In June 2013 an innovative idea was born at the Tufts Institute of the Environment (TIE). For years TIE has been funding cutting edge research and actively supports the advancement of environmental science. However the infamous gap between theory and practice has blocked research results from reaching wider audiences and creating impact beyond the academic bubble.
In the era of social media the evolution of communication is evident and surely creates numerous opportunities for existing practices to be enhanced. Such practice that needs to change is academic research. What if the findings of academic research could be translated in simple language for wider audiences to comprehend? With the goal to leverage the awareness of environmental sustainability issues, the idea to communicate research through social media storytelling was born!
“Well – managed companies want to invest in countries governed by transparency and fair rules,” according to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. From a corporate governance perspective this statement could not be more explanatory, but six years into the Greek financial crisis, little has been done in this direction. Currently Greece is experiencing economic, political and social turmoil, which discourage local and foreign investments, further damaging the economy.
Clay Shirky in his blog post Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, refers to the history of press to explain the digital evolution of journalism and what we are to expect. According to his argument, we do not know what exactly to expect as we witness this transitional gap, because as Shirky repeatedly notes, things break before they are replaced. Nevertheless, he points out that regardless of what the newspapers’ future is going to be, people need journalism; and though it might take a while until journalism finds its definition and place in the digital era, it will happen because people want it to.
Interestingly, this article reminds me of my first camera and love for photography. When I was about 5 years old, my father gave me his first camera which he got back in the 70s at a much older age than me. Kodak instamatic cameras were at the same time as simple and complicated as “point-and-shoot.” Fascinating! I was able to capture in click everything I thought interesting or worthy of remembering. However I had to be cautious since I could take 12 photos per film and those were expensive to develop into prints. Few years later digital cameras entered the market. Ground breaking innovation, but at the same time too expensive for a teenager to afford. I bought a Kodak Advantix instead and couldn’t be happier. Finally I had a zoom lens, I could choose settings, select the size of my photos and film was easier to replace compared to regular cameras. Despite the fact that the cost of prints remained high, I recall thinking that this camera may not be digital but will certainly meet my needs equally. Little did I know. Thanks to technology, today, my passion for photography is not limited to a device or by how many rolls of film I have in my bag, for I can take as many pictures as I like using my digital camera, phone, ipad or pc. I can edit my pictures, store and track them easier, produce them much cheaper, post them on-line and share them with my network and beyond. Kodak filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2012, but caused little effect in the market, even for its loyal customers, because people do not need Kodak, people just want to take pictures.
This story is not that different from the history of press Shirky is illustrating. He makes a valid argument for I see the camera and pictures case to be similar to newspapers and journalism. Both describe the relationship between a platform and a product, cameras and newspapers are platforms and photography and journalism are products. Technology is undeniably changing the dynamics of life and consequently the relationship between platforms and products as those adapt to the rapidly changing technology status quo, and one innovation gives its place to the next big thing.
Based on the recent innovation and progress encountered in photography business, starting from my father not having a camera as a child to my generation’s ability to experience a new photography era; we can assume the future of newspapers and journalism. Similarly with cameras, newspapers will not stop being produced, they will just change format as the press has evolved throughout time. Considering Web 2.0 as a platform for journalism, clearly the Internet is empowering people by increasing the number of channels they can use to voice their opinion, access information and interact with each other at a minimum cost. If journalism is about reporting news and conveying different points of view to the world, then on-line journalism is the evolution of paper, which allows reach to a wider audience giving Internet users the opportunity to interact with the author, create content and shape news. Optimizing communication tools encourage the notion of participatory media. Now everyone, regardless of their professional capacity, can freely express views or share news but no one is forced to read it, unless people choose to. We experience a new journalism era. As we transition to open media, traditional one-way communication newspapers will eventually stop being produced as hard copies but will not disappear, they will evolve to match the Internet momentum. This transformation has already started, given that new agencies migrated on-line and constantly modify their layout to increase interaction with their audience.
Like Anne Marie Slaughter said in her talk on “Open v. Closed: Media, Government and Social Organizations in the Information Age” at the Harvard Kennedy School, on October 10th, 2012; blogs, twitter and the like, give individuals the opportunity to write their own ideas and views, but this does not replace the quality of professional journalism. Therefore it is up to the news agencies to innovate and adapt or object the media transformation and follow the road of Kodak. Because as David Cage rightfully pointed, industries die if they fail to innovate…
The popularity of social media is constantly increasing amongst Internet users and these mediums are taking over as primary communication channels and main hubs for news search. According to Clay Shirky’s argument, social media and fundamentally the Internet could be used to promote peace and provide incentives for people to organize and participate in events that relate to their interests.
