cardiff Journalism School. 

After the fast-paced discussion of the role of Social Media by Claire Wardle of the BBC’s College of Journalism, something which stuck with me was her reference to Jay Rosen’s article about The People Formerly known as the Audience and their changing role from reactors to interactors.  It got me wondering, if readers are to users as magazines are to tablets, what are journalists to? 

When I wored at my local paper, my editor used to quote Mark Twain, saying that the mark of a good news story was one which someone, somewhere did not want published.  As an inexperienced local reporter, I came across many such people of a publication-day morning. 

Once, when I had been in the job a matter of weeks, I wrote a very small article saying there had been rumours that the local Post Office was going to close.  I had been unable to get confirmation from the press office or representatives at the local branch, but my editor said that rumours themselves were justifiable news, so we went with that.  Come Friday morning, I received a visit from the local postmistress who explained in no uncertain terms just how mistaken we had been, and that I was a disgrace to journalism in general and the elderly Post Office users in particular.  I think she would have given me a journalism-ASBO if she could. 

Needless to say, we printed a clarification/apology the following week, I realised that being the local reporter meant taking verbal punches with the glory no matter who was ultimately responsible, and began to walk the extra mile whenever I needed to post a parcel. 

So is it terrifying to face the prospect that the people ‘formerly known as the audience’ will soon be brought that significant step closer to the journalists themselves?  No.  Not really.  Because another point I picked up from Claire’s words, as well as those of the many respected journalists who spoke at Friday’s Tomorrow’s Journalism Conference, was that quality journalism stood to be enhanced by the future, not damaged. 

I agree with this.  I think that there is a level of security facilitated by distance from the consumer which the weekly newspaper journalist/ columnist/ TV and radio reporter has when delivering a story in a controversial way.  Users who can comment directly and immediately on journalism provide a challenge to the journalist to step up their game.  There is no room for error or complacency anymore, the bar has been raised, and that is why it is so exciting to be training right now.  Because in some ways we are training to be multi-tasking journalists of the juggling-small-children-while-riding-a-camel-on-roller-skates calibre.  

Having said that, try not to aggravate the local postal workers.  The buzz is no match for the looming realisation that you’ve run out of stamps.


  1. I think Marr’s only objective was to be inflammatory enough to generate lots of media coverage, and I guess he succeeded in that.

    I made a similar point in my blog (link below) about how traditional media should seek to embrace citizen journalists/bloggers, rather than belittle them. There is a wonderful democratisation of opinion which has been enabled by technology, which can only enhance traditional journalism if tapped into correctly. Not every blogger is after a Pulitzer or a book deal – but we are all passionate and most of us are quite knowledgeable about our chosen subjects, and we recognise that without the source material provided by mainstream media we would have much less to write about too!

    • Thank you for your comment. It has been suggested to me that perhaps Marr was not being serious with his comments, but I’m more inclined to agree with you. I think he’s too canny to make that sort of comment flippantly without an inkling of the potential media coverage. Enjoyed reading your blog post about Marr.

      • Thanks.

        I’m 100% certain Marr knew what he was doing, right down to his careful use of qualifiers in what he said: “a lot of bloggers” rather than “all bloggers” and so on. You don’t get to be an editor of a broadsheet or a BBC editor without being able to be very careful in what you say! It was calculated and planned – he can’t even claim it was provoked.

        Good luck with the postgrad course. I look forward to reading future posts!


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