What do the prisoner’s dilemma, deforestation, and the Katrina PeopleFinder have in common with journalism? At Deutsche Welle’s Global Media Forum “Conflict Prevention in the Multimedia Age” conference, author and professor Howard Rheingold explained that these situations exist because of participatory, or group, action, and journalism can use the positive aspects of participatory action as well.
The conference’s focus is on why and how journalism needs not only to accommodate but also to embrace a changing media world, specifically to help prevent local and global conflicts. Rheingold’s address showed that just as multimedia has enabled major social and economic accomplishments, it can do the same for journalism.
Because citizens are so technologically adept, the media has to keep up. “The role of the journalist is as important as ever,” Rheingold said. “But we now have millions soon billions of reporters who are on the site as events happen.”
Rheingold said that as technology develops, human behaviors change along with them. For example, in his book “Smart Mobs,” Rheingold talks about the average citizen’s newfound ability to organize collective action because of technology. Use of MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and text messages has garnered action, reformed policies, and tipped elections.
Participatory media is just a hop, skip, and a jump from these situations, said Rheingold. If participatory action such as open-sourcing and networking have accomplished so much, Rheingold said, participatory journalism has the potential to lower barriers, gather and educate the masses, and encourage dissemination of knowledge.
And that’s why it is important that reporting organizations understand the dynamics of multimedia. When used correctly, multimedia can further reporting efforts and perhaps even prevent conflict.
FOLLOWING are points that some of the opening and keynote speakers brought up. Many of the questions raised were not easy ones, piquing audience interests and providing fodder for continued discussion.
Director-General, Deutsche Welle
• The subject of conflict prevention has gained renewed relevance, specifically because of how the economic crisis and technology’s developments affect the media.
• In the multimedia age, the media has the option not only to cover damage but also to prevent conflict.
• “Journalism must go to where the users are and listen to their feedback.”
• High-speed, multimedia journalists are not fighting with the “oldies.” They need to work in tandem – it’s not a competition.
Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office
• Free press works best if it uses all forms of media to disseminate the news.
• Does conflict prevention have any news value? Who reports about unexploded bombs? News arises when something happens. The event is what is spectacular and newsworthy, and positive events rarely are. That’s why people sometimes say media needs misery and disaster in order to report.
• “Reporting on a disaster is more than just news that we consume. Rather it is something that requires a response.” Once you’re an informed consumer, you need to ask yourself, “What do I do with this information?” The options aren’t that clear-cut. Do you act and get accused of meddling in things you don’t understand halfway around the world? Do you stay passive and get reproached for not acting?
Minister for Federal Affairs, Europe and Media at the State of North Rhine-Westphalia
• There is a downside to multimedia journalism: usually, it isn’t given the respect it’s due. When people feel that all news should be available as soon as possible, and there is constant access and availability to the news, then respect for the disseminators of the news is sorely lacking.
• The fact that much of this easily-accessible news is often free may also contribute to this phenomenon.
Assistant Secretary General, Chief Information Technology Officer, United Nations
• How can we harness the strengths of both new and old media?
• Streamlining the dissemination of information before a conflict can help during the conflict.
• The world of multimedia is not stagnant – it’s constantly developing. Crowd-sourcing is a viable option because more and more people are getting internet access.