A first example of how the use of social media can spread the news incredibly fast in Greece dates back in 2008. On the night of December 6th an unexpected round of violent street protests that captured once more the international attention, burst throughout the country. This time, the protests were in the name of a 15 year old teenager, Alexis Grigoropoulos, who died unjustifiably from a police officer’s bullet. Teenagers used social portals to express their frustration towards the event and organize protesting waves. In fact the first riots started within a few hours after the event – even before the media had a chance to communicate any sort of information on the tragic incident.
The use of social media to organize protests can be a positive asset since that is how the Arab Spring was organized and spread. Via social media now everyone has the ability to become a news broadcaster contributing via mainstream media, which also have the power to set the news agenda. The idea of using social media for a cause has become the trend since then across the world. The example of the Arab Spring was followed by the Spanish “Indignados” (indignant), the Greek “Aganaktismenoi” (outraged), which then transformed into the Occupy movement. Regardless of the connection between the causes supported in each initiative of such nature it is important to acknowledge the incredible power of social media and what can be achieved if they are used properly.
As Farell and Drezner argue, blogs are important for their indirect impact as they tend to “influence important actors within mainstream media who in turn frame issues for a wider public”. As such, a tremendous source of influence on the average perception of the economic crisis by Greeks, lies beneath local news blogs such as tromaktiko (scary), sibilla, press.gr, or kafeneio.gr (coffee shop) which have extended readership among Greeks on a daily basis.
In a digital era, people seek for alternative sources of information on current events. People also look to create solutions to facilitate their information updates. For example, the Greeks built an electronic platform to monitor the riots and demonstrations www.apergia.gr (strike) since protests became a part of the Athenian routine. Now at any given moment everyone knows by who, where and when there is a strike. In this way the news spread faster and people manage to organize themselves through social media to either abstain or participate in joint efforts. The creation of Usahidi, an interactive mapping platform is a leading example of how social media can be used to report crisis or other emergencies, to protect peace though active citizen participation.
In view of this remarkable mobility in social media it appears as if the traditional media were only left with the option to follow the information generated on the Internet. This interaction between the new and old school media entails dangers since the majority of information-consumers do not evaluate who is the news generator or the validity of the events communicated.
The Politics – Media – Politics model by Wolfsfeld (2004), suggests a cycle where politics and media influence each other and impact the environment in which people have been influenced to act in a certain way. In Greece that is definitely the case, but there is more to it. In a similar way, it can be argued that there is an interrelation between new and old school media that form a new cycle of influence: Media – Social Media – Media, which changes the flow of news and confirms the power of the public as a news source and as a source of influence in politics.
In this way, it can be argued that the cascade activation model of Entman (2004) may be used to further examine the facts in Greece. According to Entman’s approach, the cascade network acts top to bottom, meaning that the decisions taken by the political leader, in this case the Prime Minister, are cascaded down to the public, and this was how the economic crisis news were communicated in Greece at first place. Public opinion was formed based on the projections of the media following up with the government position.
Nowadays, the shift in the media coverage tone – both new and old school – appears to have flipped the cascade model to a bottom-to-top version, where the radical expressions of the people’s frustration are leading the formation of political decisions, as was demonstrated with the referendum proposal and the change of government in November 2011.
The social media spread is, without a doubt, increasing every minute, granting their users more power to influence their immediate environment. The impact of social media on a world basis is inevitable and could be used to promote peaceful messages instead of rivalries. It is important to benefit from the proper use of new media instead of staying focused only on the analysis of the traditional outlets, since their power seems to be fading compared to social media regardless of their credibility.
The future broadcasts are expected to be a blend of politics, media and social media input and thus it is essential to focus on the analysis of social media and their impact as soon as possible. This will not be an easy assessment given that these types of media are still in the formation stage. Recently there have been various attempts to analyze them on an international level. For example, just in December 2011, Gulf News launched an online debate that invited their readers to answer the question: What has the real world impact of social media been? Media approaches like this one, which empower the public opinion, are fundamental to change the future of media power.
 Richard Lance Keeble, John Tulloch Florian Zollmann (2010) Peace Journalism, War and Conflict Resolution. Peter Lang Publishing Inc., New York, Chapter 1, p. 178-180
Wolfsfeld, G. (2004) Media and the path to peace, Cambridge University Press
Entman R. M. (2004) Projections of Power, Framing News, Public Opinion, and U.S. Foreign Policy, The University Press, Chicago & London