It’s been more than half a century since journalist A.J. Liebling wrote that “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those that own one,” and perhaps nothing has changed so drastically as the ability of information to spread. Today more than a billion people own their own little presses in the form of facebook and instagram accounts, twitter feeds, blogs, websites, and youtube accounts. We live in a world where social media is used to coordinate revolutions, and only one in five foreign correspondents are backed by a mainstream news source.
What responsibility, if any, does today’s media have in impacting social change around the world?
It was an interesting, and difficult question explored at the Travel+Social Good conference, a new half day event held on September 20th, in connection with the Social Good Summit, where leaders and contributors from a slew of media outlets gathered to exchange ideas.
With the increase in competition, and the explosion in demand, the roles and responsibilities of traditional media sources are changing faster than ever. And it was on a panel, chaired by representatives from Skift, Mashable, PVBLIC, The New York Times, Vice Media, and CATALYST, that an interesting new idea was revealed.
“Perception drives the reality,” said Sergio Fernandez de Cordova, founder of PVBLIC, “media determines that perception because it’s what we’re fed every day.” All the other members agreed, affirming that media is capable of shaping how a situation is perceived by consumers. They also agreed that ethically dealing with this power was their biggest responsibility.
But there’s someone else who’s also accountable: viewers. The reality of media is this - whatever gets seen stays alive. Back when there were only one or two options for news, reporters could focus on fact gathering and objectivity. But today, when stories are broken by a billion amateur journalists each minute, and live coverage sometimes isn’t fast enough, objectivity is replaced by personality. When you choose one media source over another, you’re not buying the one truth so much as you are your one truth. You’re buying an opinion that you agree with. That’s why Fox and CNN can both report totally different slants on the same story. They’re not reporting on fact so much as they are their respective sides of a debatable situation. The one that’s right is the one that you choose as a viewer.
This may sound like a lot of responsibility, and perhaps it is. But it’s also very freeing. We live in a time where your perception of a situation isn’t limited to what a man behind a desk wants to tell you. You can sneak over borders, or interact with officials, get real time updates from citizens of conflict zones, or sit through bureaucratic meetings, read it long form, or watch it POV - all from the comfort of your office chair. You choose what kind of media you like, and through your support, they go on to define the world in a way that’s agreeable to you, and others like you.
And so we realize that perhaps it’s not the responsibility of media that’s changing faster than ever. But rather the responsibility of you, the viewer. And in light of that idea, let me be the first to say “Thanks for choosing us.”
Ethan is a traveling writer and entrepreneur. In addition to writing for CATALYST, and SocialFinance.CA he blogs about all sorts of things over at An American Afoot. His recent work focuses on people who are using business to change the world for the better. Always interested in new and fascinating stories, he can be reached via twitter or at firstname.lastname@example.org