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With Occupy’s announcement of plans to develop a rival to Facebook boosting the trend in alternative information sharing, could 2012 be the year of the citizen journalist?
“I don’t want to say we’re making our own Facebook. But, we’re making our own Facebook” said activist Ed Knutson, working as part of a team to re-design the social networking system for the 99%.
The success of Occupy in 2011 relied on online platforms such as Twitter and Youtube for information-sharing and co-ordination. The idea #OccupyMovement , first tweeted in July 2011, was disseminated across diverse social networks, evolving into international action by October of that year.
However, with state sanctions on Internet activity in dictator governments such as Egypt and China, activists are aware that the future success of the movement will require the development of an open social network system, independent from corporate and political associations.
As the majority of physical occupations have been disbanded by the police, Knutson’s team are working to create a safe virtual space where activists can communicate freely and democratically, in the style of the General Assemblies. Termed the Federated General Assembly (FGA), the communication system would link all occupation sites together.
Decisions about what information would appear on the site’s homepage would be controlled by a members’ voting system. As with the social news website Reddit, the most popular posts would appear at the top of the page.
Out with the Old
The need for an information-sharing update cannot be underestimated. Under the current media model, press affiliations with big business and political parties have led to readers attempting to discern news from propaganda.
One-sided viewpoints are presented as facts disguised by thinly-veiled political undertones. We choose between media sources that slant one way or another and try to remember that this paper is owned by big oil interests while that radio station panders to a conservative audience.
Clear agenda driven journalism is evident in every sphere of media. A blaring example is a recent article in the British newspaper, The Daily Express, owned by Richard Desmond, head of of the media conglomerate Northern and Shell, which affiliates itself with the Conservative Party of Great Britain.
The reporter describes the prolonged stay of 74 illegal immigrants to the UK. Referring to the immigrants as “limpits”, “illegals” and “the 74”, the writer implies that they are sub-human criminals. Written from a one-sided angle, the article fails to present any context but successfully promotes the Conservative Party’s anti-immigration, isolationist policies.
The work of reporters in many dailies today is sensationalist, reﬂecting a breed of journalists who are more concerned with provoking an emotional response, than informing the readership of current affairs.
The News of the World scandal in the UK is an extreme example of sensationalistic, lazy and unethical journalism, exposing the phone-hacking and police bribery of newspaper reporters under the multimedia conglomerate News Corporation. Reporters who’s ethical codes allow for access to private information via illegal means have little concern for balanced accounts and work for papers which permit unconfirmed data to be published.
With corporate-owned media being the norm of the day, it is difficult to find a trusted news source that presents “spin free” journalism. By law, multi-national media conglomerates must prioritize profits for their investors over all other motives; often leaving little room for quality journalism.
Newspaper executives are businessmen and the newspaper has become one more
commercial product to be sold. Luxuries such as editors, local reporters and investigative journalists have been cut, and the focus shifted towards simplistic newsreels and celebrity
The 24 hour news cycle processes the event du jour into short, snappy headlines and world politicians must routinely dumb down complicated issues to thirty-second sound bites just to be played on air.
To be a journalist for a major news network routinely means compromising journalistic news judgement to cover stories of little importance and positioning the outlet in non-controversial stances to avoid public criticism.
In with the New
Since mainstream media no longer holds the power of a free and unbiased fourth estate, the people have begun to fill this void on their own. Podcasts, Videocasts, blogs, social networks and independent documentary films are the individual’s new voice box. And our most powerful tools in creating our own narrative of social change.
Documentary film-maker, Ross Ashcroft, creator of The Four Horsemen, in episode 26 of the extraenvironmentalist, suggests “citizen journalism is absolutely imperative” for the implication of a new economic system, in which news distribution is extricated from capitalism.
“When you don’t have money, the fundamental currency is story…provided that the narrative is truthful and it brings solice.”
With his upcoming film, which explains how the world works with interviews of 23 leading economists and business-insiders, Ashcroft is contributing to the revival of the independent journalist who aims to report something closer to truth than propaganda.
In opposition to the narrow perspectives offered by mainstream media, the Internet-enabled reporter can give others a voice who were previously silent. He can present ideas in dynamic ways, using the same technology as his corporate counterparts, whilst facilitating a space where diverse opinions can be shared and discussed at length.
Often, experts who are unwilling to talk to a sensationalist mainstream media source will be open to a conversation with an independent filmmaker, blogger or podcaster because he trusts that his words will not be twisted and reduced to easily digestible soundbites.
As the Native American saying goes, “it takes a thousand voices to tell a single story”. The emergence of a dynamic group of independent reporters in 2012 who can make the majority’s voices heard, will be crucial in the drive for social, economic and political change.
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