Who sets the agenda?

Who will set the agenda? Gatekeepers or communities?Why should journalism be any different from the way television programmes are aired nowadays? With Twitter and other social media channels people have not only found their voice, they have also learnt how to form an opinion and then put it out there onto the airwaves. This is true of television and now this is increasingly true of print journalism. With the rise of the global economic downturn, the world of journalism and the public sphere is being liberated. If a newspaper cannot afford to be printed, then it is forced to move online, if the medium shifts from print to electronic then social media comes to the fore with blogs and twitter possibilities for readers – the public will answer back and they will answer back loudly, clearly and with an eloquence that is unprecedented – it seems that this shift will enable us to move out of the time capsule where the public agenda was set by journalists and editors. Of course, once these people are online, they can find out hordes of information. Links onto other sites will guide them quickly and efficiently and with practice many will train themselves to discern the “truth” without the engaging smile of a politician trying to convince them of the opposite.

And if the agenda is actually set by the public what are the consequences of this? Will the ramifications on the way politics is practiced also change immensely? Will politicians actually hear what people have to say (because they are saying it again and again) and be forced to act upon the issues raised by the masses? Can they act on our concerns? Do they know how? It seems that this two way communication possibility in journalism is bringing us to the brink of an agenda-setting revolution. By accident, people may actually have the voice that has been denied over the centuries. A coincidence of timelines: an economic downturn forcing some newspapers to be present online only and the rise of social media enabling opinions to be put out there may just be the start of a new type of enfranchising democracy.

But we obviously have to ask ourselves: Is this what we really want? To be taken out of our comfort zone of non-information where the blankets are woolly and where we don’t have a bad conscience about not acting because, well, no one listens anyway? The point is – if we have a voice, then do we not have to make a decision about whether to use it? And if we don’t use it, can we still live with ourselves? Is it not simply easier for us to just read our newspaper and watch the national news every day and have our agenda set for us? Have it filtered for us by journalists? If it isn’t set for us how will we possibly ever have an overview of the agenda…there are so many hundreds of issues, in our fast-paced world where we have to look out for Number One, will we not confuse and trip ourselves up whilst trying to empower ourselves?

And how about those that are disempowered by this digital divide? My father-in-law, who is 86, has asked me several times where the “play” button is on the computer? The internet is a Pandora’s Box for him…something he never ever wants to open as it reminds him of where he is not: In a world that is fast, furious and without any kind of boundaries. If you snooze you lose and if you can’t use the internet, well then can you make an informed decision at all? I suppose that would be a job for unemployed journalists, they could always turn into professional bloggers and, in essence, do the same job as before!

Bild: Schiffner / photocase

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