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Introduction:
This essay was written by me for a class assignment for a subject called "Media Institutions"

How technological changes in mass media industries have changed and are likely to change journalistic output.

This essay will explore how technology has changed the way journalists work on a day-to-day basis. It will briefly inspect which main technological advances have been made the past fifteen years, before investigating what these changes have meant to the traditional media. In particular, this essay concentrates on the effects of Internet publishing on the journalism profession. In conclusion, the essay examines the new challenges that the Internet has imposed on journalists.

New Technology

Technology and Journalism have always gone hand in hand. From Johann Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in the 15th century, via an abundance of technological advances in the fields of communication, printing, database and computing technology, before finally arriving where journalism is today.

The last decade has brought some important new technologies for journalists. In 1991, the first usable portable computers were developed. Around the same time, "mobile" phones started to make their entry. In 1994, the internet became commercially available. Within two years, "everybody" had heard about the internet, and after another two years the number of available web sites had nine-doubled to more than 20 million different sites. From being a tool for the American military and educational institutions, the Internet has become a commodity service, freely available to anybody who wants to use it.

Journalists, by nature of their professions, are dependent on communication. Mobile telephony and electronic mail were welcome additions to the array of possibilities. The Internet as a whole, however, presented a whole new range of challenges for journalists.

Before the Internet, most communication has been largely unidirectional. Journalists gather information and bring it back to the news desk. Here it is edited, and returned to the audience. However, "audience members are rarely able to use the media to send their own messages. Audience feedback is infrequent, indirect, and delayed"

The internet changed all this: "What distinguishes the Internet from other media is its ability to provide feedback quickly and easily from receivers to senders. The Internet has introduced mass interaction to mass media."

Changes for traditional media

Because of the massive and extraordinary development the internet has experienced, many media institutions were relatively late making plans for the Internet future. One Norwegian newspaper, for example, tried to arrange audio and video broadcasts over the Internet. The project failed miserably, and cost a significant amount of money

Most newspapers seem to have chosen one of two approaches to the Internet. The first - and most common - approach is to have selected articles from the newspaper on the internet. The second approach is the same, but with more focus on adding content exclusive to the web pages. This allows the internet pages to have more news aimed at narrow audiences. The latter approach also offers a better integration with news and user interaction

Even though "Interactivity does not come automatically with two-way technology", people's attitude towards the media seems to have changed. As such, the profession of a journalist has changed. The main challenge is that people's needs have changed. A large part of the audience does not settle for the information given by the journalist anymore - Information must include hyperlinks to related news stories, allowing the readers to continue research on their own.

Everyone can be a journalist - for better or worse.

The internet has changed more than just how the established media profile themselves. Because the Internet is largely uncontrolled, anybody can say anything s/he pleases. This has led to many news pages being set up by "The Common Man"

The story of Matt Drudge "breaking" the story of the Clinton/Lewinsky affair focused the world's attention on not only Drudge but also the journalism disseminated via the Internet

Matt Drudge and his Drudge report have had a substantial impact on the international news world. According to himself, The Drudge report gets roughly three and a half million readers every day. The fact that so many people read his work proves that something has been missing from the media world; The raw, unfiltered news

Drudge has made many enemies during his years of success, many seem to believe that it is a bad idea to allow "anyone" to be a journalist on line. In particular, the problem of disintermediation is prominent. There is a motion towards "migrating to more rushed and unfiltered news coverage"

Drudge, on the other hand, believe that this is exactly what the people need: "We get to see the kinds of cuts that are made for all kinds of reasons; endless layers of editors with endless agendas changing bits and pieces, so by the time the newspaper hits your welcome mat, it had no meaning"

Shapiro (1999) writes about his dislike about what happens when non-journalists voice their opinions; "On television, we see a rise in live "spot" news coverage and talk programs where nonreporter "experts" speculate about events as they unfold". However, Shapiro fails to take into account that this has been common practice for a long time: "To remain detached from the observed and from the readers, journalists routinely rely on experts, who also tend to objectify the public. Every side of an issue has its own experts, and every side tends to overstate its point of view so that public issues often are presented in the media as polarized battles."

The educated Journalist - An endangered species?

The question has been raised whether if the new, Internet based web sites are filled with journalists that are "younger, more concerned with technology than good journalism, and less ethical than their traditional media counterparts?"

