The Triumph of Spectacle

Citizen Journalism

More than in the changes seen on television screens, the cultural shift in how Americans consume and think about news is rooted in new media’s computer screens. There is a rapidly increasing expectation of interactivity in media—the ability for readers to leave comments, post photos and videos, and chat with columnists.

Professional reporters increasingly work to reconcile their traditional roles with the new media reality. “I talk with Brian Rosenthal from the Lincoln Journal Star,” Schaffer said, “and he spends more and more of his time blogging and tweeting. It’s now a much larger part of traditional reporters’ work.”

But the biggest impact of new media is the voice it gives to the nonprofessional—the “citizen journalist.” Through countless blogs, citizen journalists circumvent traditional news media entirely and oftentimes reach significant audiences. It’s an empowering thing—this ability for anyone anywhere to become an unfiltered and immediate news source.

But Schaffer warned of social costs associated with this emboldening medium. He questioned what happens to the trustworthiness of reporting when the supporting structure of traditional media is stripped from the equation. Who edits? Who checks facts? Who provides context and balance? Who stops libel? Who decides what’s most worthy of attention?

“No one,” Schaffer said.

“To me, it really shows the value of putting resources into triangulating a story and confirming the apparently simple,” Schaffer said. “It takes work, education and experience to navigate the potholes and the garbage and find the nuggets of truth to tell an accurate and relevant story.”

Journalism education goes well beyond preparing future professional reporters and editors, Schaffer said. “Teaching people about being responsible producers of journalism goes hand-in-hand with equipping them to become skeptical consumers of journalism.” In Schaffer’s view, preparing that skeptical news consumer is an equally important endeavor.