Editors will have a role in the era of the eye-witness

By John Ryley

For aeons, people have been recording their experiences — telling others their stories and sharing their eye-witness accounts. The difference is the speed of technological change. Technology is shaping the world of communication and creating new opportunities for us all — journalist and viewer. One recent survey said more than one in three teenagers is already generating his own content online.

At Sky News we use both in-vision vox pops and video sent in by viewers using mobile phones. On 7 July, the day of last year’s London bombings, within minutes of our first broadcast, Sky News received dozens of images from the public, and hundreds thereafter. They made the news, including the chilling footage filmed on a mobile phone of tube train passengers trapped underground moments after one of the explosions. Hard, raw news.

On a breaking news story, where the onus is on being first and right, it calls for editorial vigilance and fine judgement to confirm the authenticity of such footage.

Events are moving fast. The mobile phone — along with blogs and podcasts — will become ways for both watching the news and making it. As communication becomes less paternalistic and more personal, the technologies and roles will merge. At the moment, the mainstream news organisations tend to see these innovations in isolation. The future could well be one screen made of multiple sources enabling you to watch, correspond, and contribute. All at the same time.

But what about enabling you to be the editor? I think there will still be a role for editors — not just to assess information, but also to prioritise and present it in a way which, as well as making the news understandable, also reinforces its importance and point. Something an "anything goes citizen journalism blog" can’t do.

Professional journalists will always need to decide if it’s news or propaganda.

John Ryley is executive editor of Sky News.

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