Journalism is not a licensed profession. Strictly, one could argue that Journalism is not a profession at all, certainly when compared to other occupational groups such as physicians, nurses, engineers and solicitors. These groups of professionals cannot practice their profession without a license. If they violate the rules and regulations of their profession, they may have their license suspended. With their license, they also lose the right to practice their profession. In other words: "The definition of a profession includes the ability to regulate who practices the profession, and journalism has no such ability"

Most western countries have a constitution with articles protecting freedom of speech. Although there has been a lot of discussion about the fact that you do not need to have a license to practice journalism, issuing such licenses would be practically impossible. Especially, in the USA this has been an issue. However, introducing licensing on journalism practice would be an infringement on the constitution ("Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press"

Although the UK lacks laws defending freedom of expression, the UK has officially agreed to the Human Rights declaration, which states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression through any media" (article 19). This effectively makes it impossible for the UK to introduce licensing on journalism practice.

Besides from it being strictly impossible imposing licensing on journalism, one could try and consider what makes a good journalist. In other words: Do you need a journalism degree to be a good journalist? The answer is simple: "One of my tutors at the university told his students that the engineering degree in itself had no value. It merely proved that you might be able to think as an engineer and understood the minimum required basics"

Matt Drudge is one of the people who has understood this: "I don't maintain that I am licensed or have credentials. I created my own" (Drudge 1998) By virtue of the number of readers Drudge gets for his pages every day, he gains his credentials.

Conclusion

Technology, in particular the internet, has drastically changed the way journalists do their job. The revolution has not yet stopped, and the next few years will unquestionably bring quite some interesting changes. The main difference is that the means of publishing has shifted from exclusively allowing journalists to speak, to allowing anybody to speak. A journalism education, then, must mean more than getting a degree. A qualitative and creative approach to journalism is free for everybody. The challenge for journalism students lies in getting the upper hand when it comes to professional and technical skills.

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sources include

Aucoin, J (1993) Professionals or Practitioners? The MacIntyrean Social Practice Paradigm and the Study of Journalism Development. Ph.D Thesis, University of Missouri

Brill, A (1999) New Media, Old Values: What Online Journalists say is Important to Them. Mount Pleasant, Mich: Central Michigan University

Drudge, M (1998). Anyone With A Modem Can Report On The World. June 2, 1998: Speech held by Matt Drudge for the US National Press Club.

Habermas, J. (1991). Structural transformation of the public sphere. Cambridge: MIT press

Morris, Dr. John L (2001) Newspapers in the age of the Internet: Adding interactivity to objectivity . Alamosa, CO: Adams State College

Østlyngen, T & Øvrebø, T (2000) Journalistikk. Oslo: Gyldendal Akademisk

Papacharissi, Z (1999) The virtual sphere:The Internet as public Sphere Austin, Texas: University of Texas

Shapiro, A.L. (1999) The Control Revolution: How the internet is putting individuals in charge and changing the world we know.

UN (1948) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (Online) http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html. Accessed on 13 October 2001

Weaver, D.H. & Wilhoit, G.C. (1996). The American journalist in the 1990s: U.S. news people at the end of an era. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Zakon, Robert H (2001) Hobbes' Internet Timeline. http://www.zakon.org/robert/internet/timeline/ Accessed November 25th, 2001

 

 


SharQ makes some excellent points, but here's some ideas from a different perspective.

Technology has broadly done three things in the field of publishing.

  • Reduced the delay between an event occurring, and the dissemination of a report of that event
  • Allowed dissemination to more people
  • Reduced the cost of that process

From the very earliest days of publishing, when artists drew on cave walls, to the latest web-based systems, the objective, whether explicit or not, of each new technical innovation has been faster, cheaper and more widely spread. As each technology has been introduced, it has affected one or more of these aspects.

Drawings on cave walls evolved into pictograms on paper. Pictograms evolved into words. Handwritten pages changed into woodcuts. Woodcuts evolved into movable type. Manual presses changed to shuttle presses, and then power was added and mechanisms and we invented offset litho systems. Word processors made it easier to change the text, and then Quark and the Mac allowed more freedom with fonts and images and typesetting. Nowadays we make PDFs and send them to the printer who creates plates directly from the PDF file, before running off a couple of hundred thousand copies, and trimming and binding and distributing.

Or we don't bother with PDFs at all, and go straight for a web page.

Either way, the interval between an event occurring and readers seeing some kind of report on the event, has now shrunk to seconds and minutes, rather than hours and days, or years.

