On December 15th, British astronaut Tim Peake was launched on his first mission into space, visiting the International Space Station for a 6 month period. As seen in my Storify article, millions of tweets containing the hashtag #GoodLuckTim and #TimPeake were sent over the day, as well as a whole host of celebrities, political figureheads and communities coming together to experience the flight and wish him the best.
The emergence of participatory journalism, or user generated content, has been tossed around more frequently since the uprising of social media journalism. Because Twitter has allowed users to freely communicate with other users, exchange, distribute and receive content and reach a world-wide audience quickly, it is now easier than ever to participate in citizen journalism. Breaking news no longer has to go through the process of gate watching, where news gathering would be done by journalists, processed by an editorial team who would choose the stories to run and finally published into print and disseminated via circulation. Thanks to social media and its rapid nature, news now goes straight from breaking to the world stage with very little filter, removing the responsibility from journalists for breaking news and putting it in the hands of the everyday user.
When looking at Tim Peake’s Twitter feed, it is easy to see that the first British astronaut is daily updating the world about his adventures in space. Although not all of his news is breaking or shocking, each update is something that the world would have never known unless it was posted. So can we call him a journalist? Well, a journalist’s role is to educate the public about events and issues that would be unknown to them otherwise, in a truthful, informative and interesting manner. In essence, he has been doing this since first alighting the ISS, posting insightful snippets of the life of an astronaut.
Although many of his tweets are everyday thoughts and doings, some of his updates are breaking news stories; sharing his roles and responsibilities within the ISS crew, live photos of missions that journalists down here would never be able to capture and videos of the everyday tasks on board the ISS. It is this user generated content that could not be produced by anyone else. The content that the world craves to see, pictures of the Earth slipping into the darkness, updates about the recent space-walk that the other crew members took part in, content that isn’t accessible by other journalists and is broken by Tim Peake.
So where does this leave a journalist? Like any form of participatory journalism, although the story is broken by someone else, it does not put a journalist out of their job. News that is broken over twitter has very little content, with the restriction of 140 characters per update it leaves almost no room for anything other than the key information. Also, many people who break news over Twitter will not possess the time or skill to write an accurate report of the story that is being broken. This leaves the journalist to take the information known, research it further, expand on it, make comment, explain, analyse, find out opinions and give context to using their skills as a writer. The removal of the gatekeeping of news through social media is not always a bad thing, although a journalist may not be the one to break the news, it opens many doors for content creation. If a journalist in London sees a story break on Twitter in Delhi, they can then contact a connection closer to the story to source more information- without them seeing it on Twitter, they may not have ever known about the story in the first place. It is this accessibility that is leading to the globalisation of our news, with UGC giving the opportunity for anyone to update the world with their story. News has to start somewhere, whether that be with journalists or with everyday people.
Back to Tim Peake, who is further expanding the reach of journalists all over the world. It could be said that journalists are thankful for user generated content like this, allowing them an insight to a world that they would have not been able to access otherwise. His pictures and updates are information that they wouldn’t be able to discover themselves, so by working together with Peake, they can both get their job done. In terms of UCG, the International Space Station is clearly leading the way at the moment, so Congratulations Tim Peake, you can now add astronaut and citizen journalist to your CV!