We live in an era of interconnectedness. Communication is no longer a restrictive format, but is flexible across time zones, boarders and mediums. Within this realm of interactive, fragmented and networked media systems, however, consumers can no longer merely rely on news sources to immediately share with them the news in easy accessible formats. Rather, news consumption in our modern world often requires individuals to actively pursue the media and its stories. I see this new form of content consumption, sharing and creation as a form of labor, eliciting a new form of power relationship between journalists and consumers.
Modern and exciting news sharing often involves the use of interactive videos, text, and audio. The New York Times’ “Snow Fall”, The Guardian’s “Firestorm” and The Denver Post’s “Chasing the Beast” all serve as adequate examples. However creative and engaging these stories are, they require the labor of the consumer. They are lengthy and require attention, much more than the wireless did in the late 20th century. Do we, as journalists, have an obligation to offer easy and accessible information to the public, or do these stories better serve democracy?
Journalism isn’t the only media realm requiring the labor of consumers. More specifically, brands have found new ways to create and manage themselves in formats that engage consumers within their our everyday lives and identities. Contemporary branding is often defined as an extension of a saleable self, in which individuals become sites for the extraction of value. In this regard individuals are increasing becoming not only consumers, but also producers of culture – an incidence blatantly obvious on social media. Sharing viral videos, liking pages for discounts on clothing, and commenting on discussion boards is a form of labor. Much like news organisations, brands blur the distinction between producers and consumers.
Axel Bruns, and Associate Professor in the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane Australia coined to term ‘produsage’ to describe this movement towards consumers being both producers and users of media. Bruns also uses the term to explain the moment towards citizen journalism, in which regular individuals are recruited as a part of the news sourcing process. In the previous era of mass communication, a which a strict dichotomy of power relationships existed between politicians, journalists and citizens. In our modern era, however, this distinct hierarchy between the informer and the informed is diminishing. The Australian Labor Party leadership spill of March 20th, 2013, for example, saw politicians themselves break the news of their support for a particular leader via Twitter. This change reveals a bigger shift in the way new media allows the role of the journalist as the gatekeeper to be overlooked.
In this new media world, where we can actively watch things unfold in real time and then chat about them among ourselves, the reliance upon ‘professional’ journalists is depleting. Will this change help or hinder the need for an informed democracy?