I want to examine this from three perspectives: that of the reader, the journalist and the publisher, before looking at some of the implications for the media, and the consumers of news and information

The journalist's perspective

As a working journalist, I make no distinction between those who have received formal training in journalism, and those who just get on and do it. The difference for me is those who have an audience who trust them or their writings, and those who do not. I'll deal with this later.

For the journalist, the immediacy offered by modern technology carries tremendous thrills and tremendous risks. There is nothing more satisfying for the journalist than to be first with a good story. You find a story, research it, write your piece, get it out. If you are good enough, and fast enough and lucky enough, then the web allows you to beat Reuters, CNN and the BBC combined. Quite apart from the potential for career advancement, there is nothing quite like the job satisfaction and ego-boost of knowing you are the first in the world on a story.

Of course there is no point beating CNN to the cut if you get your facts wrong, or miss the most important aspect of the story. For the journalist, then, the risk of getting something wrong has to be balanced against the thrill and kudos that comes from being first. Established news publishers are very concerned about this issue.

The pace of modern news reporting means the traditional distinction between the hard news reporter and the more reflective feature writer is moving. As the process speeds up, the hard news team is much more concerned about simply getting the stories out as quickly as possible—ideally within minutes—and they only have time to cover the straightforward details such as what, where, when, leaving out the more analytical questions like how and why. Even for the feature team, the process is speeding, up, with readers wanting instant analysis of all the issues, and that allows very little time to get alternative opinions, and tease out the intricacies and subtleties of the story.

Thus, the 'features' team is now working on deadlines of a few hours or maybe a day. These are the timescales that the news reporters were working on just five or ten years ago. The critical aspect of this is that, in their efforts to be first with the news, journalists are adding less and less value to the stories they put out. It has become easier and easier for an intelligent and web-savvy reader to do more than the journalist can. If that reader starts with a good knowledge base, then it is very likely that she can go to the web and within a very few minutes, she can discover more and make more use of it, than most reporters. Hence the rise of unfiltered websites like the Drudge Report. These can highlight the rumours, leaving those who know, or are interested to do their own fact-checking and deeper research

The publisher's perspective

The publisher's job is to make money from his publication. Beyond that, it is also the publisher's responsibility to deal with issues of copyright, damages, libel, and all the rest of the legal issues. Most publications in the past have made their money from advertising. Typically the cover price generates well under half the total revenues of any publication. The theory is that you make a good publication through good editorial. This attracts readers, and a good readership attract advertising. Historically, this has been an excellent business model.

While traditional publishers understand how to build audiences, sell advertising, and present material, they are used to an environment where the cost of entry is relatively high, and it takes time to build the credibility and reputation of a title and its journalists.

The view in the publishing business is that publishers have to promote their brands as reliable sources of information in an environment of factoids and quasi-news. Whether we deliver our products on paper, on a website or through a daily news e-mail, we have to preserve that credibility so that our readers come first to us when they want to find out what is going on.

The assumptions behind this are that there are limited sources of information out there,and that people will tend to rely on a limited number of known and trusted information providers.

The reader's perspective

First thing, readers are individuals and have individual needs Second There are many sources of news and information out there, and people are getting increasingly smart about finding them and assessing their worth. Third, people are taking information from multiple sources, and combining that information to reach their own conclusions on issues which matter to them

The multiplicity of sites allows people to look at conflicting views. The 'official' journalist is in a slightly privileged position in that she can gain access to corporate empires and political corridors, but increasingly companies and politicians are making their general statements available on the web. They are starting to give interviews only to limited numbers of trusted or otherwise favoured specialists who are capable of going beyond the basic generalised statements. As publishers have understood the web better, they have chosen to hide these added-value reports behind paid-for screens, rather than giving them away for free, as was common in the early days of publishers' experiments with the web.

As the mass media speeds up its news gathering, they are adding less value to the stories they cover. As the people who generate news—-politicians and corporations—have seen the benefits, they have made their statements, press conferences and financial presentations available to all-comers on the web.

Large publishers are still anchored in the old economy business model, they have refused to believe that small websites can deliver something worthwhile to a large number of people at low cost.

So in summary, the impact of new technology on journalism is to turn all of us into journalists at one level or another. The availability of information on the web makes it easier for individuals to build stories to suit their own agenda and needs. Instead of relying on journalists who might have a political agenda, or fail to check facts or fail to understand the intricacies of a subject, readers are now able to do their own research, identifying the key aspects of a story and distilling the essence of it,

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