At the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg we discussed the added value of social media in regards to democracy. As media is no longer fixed but liquid, it is crucial to use the power of social media. Therefore, journalism increasingly gains diversity!

What comes to your mind when you hear terms such as: bypassing mainstream media, spreading information uncontrollably, saving the truth, and challenging institution? These terms were mentioned in the “Solution Journalism” lab and were all associated with the added value of social media in practicing democracy.

Traditional linear broadcasting = OUT!

Michael Wegener, the head of the Content Center of the ARD news in Germany, talked about the experiences of rethinking the strategy of the German public broadcaster ARD. The latter is the most trusted and most watched news bulletin in Germany. However, the audience is rather old, namely +55. ARD came to the realization that journalists do not know everything. Because of that, ARD now actively uses social media as a new communication channel for citizens. The main goal is to include citizens and their opinions, comments, and pictures. This simultaneously has the purpose of a feedback channel.  It clearly constitutes a transition from linear communication to an interactive and sharing kind of broadcasting.

Traditional media are slowly losing the monopoly of agenda-setting

Instead of ignoring the added value of social media, the traditional broadcaster ARD takes the challenge of incorporating social media in its strategy. The trend is clear: the task of setting the agenda on what should and what should not be reported is increasingly shared between traditional media and social media. Therefore traditional media faces the challenge of changing the work flow of reporters. What does that mean? It means that social media is on the top of the reference list, the staff should be empowered to answer questions and foster interaction, and journalist should make themselves part of the community.

Bypassing the governments’ reality

Guillermo Fariñas, a Cuban journalist and political dissident talked about his efforts to achieve peaceful political change in Cuba. What is rather remarkable is the fact that he went into 23 hunger strikes to protest against the regime and fight for democracy. He underlined the importance of social media, “as social media enables us to show our truth”. It was always rather difficult, if not impossible, to have independent journalism in Cuba because media was state-controlled. In the beginning of the 21st century, Cuba slowly relaxed the repression, for example by permitting the use of cell phones. At the same time journalism gained more diversity because more and more bloggers emerged, which triggered a whole movement of bloggers. Yoani Sanchez is a remarkable example of influential bloggers in Cuba. Mr. Fariñas nicely concluded that social media was a crucial factor of bypassing the government. His mission is: Show the whole Cuban reality not only what the government wants to display as reality!

Liquid information

Content is no longer fixed. Readers no longer remain only readers. On the contrary, information is free flowing and liquid and readers become journalists. Yasir Mirza, the head of the Diversity & Inclusion department of The Guardian introduced us to the subject of solution journalism. Solution journalism investigates and explains credibly responses to social problems. Thereby, the focus does not merely lay on “what but on how and why it appears or, why it may be failing”.

Empowerment

Within the framework of solution journalism, The Guardian works with communities to develop stories that are not heard and disseminated by mainstream media. During the lab, Mr. Mirza introduced a pilot project which was implemented in India. The essence of such is to train under-represented citizens to report and make their voice heard. Because of the vast success of the Indian program, Mr. Mirza will propose the “Global Solutions Journalism Program” to The Guardian soon. It shall “unearth, empower, and develop impactful solutions” all over the globe because journalism is a powerful tool to create cohesion and understanding but also to empower marginalized groups.

“Learn to lead a dialogue, not a monologue” says it all!