Are you a journalist or a source?

What does the title “journalist” mean in an age where anyone can publish a blog, post a tweet or tell their friends on Facebook? Are twitter users sources or journalists? Wes Mountain reports.

Andy Carvin, who came to prominence through his coverage of the Arab Spring using tweets from over 70,000 citizens and activists on the ground, said that access to social media renders the question of who is a journalist unimportant.

He said while those posting information may not technically be journalists, they are “committing an act of journalism” by informing other people of an important event or fact.

Mr Carvin spoke at the “Tweets on the Street” panel led by Margaret Simons, the director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism.

He spoke of the ability of his followers to verify information that otherwise might go unreported, including one instance where twitter users confirmed regional accents and the site of a specific building to pinpoint the location of a bombing in a video posted to him during the Libyan uprising.

He said that there are potential issues given a bias toward tweets in English and inevitably to those with access to the technology to tweet in the first place, noting “you don’t hear much citizen journalism coming out of the People’s Republic of Congo”.

Adrian Lowe, Social Media Reporter for the Age, said that he believed there was still a place for traditional media organisations to write clear stories for readers.

Both he and Carvin agreed the key role of a journalist was to verify and disseminate information, regardless of the medium.

Tim van Gelder, founder of online forum YourView, said he thinks the main problem most non-journalists find is processing the huge amount of information now on offer.

He believes sites like YourView could provide people with trustworthy, reputable sources based on curation and community ratings, effectively stopping the “filter failure” that Carvin said impedes some twitter users.

Van Gelder said that he believed most of our time online is simple distraction.

“It’s not just twitter... How many hours, days or months could you spend checking social media?”

Lowe and Carvin discretely checked and updated their twitter accounts throughout the discussion, answering questions put to them both from the audience and from twitter.