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The Internet and the Mainstream Media

Jennifer Alejandro writes:

It was a luncheon lecture in a freezing room (for some reason, the heater broke down) but the audience reception was far from chilly.

Richard Sambrook, Director of Global News at the BBC and visiting fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, presented a compelling case and painted a clear picture of how new media technology is affecting foreign news reporting and the broadcast industry as a whole.

He mentioned that the impact of technology (such as the ability to broadcast just by using a laptop and a mobile phone) is running ahead of the industry’s ability to cope with its consequences and the impact on the economic model.

Yes, there are pressures brought on by technology and globalization but he also pointed out that there are advantages.

While specialised journalism and parachute journalism are undermined by technology, it must be said that the web brought on cheaper models of coverage such as those that can be found on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. He called it a switch from a hub model to a network model where it's all about the "community" and "building relationships".

Using the recent Haiti earthquake as an example, Mr. Sambrook said that social media provided the continuum from breaking news to crisis response and even to fund raising. News organisations simply could not match the load of information that becomes available and the speed with which it is updated. However, lest he sounded too much like a proponent of new technology - he advised caution.

"Social networks are the new neighbourhood pubs. But journalists should not take it as truth. They could take leads from these platforms and work from there."

He then discussed the risks that may arise in the use of social media like the danger of unchecked information.

As he was concluding his lecture, he deftly reminded the audience that opportunities in social media should not make us forget the value of journalistic credibility - the value of trusting someone to bear witness to an event.

"Bearing witness is a journalist's job. This is something technology cannot provide."

To encapsulate his lecture, Mr. Sambrook aptly quoted from Roger Cohen of the New York Times.

"No miracle of technology renders the lip-drying taste of fear. No algorithm captures the hush of dignity, nor evokes the adrenalin rush of courage coalescing, nor traces the fresh raw line of a welt."