Empowering the critical voice of quality on social media

Strategies of empowerment and a critical approach to imbalances in power relations should come naturally to the principled, socially aware journalist. The media institutions that employ them take a different view. Empowerment keeps them on the upside of that power imbalance, at the very least it sustains their struggling business models a while longer.

Yet those who analyse, report and seek to remedy challenges to freedom of expression rights, the focus is on raising the standards of media institutions, not empowering media workers. And by setting those standards against legal or quasi-legal frameworks that are nominally or cosmetically easily met, the institutions can ignore the kind of imbalances of power that lead to wider human rights violations – even if their journalists do not. Cannot.

The answer to social media’s crisis of confidence in its role as a global news player could be in providing greater access and remuneration opportunities to more independent journalists and news producers of proven experience.

We need a shift of focus from mainstream media institutions to these kinds of journalists. We need to ask if personalised journalistic relationships with information networks are a more sustainable route to an effective response to imbalances of power.

This suggests convergence as a peaceful, but subversive accommodation with corporate telecom & social media networks.  Though governed by quasi-legal frameworks of their own, in far less transparent and consistent fashions, social media platforms nevertheless raise the prospect of easier access to audiences and potential income streams on mobile news. Mobile is already the dominant means of news exchange in many countries. Mainstream media may regard publishing on mobile social platforms with suspicion, but smaller publishers have little choice but to take the jump.

We need to look at tools that facilitate the ‘exploit’ – disruption from within – hacking the corporate user model, not its code, using tools and techniques that can disable or subvert the negative applications of corporate media network publishing protocols, and make the most of the user model’s positive functions.

One of those potential tools is Plug.Direct, now under development by the digital media R&D shop Vivarta, with the support of the Google Digital News Initiative Innovation Fund.  Plug.Direct aims to empower and sustain professional working journalists and media actors outside institutional frameworks, but inside corporate publishing platforms.

Platform publishing’s USP lies in its promise of bigger audiences and speedier delivery combined, presenting major opportunities and challenges for small media publishers. It should offer independent journalists and news producers access to expanding audiences increasingly reliant on mobile technology for up to date news.

At a time when the capacity and willingness of the social media giants to manage quality of information across their networks themselves is in doubt, independent journalists and news producers of experience and proven reliability need that access. Pages with rich content that work alongside smart ads that load nearly instantaneously – and faster than regular mobile responsive websites. A means to reduce the cost in time and money that mobile users must bear before downloading, digesting and sharing news.

A network is a vital working space for a journalist, media-savvy expert or specialist activist, acclimatising, mapping and collecting information across a network topology that he or she has made her own ‘beat’. It needs to be made both sustainable and accessible.

Vivarta is a publisher and digital media R&D shop. As vivarta.org we help defend free expression rights with journalism, research and a portfolio of creative projects. As vivarta.com we aim to pioneer new digital media practice and platform publishing tools to support and facilitate this work.

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