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Welcome to Media's World of Tomorrow
An interview with reporter Lara Farrar on the future of media and the possible paths it may take
Charles Michel Duke (cmduke)     Print Article 
Published 2009-01-19 11:24 (KST)   
Lara Farrar overlooking London's South Bank
©2009 Charles Michel Duke
It is on a balmy autumnal day on London's South Bank that I managed to interview Lara Farrar, a rising star in the world of international media.

Her work has appeared in numerous publications and she is a regular contributor to CNN. Her perspective of the world of news, from that as a post graduate as well as a reporter gives her a unique insight into the rapidly changing world of media and how it faces up to the unique challenges and opportunities of the 21st century including the advent of citizen journalism.

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Here she talks exclusively to OhmyNews International about her experiences in the press and how she sees the potential that lies ahead.

What have you been studying in London over the past year?

The Global Media and Communications program at the London School of Economics. Largely what it focuses on is how the media is having to acclimate to new technologies. There is a broad array of what we are studying here, ranging from communications policy to journalism; also how technology such as the Internet are connecting us in new ways. The way we see and relate to each other in the world and how that relates to the mainstream media. How the media can change the discourses and become a more of a mediator of understanding and morality between people.

Is the Internet levelling the playing field, bringing more diversity into the media in terms of choice and output?

It is questionable. I think you have to look at the Internet and see if it is facilitating a public sphere, where we are really able to talk to each other. Of course there are a lot of arguments around that, whether the Internet is facilitating that notion of public opinion, coming to agreements, coming together and whether we are willing to seek different viewpoints. But I think there is an argument, even with the citizen involvement, even with the levelling of the playing field, that people tend to stick to their own biases with the Internet. They tend to stick to the media outlets that they like.

Are we really levelling the playing field and learning more or is the Internet putting us into our own different public spheres? There is a difference between knowledge and information. The Internet is information overload, but are we really learning? That is a big question as well.

What do you think of the way that the bigger corporations/media outlets are working with citizen journalists?

I think you have to define citizen journalism, what you mean by it. There are a number of things that the media outlets are doing that they are calling citizen journalism, but really, it is nothing new. It is what they have been doing for decades, basically asking the public to send in photos or content. Now they just have a new platform where they can get a ton of it sent in from all over the world. At the same time if you look at user comments at the end of stories, or having the pubic giving their feedback, their opinion on a story, that is really nothing new.

I think what is crucial, is that it is a trendy thing for media outlets to 'do' something with citizen Journalism. You hear so much about that being such a threat to the traditional press, so everyone seems to be rushing to embrace it. The concern is while the outlets are embracing it, are they really looking at why people are flocking to you and wanting to contribute? Is that question being asked? And are the media outlets using citizen journalists effectively or are they just doing it because everyone else is doing it?

Do you think citizen journalists are being used correctly by the big corporations?

You have to ask what the public want when they contribute to a story. Maybe it is enough for the individual to send in the story and have it appear on a media outlet, to participate, maybe they do not want anything back. But my concern is that if the media outlets do not engage them in the right way, take that step to appreciate what they are getting, then in the end these citizen Journalism projects might backfire.

Citizen journalists are a resource that is pretty valuable. Pretty much any breaking news event, with the ability of new media and technology around the world, you are going to have someone who was there. Someone in your audience saw it and hopefully is going to send you a picture, break a story for you.

How do you take this past the breaking news aspect of it? How do you take your journalist and the story that they are trying to produce and how do you present it to the public? And then how do you turn it into a business model? These are hard questions to answer and a lot of people are looking into this right now.

Do you think there is a model for citizen journalism?

I think that is an important question. I think you also need to figure out what the public thinks of citizen Journalism. As often as you hear, 'Is Journalism is going to die?', 'What is going to happen to the media?', 'Do we need journalists?', the truth is that, more than anything, people still value good journalism. From my own experiences with online media, you can watch where people are going and what they are reading. Stories that are well thought out, quality work, they are reading the whole story, clicking on it and staying there. I think that is a really good sign. People want quality work and the industry should take notice of that. It takes time to do that, you have to invest in your reporting, you have to go back to what journalism is supposed to be.

How did you get into the media in the first place? And what is your experiences of the changes in the media industry so far?

I have known forever that I have wanted to be a reporter, it is in your blood and something that I have always wanted to do.

I think one of the most interesting experiences I have had has been moving completely online. Before I worked in both worlds and now that it is all online, it is strange. As a journalist, I am no longer in the office, so to speak! I guess one of the best experiences of new media, however, has been interacting with the audience. I have had the ability in ways like never before, to reach out to them.

Such as asking for help. If I am unsure on the angles that I am covering in a story, you can get this surprising response of people who genuinely want to assist you. It is great in the way I can engage with the audience and I am able to utilise their vast knowledge base. You hear that everyone 'hates the press,' but when I do this work, I feel I have the support of the audience.

I feel that I am one with them, trying to make this story. It is such a great feeling to know that there are people who are really supporting me, making sure that I was right. They are not the 'experts,' that name in the news that the media would normally turn to, but ordinary people. It brings so much more to the relationship and I think that is one of the key ways to reinvigorating the media at this moment.

©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Charles Michel Duke

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