Al Jazeera's initial uptake of social media was slow, but they have since learnt how to use it effectively, said Mr Khanfar. Photo: SpecialKRB / Foter / CC BY-NC

For present and future journalists, the profession is fraught with change. Social media is a huge part of the new media landscape and journalists should know how to approach it properly. Emma Rennie reports.

In this age of the digital revolution, journalism is in crisis. Thousands of journalists around the world have lost their jobs and some major news outlets have cut costs or shut down entirely.

However, journalism is not dead, and some forms of the profession will survive the transformation currently taking place. Investigative journalism, field journalism and journalism of contextualisation will survive, because they are the types of journalism that the public still wants to read.

These are the thoughts of the former director general of renowned news network Al Jazeera, Wadah Khanfar.

“I do think that the most important paradigm shift that should happen to us now is, seriously and in a courageous manner, try to restructure organisations based on new management models, which, as I said, will be very slim but at the same time very efficient and less expensive, and second, having excellent editors, skilled, and having the depth and the possibility of delivering knowledge rather than information.”

Mr Khanfar gave a speech in Sydney this month, on Wednesday November 21, to discuss the impact of new digital and social media on journalism and global media, based on his experiences at Al Jazeera. Mr Khanfar began work for Al Jazeera in 1997 and became the director general in 2006. He resigned from the position in September 2011, but received various accolades for his work with the network.

Wadah Khanfar spoke passionately about his experiences with social networking at Al Jazeera. Photo: Emma Rennie

Mr Khanfar said a key component of journalism in the coming years will be successful interactions with social media networks for sourcing information, because these networks are able to bypass the bureaucracy of large media organisations.

“They are democratic by nature. Once you join the network, you are as equal as every member of that particular network. You don’t have to have a background or seniority, or you are a member of a family, or you are rich or poor, or royalty, or from this tribe or that tribe or ruling family. That does not really exist.”

This democratic nature has meant that social networks that have been involved with traditional media have learnt the principles of journalism ethics and become reliable sources of information.

“There is increasing percentage of accuracy, because as we learn how to deal with these guys, they themselves learn how to become more proficient. So we did learn from them and they did learn from us,” said Mr Khanfar.

The federal secretary of the Media, Entertainments and Arts Alliance, Chris Warren, spoke briefly to respond to a number of the ideas Mr Khanfar had presented.

“Although many journalists are frightened by the web, and by social media, social media has been shaped by journalism more than it has been shaped by anything else. It is the fundamental principles of journalism: respect for truth, respect for the publics right to know, respect for the rights of others. They’re the fundamental principles that have come to shape debate and discussion on the internet.”

However, said Mr Khanfar, this does not mean journalists should use sources from social media indiscriminately.

“I do mean particular people who are active in the networks who are good, smart workers, who have bridged the divide between ordinary communications on social networks and professional standards of our profession. Those people do exist out there.”

He said that while social networks are, by nature, democratic, there are still individuals within the networks who are catalysts for news and who understand the professional requirements of accuracy in reporting.

Nevertheless, despite best efforts, both sources and journalists inevitably make errors. Mr Khanfar said that if this happens, it’s important that the publication admits to its error publicly and openly.

“That kind of transparency establishes trust and, later on, establishes loyalty from your audience.”