Columbia Journalism School


Al Jazeera English films "Empire" episode at the J-School

February 14, 2011

Columbia Journalism School's Lecture Hall was packed Friday afternoon when a panel of five journalists and digital media experts gathered to discuss the power and potential of social media in a televised discussion with Marwan Bishara, host of Al Jazeera English's "Empire."

Watch it here

(Ahmed Shihab-Eldin '07 produced the video that preceeds the panel discussion.)

Check the broadcast schedule

As Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had relinquished power just hours before, the event could not have been more timely. Highlighting what Dean Nicholas Lemann has called "the convening power of Columbia Journalism School," Dean of Students Sree Sreenivisan introduced Bishara and the panel before everyone paused to listen to President Obama's live remarks on the transition of power in Egypt.

(l.-r.) Shirky, Goodman, Bernstein,
Bishara, Bell & Morozov

Bishara then shifted focus to governments' roles and responses to the information revolution and asked whether or not social networks lead to social revolution. He began the in-depth conversation with Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Bernstein, best known for his Watergate reporting with Bob Woodward in The Washington Post and the best-seller "All The President's Men." Considering the increasing importance of social media and the changing journalistic landscape, Bernstein warned that today's unprecedented flow of information can be riddled with inaccuracies.

"Wikileaks involves dissemination of raw information… yes, we have fabulous new tools and much greater speed, but we need to be careful," Bernstein said.

Emily Bell, director of the Journalism School's Tow Center for Digital Journalism, agreed with Bernstein that factual accuracy can be an issue in the brave new world of user-generated journalism, but emphasized the new possibilities of combining new forms of journalism with traditional reporting.

Al Jazeera English transformed the
Lecture Hall into a TV studio.

"Today we have many contexts being fed into stories from different perspectives," Bell said. "We have a partnership between old and new media."

Amy Goodman, host and executive producer of "Democracy Now!," argued that technology is facilitating the power of ordinary people to organize in novel ways. Social media, she said, "puts [people power] on steroids and transmits it in a way we've never seen before."

Self-described social media skeptic Evgeny Morozov, author of "The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom," argued that social media is not as transformative as some suggest and is better seen as evolution than revolution.

"The nation-state did strike back [against Wikileaks]… Leakers do not have the capacity of established organizations… We need to curb our own enthusiasm," Morozov said.

Clay Shirky, author of "Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age," said that the instantaneous global interconnectedness of social media facilitates the release of information, since news can be disseminated outside the jurisdiction of any single nation-state.

"The biggest change is not speed or access to information," Shirky said, "but access to each other."

"Social Networks, Social Revolution" airs from Thursday, Feb. 17 through Sunday, Feb. 20 at the following times (EST):

  • Thursday, 17th: 1:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
  • Friday, 18th: 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, 20th: 1:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

"Information Wars" will air from Thursday, Feb. 24 through Thursday, March 3 at the following times (EST):

  • Thursday, 24th: 3:30 p.m.
  • Friday, 25th: 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.
  • Sunday, 27th: 1 a.m.
  • Monday, 28th: 3 p.m.
  • Tuesday, 1st: 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.
  • Thursday, 3rd: 1 a.m.

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