In a powerful scene from the movie Birdman, Sam (Emma Stone) lashes out at her father, Riggan (Michael Keaton), with a cutting tirade: "I mean, who are you? You hate bloggers. You make fun of Twitter. You don't even have a Facebook page. You're the one who doesn't exist... You're not important."
Sam sums up the contemporary barometers of relevance, at least in terms that our plugged-in society would determine quantifiable.
By her measurements I don't exist, either. And, I better get used to it. Like Riggan, I do not have a Facebook page, nor do I tweet, or post on Instagram. Okay, so I blog... that might garner a smidgeon of relevance on Sam's "matter meter."
Today, we have hashtag activists, Facebook philosophers, Pinterest curators and independent investigative journalists who blog.
One fellow writer friend, a longtime journalist for a business publication, claims that independent bloggers and reporters do not hold much sway (yet she posts in a blog on the publication's website). My friend is a career journalist, though she doesn't hold a degree in journalism. One might wonder, does journalistic reporting require a degree? What training, in fact, does it require? Barton Gellman, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist in reply to an inquiry of his prediction for the future of investigative journalism, he stated that it would soon encompass more independent citizen journalists who by virtue of their nonprofessional status may have privileged access, attuned insight and may be astute, close readers of a situation in which they can uncover important stories. Bloggers are not trivial, Gellman postulated.
As an independent writer myself, I am armed with my keyboard and an Internet connection. In the blogosphere, I share my perspectives and hope that my thoughts hold some value amid the endless global flow of stories and opinions. I commend online publications (like The Huffington Post) for providing a forum where the voices of many may be heard. And while I do not consider my writing to be citizen journalism (yet!), I do feel that my public contributions allow me to engage in a larger dialogue on issues that matter to me -- a step up from a slactivist.
But then, there's Sam's withering challenge -- "WHO ARE YOU?" Without a Facebook page or a Twitter feed, do I exist? When I hear of those people who philosophize on Facebook or participate in meaningful activism on Twitter, a part of me feels that I am missing out on the pulse of change and a vital part of our culture today. Social media is a place where even seasoned journalists get information, build stories and find sources. I understand what Sam was trying to tell her out-of-touch father. I disagree with my prestigious-business-publication-career-journalist friend -- the days of established news media holding a monopoly on relevance are swiftly declining. Even media giants acknowledge as much, as traditional outlets continue to shutter or drastically reform in order to maintain readership and market share.
This is not to suggest that we no longer need educated, trained journalists who know how to frame a story and vet credible sources. We most certainly do need them. I value the experience and acumen of Barton Gellman and the honed in journalistic skills of career journalists, like my friend. I believe the news they share is relevant!
That said, I find that when I travel, whether throughout this country or around the globe, it is the voice of the people I seek out to listen to: from taxi cab drivers, to locals in a café or someone I'm sharing a park bench with. To learn about a place is to talk to locals, talk to more locals and talk to even more locals. And, read from a local's perspectives. From any given place, I source blogs written by locals to learn about restaurants, events and music venues or to get the pulse of the regional political opinions rather than reading local newspapers.
I am overwhelmed by the extraordinary variety of writing and publishing platforms available for our consumption today, from the professional journalist and the citizen blogger to the Facebook philosopher and the hashtag activist. To my mind, all of it is newsworthy writing that contributes richly to the public interest and global dialogue.
For Sam's generation this communications platform is inherent and as unremarkable as a week-old Tweet-an accepted feature of the cultural landscape. With half of the world's population now under 30 (according to U.S. State Department stats), Sam's reality IS reality. Get used to it! As Eleanor Roosevelt sagely quipped, "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." Whether that's conveyed on the printed page or digicast in 140 characters, curious minds like it all. And, we are fortunate to have more offerings than chocolate or vanilla to satiate our curiosity. Even Baskin Robbins knows that 31 flavors won't cut it today. Our choices seem limitless for both consumers and producers. If we can but take Sam's lead, the secret of staying relevant-to existing-is actually to read on, fuel your fancy, and don't be afraid to contribute.