When Nyandarua was recently visited by an unlikely phenomenon – a white sheet of snow and hailstones – many people first caught the news from an amateur journalist.
The man on the scene was armed with only a smartphone and the zeal to show and tell the public what was happening.
These days, “our man on the scene” is often a swarm of amazingly prolific non professionals posting up-to-the-minute stories and pictures of breaking news from their smartphone.
When a bar brawl breaks out, we are more likely to get the clips from a reveller’s phone.
This month, like most people, I first learnt of the deaths of prominent people on the social media.
When the plane carrying news crew crashed, it is the social media that broke it first. It is the new ways of serving the hot news – on the phone.
What does this portend?
In this day and age, particularly among millennials, we find out about the news from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter or online versions of well-established newspapers.
Regardless of the outlet, the rise of technology in our society has allowed for voices of regular people to be heard by millions of people within seconds.
Consequently, this ability for the lay person to inform the greater public with a clip on WhatsApp or Facebook post has carved the way for anyone to become a journalist.
Editing and news information no longer require a long tedious process.
Technology has allowed information and popular culture to spread at speeds much faster than the press.
With technology allowing us to broadcast information to a wide audience, printed newspapers, magazines and television are getting the heat.
People have multiple and competing sources from which to get information.
As I grew up, individuals, mostly photographers who bumped on hot clips or pictures used to hand them over to media houses for possible broadcasting, sometimes at a fee.
That has now morphed to something different. Rookies no longer hand their material to the pros; they’re publishing it themselves.
Grassroots reporting fills the gap in mainstream coverage.
It keeps members of the old guard on their toes, and shines when there’s a premium on fast facts from the scene.
They also add wicked humour to the news — especially of the type that the national broadcasters would not dare air.
So, what has become of journalists and journalism?
The profession has been changing. Journalists and media houses are fast adapting to and adopting the new ways of collecting and sharing information.
Many media houses collect and collate views expressed by the general public on their technology platforms.
Even newspaper companies around the world have created online pages and accounts on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter for people to follow.
They also use these forums to churn out news as swiftly as it breaks.
In turn, the followers contribute posts that are widely viewed.
Not to be mistaken, well trained journalists still have a big role.
Rookie reporters do not have what it takes to carry out incisive and investigative journalism.
Journalism is more than just posting information. It’s about research, interviews and interpersonal communication.
We trust them to scratch the surface, unearth, analyse and answer questions which no one else can.
That masterly requires tact, patience, wisdom and deep pockets. Only the established media houses have this kind of a muscle and might.
Yes, social media messages come with biases.
Even though the press could be viewed as more reliable than social media platforms, biased views could take place regardless of the official title of established companies.
At the end of the day, it is the reader or viewer who determines the information source to trust.
Writer is informatics specialist. [email protected] @samwambugu2