By Fisher Chengkang Yu, Amyline Quien Ching and Joeberth M. Ocao
In this digital age, anti-government uprisings will no longer take place on the streets but on cyberspace. The weapon will not be guns but words and pictures, which can be more powerful than any army in the world. With so much power in information, journalists must remember to keep to their fundamentals and make content king. This was the message guest speakers delivered to delegates at the 5th Annual Forum of Emerging Leaders sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University, June 8 to 9.
Power in Digital Media
“In highly-regulated authoritarian countries, digital media has an important role to [allow people] to slip past the gatekeepers of the state to inform citizens what the state does not want them to know,” said Cyril Pereira, co-chair of the Asian Publishing Convention and four-time chair of the Society of Publishers in Asia.
In his talk Pereira cited how blogs made an impact in the last general election in Malaysia. It was the first time that the ruling alliance of political parties lost two-thirds of the seats in parliament and with that, the ability to make changes in the constitution.
Pereira attributed this to how the opposition used blogs to influence young voters. It was only when information was online that the mainstream media published their versions, which they would never have done before.
Bloggers are becoming very influential, enough to earn the ire of corporations and government, who get into their firing line, he said. He pointed to WikiLeaks.org, which, he said, is fast gaining notoriety. The website has been publishing “leaks” from governments and corporations including the US military, Scientology and Swiss banks. Its sources, he said, are dissident insiders from the organizations.
Pereira said Julian Paul Assange, creator of WikiLeaks.org, believes that conventional journalistic process is “a craven sucking up to official sources” and impartiality means journalists “treat the dust in the street the same as the lives of people who have been killed.” Pereira said sites such as WikiLeaks.org are challenging these views.
Netizen Journalism in China on the rise
Despite government restrictions on the Internet, citizen journalism in China is on the rise. “Netizens” are “climbing over the Great Firewall of China” and creatively finding ways to access government-restricted sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, according to Zhai Zheng, faculty member of the Department of International Journalism and Communication at the Beijing Foreign Studies University.
He said citizen journalists are taking the role of watchdogs in the country because they have more freedom than traditional journalists. As a result, official media outlets are finding ways to work with citizen media.
Zhai Zheng said 98% of online users have published articles and a lot of these topics are very controversial. About 54% of the blogs in China have content related to public affairs. Some journalists and ex-journalists have blogs, publishing articles that their newspapers refuse to run.
He noted that “Netizen Journalism” is breaking the monopoly of traditional media in China and granting a voice to citizens especially on sensitive political issues. It is also allowing citizens in the country to see different sides to the story such as the incident with the fake South China tiger.
Content is king
Dr. Eric Loo of Wollongong University grounded the discussion of citizen in the news with the reminder that “content remains king.” Despite the technology, he reminded delegates that presentation must not compromise the substance of a story, photo or video.
“Would I have written better stories if I had the gadgets 20 years ago? The answer is – maybe, maybe not.” Loo said.
Loo admitted he uses various forms of new media in his classes, such as online teaching, but said there might just be too much hype on the gadgets and he worried that they could take precedence over the quality of journalism.
He cited as an example a photograph taken by one of his students in the master’s course, which was beautiful, but the caption did not exactly tell what the picture wanted to depict.
“You’ve got to go back to the basics and you should not confuse presentation and packing with journalism,” Loo said. He contended that a journalist can have all the gadgets available, but what matters in the end is the kind of story that is written.
He quoted the words of Chinese diplomat and theorist Deng Xiaoping: “Open the windows, breathe the fresh air and at the same time fight the flies and insects” to reflect the way journalists should deal with new technology.
The same principle should apply to the practice of journalism, he said. Journalists must keep the fundamentals in mind – get the facts right, analyze the information gathered, put context into the story, theorize, and ensure that the source of the information is credible.
“When it comes to principles, stick to it like glue. When it comes to style, swing with the current,” he said.