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Don't Panic - the health warning some Newspapers should carry (pic courtesy of http://thefrugalbunny.blogspot.com/)

I felt compelled to comment on this blog post because it chimed with me following an article I read in Zest about rising anxiety levels in society and how journalists may be adding to these through sensationalising breaking news

In his article Nitesh Dhanjani is discussing the potential security dangers associated with twitter and it’s use by terrorists. It is not that I do not see merit in some of his argument but I cannot help but feel that this type of coverage leads to the type of society inhitited by fear which was the basis of the Zest feature.

The role journalists may play as scare-mongerers should not be underestimated, especially now news is available 24/7 and at the click of a button. It is pretty hard to avoid the kind of headlines employed in an effort to grab our attention in an increasingly competitive news market.

The governments of our countries in the ‘developed and democratic’ west ask us to stand strong and resillient in the face of terrorist threats but is it any wonder people are afraid when they are exposed to daily reports on all that is scary in the world. I daresay society has lost the ability to measure what constitutes as a true threat to their safety.

And it’s not just issues like terrorism which are sensationalised in this way either. When I typed ‘sensationalist headlines’ into google I stumbled across this blog post which had generated quite a conversation among its readers. It appears hyperbolic journalism is not limited to matters of national security and can be found surrounding far less threatening issues.

But yellow journalism is by no means a new phenomenon; the term itself was coined in late 19th century America to describe the levels of exaggerated and biased journalism the founders of the New York Journal and New York World were willing to resort to in what was the greatest circulation battle of the time.

Joseph Pulitzer, the original yellow-bellied journalist? (pic courtesy of Lex-Ham Community Theater)

Joseph Pulitzer, the original yellow-bellied journalist? (pic courtesy of Lex-Ham Community Theater)

Today, with circulation figures of most major newspapers in Britain plummeting, should we fear greater misrepresentation of the news is yet to come? And now with any Tom, Dick or Harry (myself included) able to write their version of the news and post it on the internet without a thought to the ethics of journalism, will the public find it even harder to get well informed and unbiased news?

Or, alternatively, has unbiased news always been a fallacy? And does every journalist from the seasoned hack to the citizen blogger have an agenda, even if it may be a subconcious one?

Plenty of questions, does anyone have any answers?

"It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me... and I'm feeling good." Nina Simone (Pic courtesy of parostaraparos, flickr CC)

"It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me... and I'm feeling good." Nina Simone (Pic courtesy of parostaraparos, flickr CC)

Following a post from my learned friend Jessica Best, I decided it was probably a good idea to write a mission statement of my own. Knowing myself pretty well after 23 years spent in my shoes (the metaphorical pair you’ll understand) I know I would find it all to easy to let this blogging malarky fall by the wayside now that it isn’t compulsory for uni work.

But the truth is, I’ve become rather fond of blogging. Maybe I did often leave it til the Wednesday when it had to be done by the Thursday morning and maybe I did moan and groan whenever anyone asked me that dreaded “have you blogged yet” question. But actually when all was said and done and I sat down to write the blasted posts it was usually a pretty painless experience and sometimes even an enjoyable one.

Yes, it is official, I have become a geek (at this point if you cared to probe my family and friends they would say “become a geek, she has always been a geek”).

From now on I will be blogging differently though. Blogging how I want, when I want and about whatever I want. No offence to Glyn but I think there is a rebellious streak in me which resented having to blog on online jornalism and all things web 2.0. What I may find now is that since the restrictions have been taken off I will blog about social media etc anyway, I am perverse in that way, my Mum didn’t used to call me Contrary Mary for nothing.

What I won’t do is tell you exactly what I’ll be blogging on,  at this stage I don’t really know and I would hate to limit my creativity and cause a bout of witer’s block (if I had it, here I would have used the ironic font)!

I will keep blogging though, you can count that as an early New Year’s resolution.

One thing Rory Cellan Jones’s lecture taught me last week was journalists still have it in them to introduce a topic well. Rhyming and alliteration all in one title: “College of Knowledge: from Typewriter to Twitter,” this, I felt, had us off to a good start.

So what did Rory want to communicate to us; a lecture hall of increasingly jaded and probably decreasingly attentive journalism students? First of all he was keen to point out the difference between journalism now and journalism then (then being the 1980s when Rory was first starting out and when leggings and leg-warmers were in for the first time round).

One big change was in the way Rory told us this now familiar story. As we all know, a picture tells a thousand words. By my rough estimation then, the use of pictures and audio must tell at least ten thousand words. Seeing the breakfast news broadcast from over 25 years ago, really brought home to me the changes in news reporting we have lived through – and no, I don’t just mean the demise of the shoulder pad – and continue to live through today.

The difference in the treatment of Black Wednesday in 1992 and a comparable news story today is stark. There were very little graphics used and no feedback from the public. Today on its website, the BBC has dedicated a whole story not just to views of the audience but to videos of Joe Public expressing those views.

Quite a turn around then. Linked to this is Rory’s premise that 24 hour news channels may have already peaked since people are more likely to go online to access news as quickly as possible. This relates to a previous blog post of mine which discussed the advantages of using the web to break news.

What was most refreshing about Rory was that he did not have an unwavering belief in all these new forms of technology. He pointed out that while twitter may have been a way of disseminating news about the Mumbai shootings, the ‘pivotal’ role some people gave it was an exaggeration. Rory said it was actually very hard to find people who were breaking the news rather than just regurgitating what they had seen on TV or the web.

For me Rory hit the balance completely right. While open to innovation and ways in which technology can broaden and strengthen our reporting, he did not bow down to the god of web 2.0 and tell us it provided all things to all people.

There is still a place today for the journalistic qualities revered in the 8os. While we may be using more platforms to share information and news, that does not have to mean a change of mould altogether.