Journalism has long been a professional career with set regulations and standards. Now citizens can act as journalists, writing anything they desire either through internet news pages or blogs. Katrina James describes how the PR industry will be affected.
It is probably the most explosive outbreak of information sharing the world has seen since the launch of the internet, and citizen journalism is about to shake up just about everything in the world of PR.
Web logs, or blogs, are everywhere and the number is set to increase. Everyone is “blogging” these days and it is quite common for normal citizens to discuss and even report news stories online. And for the PR industry it is time to recognise these modern news sources as a 999 emergency call!
The rise of citizen journalism on the internet in the past few years now means anyone can report news stories that only a journalist had the facilities to do before. These stories are available to audiences worldwide, and unlike traditional journalism the authors are not bound by –- and probably don’t understand or even care about – journalistic principles.
Experts such as Andrew Nachison, director of the Media Centre, a US-based think-tank that studies media, technology and society, believes the use of the internet for opinion sharing was the starting point for today’s ever increasing blogging network.
It was during the US presidential elections in 2004 that blogging became a key way for individuals to discuss topical events. Many blogs offered messages saying “sorry” to the world for re-electing Bush, others contained discussion and debate regarding the policies of the two main parties.
Blogging began by providing a structure for citizens to discuss ideas initiated by the mainstream media, but in late 2004 this was to change. Blogger “Buckhead”, writing on “Free Republic”, revealed documents produced by journalist Dan Rathers to be false, a story which was picked up by the mainstream media and eventually resulted in Rathers losing his job.
During the July 7 bombings in London, citizens were the first on the scene, with some being paid a great deal of money for photos taken on mobile phones. The days of traditional journalism acquiring stories from citizens had begun.
What does all this mean for the PR professional? As more bloggers talk about their experiences to larger audiences, the PR professional needs to be alert about this ever-expanding outlet for news and comment affecting their clients. Bloggers are usually quite partisan so it is essential for anyone working in public affairs to understand and watch comment on blogs.
It is now possible for anyone to share negative stories about an organisation without involving the mainstream media, so PR people need to develop new crisis management techniques to protect their clients.
It could be argued that blogs are a great way for PR people to access the counter-culture; you can use them to create a buzz around all sorts of products, especially high-profile technological products. You can even pay people to talk about the product you are launching in chat rooms and blogs to create discussion.
In the 2004 US election presidential hopeful Harvard Dean used blogs to record why people were dissatisfied with the Bush administration. He was the most successful US candidate at using the new media outlets to increase his vote share. However you may find you are exiled from the mainstream media and political discussion if you focus too strongly on the Blogospere.
Other online citizen journalist outlets such as “Oh My News” appear to be written by “proper” journalists, so stories regarding clients are likely to have more impact there than in blogs. This is a medium which could pose a number of threats to PR people, but could also be embraced to get online media coverage of the client.
It is clear that new media will continue to affect PR, and that a willingness to embrace and adapt to modern news sources is essential to continuing good practice throughout the profession.