Recently, I started watching “The Newsroom,” a relevant, intelligent TV show about a news anchor and his intriguing team of producers and reporters. In one of the episodes, the crew covers the Arab Spring movement in Egypt and, in response to a desperate need for a reporter “on the ground,” they hire an Egyptian citizen to cover the protests on his Kodak camera. In this way, the crew and, by extension, the world, is able receive live footage from the perspective of an average, everyday Egyptian citizen. Well, “average” and “everyday” except for the fact that he became a reporter of one of the 21st century's most important events.
This example may be from a fictional TV show but it has a very solid foundation in reality. For instance, all over the Middle East, normal citizens have been able to give the world a peek at the repressive regimes they live during, say, the Arab Spring movements, through the use of cell phones (this is according to geography textbook authors Pulsipher, Pulsipher, & Goodwin in their 2014 book). The movement also spans all different age ranges and stations in life because Bruce Mutsvairo, Senior Lecturer in Journalism at Northumbria University, claims that “students need to know their main competitor isn’t just a journalist from the crosstown rival newspaper but also anyone owning a smartphone.” Really, all over the world, “the news industry" is "changing at such a dizzying speed" that "it would seem as if the time has come for us to accept citizen journalists as active players in the news business.”
From the invention of the printing press, to the first published newspaper in America in 1690, to the first ever 1930 news broadcast, to the first publicly televised news show in 1939, the world has seen a study progression in the way that information is both identified as “news-worthy” and spread abroad to the general public. Now, however, with the onset of social media, the dissemination and the selection of material is the hands of the people in an unprecedented way. It is no longer news anchors, production teams, and certified journalists and reporters who determine what people should know: the general population is joining the choir with thousands upon thousands of different, unique, invaluable harmonies, all reflecting a myriad of races, cultures, ethnicities, preferences, outlooks, and goals.
The fact that “at any point, anyone can become the most important journalist in the world” (according to digital journalist Tim Pool) can also be an important safeguard for cultures the world over. Thinking back over the broad sweep of history, the press has been used far too often in the abuse of government and as a tool in the hands of oppressive dictators and political leaders (the example of the Soviet Union comes to mind). Now, however, as we have seen in the case of the Arab Spring movement, the everyday citizen is no longer completely unarmed: cell phones and social media allow the world at large to act as a jury on the actions of leaders and movements all over the globe due to the enterprising efforts of men, woman, and young people who are making use of 21st century technology.