Sunday, July 5, 2009

Out With the Old and In With the New? Not So Fast.

"The so-called 'new media' - Internet utterings, cell phone photos and footage, Twitter tweets and the like - are demonstrating both their potential for journalism and their hopelessness as journalism in the post-election Iranian uprising," wrote the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Tom Teepen in a recent article called "Why 'Old Media' is Still Needed" in the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal.

As Teepen points out, new media has been extremely instrumental in getting around government-imposed information barriers during the Iranian uprising. He compares these new media tidbits to "messages in a bottle." These "snippets of text and flashes of image arrive outside Iran, satellite ricochets carrying provocative indications of conditions and activities in the politically lurching Islamic Republic," he said.

Teepen also makes an interesting observation: "without means for verification, without explanation or narrative, unconnected to one another and of uncertain provenance, these raw data of news are as frustrating to readers, listeners and watchers as they are intriguing," he explains. This has led him to characterize the bits of information that escape from the troubled country as "chaos, not coverage." What's missing, he says, is journalism, which would act as a "filter," a means of providing explanation and detail to go along with the little information that is received. This can not only spur confusion, but it can give an unbalanced view of the conflict to outsiders.

Teepen suggests that, for this reason, "old media" is still needed; new media cannot or should not stand alone. I found this idea to be really interesting, as I had not previously considered the important ramifications of having a detailed, unbiased intermediary between the impassioned civilians on either side of the conflict -- and for that matter, on either side of Iran's borders. What do you think, is new media alone a valuable means of getting information in this conflict? Or is it an important part of a larger whole? In emphasizing new media as much as we do today, are we throwing the baby out with the bath water?

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