It’s time to uphold professionalism in era of social media

Last week, I was invited by a family friend in the village to persuade their son not to change his mind on his university course of choice.

Their son had received an admission letter to a public university to study journalism and media studies.

This was his dream course from his primary school years. “What has changed your mind Kevin?” I asked the young man as I began convincing him to stick to his passion of being a journalist.

Kevin may not be alone in this dilemma. The perception of certain courses on changing market needs, course status and prospects are contributors to this phenomenon.

But specific to Kevin, his concern was to whether professional journalism still matters in the light of citizen journalism that has opened doors for everyone to ‘write’ and disseminate information.

According to Kevin, the profession is drifting to a craft that does not require him to go to school. He was already blogging.

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With the advent of social media, everyone courtesy of a smart phone, Internet minutes or bundles can communicate and pass news or information to other parties with the press of a button.

Never mind the type of ‘news’ shared.

Countries such as Sweden and England have witnessed unprecedented upsurge of citizen journalism that has threatened to de-professionalise journalism career. Indeed, besides journalism students, media practitioners more than before have had to grapple with the entry of social media platforms that have completely changed the media landscape.

A number of media training schools are already introducing courses on social media to equip trainees on how to leverage the platform to discharge their professional duty of informing, educating and entertaining.

Birmingham City University in UK is already offering a Master of Arts degree in social media. Some newsrooms have even had to come up with what I call ‘community desk’ to help monitor the social media, follow leads and solidify the stories.

Newsroom managers have now aligned their structures to incorporate the position of social media editors. Professional journalism still matters.

My opening remarks to Kevin was the fact that professional journalism still matters. In fact, the emergence of citizen journalism demands that professionals in the field show the difference between them and citizen journalists.

It has not given the latitude to a professional to abdicate the responsibility of being accountable of bearing witness to the news - this is a journalist’s role and not that of the platform - social media.

A professional journalist represents public interest, he or she must listen to the people, verify facts and present them fairly devoid of bias.

They do not publish fake stories - common with social media users who rush to ‘break news.’ Professional journalism calls for truth.

It’s a fact that social media platforms are a fertile ground for stories and a professional journalists should take the trouble to sift through the ‘digital noise’ and verify facts.

Social media positives. The social media has demystified the magic bullet theory that regards audience as passive recipients of information.

It has democratised media and given equal level playing field to the known and the unknown in society.

It can be argued that social media has answered the question on who watches over media - the watchdog of the society.

In some quarters, social media is referred to as the fifth estate. Arguablly it monitors the fourth estate for errors such as misreporting, inaccuracies, or unfairness.

Professional journalism still matters but there is no doubt that the current journalist has to be more technology-savvy as news organisations become more digital-centric. The current media spectrum therefore calls for multimedia skills.

- The writer is a PR &Corporate Communication practitioner. [email protected]

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