Bypassing the gatekeepers
Who knew that an experiment to convince Iowa women that eating secondary cuts of beef was their patriotic duty during WWII would evolve into hundreds of studies of media gatekeeping? Who knew it would eventually turn into the study of whether the Internet has turned solid ‘gates’ into little more than screen doors’? (Gatekeeping Theory: An Evolution, by Chris Roberts)
This is not breaking news, the fact that social media has been slowly but surely weakening the role of gatekeepers and agenda setters has been on lips of fellow industry experts for years. This is another aspect of the digital disruption being experienced by all industries.
Central to the occupational identity of a journalist is their role as the first in a line of editorial gatekeepers. However, we have all seen how technology has transformed these roles to editorial functions centered on facilitation and circulation of information and or knowledge produced by huge networks of user-turned-producers. We have all seen Tweets, Facebook posts, blogs and videos not only making the news, but also driving it.
Like many of my colleagues, when we arrived at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) as undergraduates, we were the future gatekeepers, or so we were told. And for a while it was true. But then came publishing giants like Google and Facebook, now anyone can publish, no editor necessary.
PR and marketing professionals understand that content is the foundation of any good communication campaign. We also know that the incentive to create content that encourages likes and shares is particularly strong. This is owed to the fact that such content has the ability to bypass the gatekeepers and reach the public directly.
To that end, brands and non-profits have the opportunity to distribute content without it being edited by the traditional gatekeepers. There are several implications for this new norm, one being that distribution is now really a function of sharing your content on social media platforms; another is that it is now the responsibility of organizations putting out information to get it right. And if such content goes viral, depending on the topic, traditional media houses can pick it up and have ‘relevant’ news in their lineup or ignore it to their peril.
Be that as it may, the traditional media and new digital media must co-exist and evolve together. Despite new technology and publishing power in the hands of all who choose to use it, gatekeeping continues to exist, only now there are many gates. Consumers of information just need to be smart about the offerings or their productions.