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New Media, Part I: Redefining journalism

By Vineet Kaul

New Media, Part I: Redefining journalism

New media are maturing, and it is increasingly evident that they wield great influence on traditional journalism as we find it in newspapers, radio and TV news programmes. The notion of journalistic professionalization has been mainly analyzed by emphasizing the role of media ownership, the high level of media-political integration, the quality of journalistic culture as well as its historical development. Journalism is undergoing its most fundamental transformation thanks to ubiquitous news, global information access, instantaneous reporting, interactivity, multimedia content, and extreme customization. But the changes confronting journalism are perhaps too frequently understood and framed as a “crisis.” However, if we do a quick Google search we will find that “new media journalism” is an operative buzzword being used by J-schools and media pundits alike. Most definitions of new media journalism underscore the fact that unidimensional journalism (reporter writes story) is insufficient in the digital age.  New media journalism aspires to produce multidimensional journalism, or put it more literally, multimedia journalism. (It’s a tragedy of semantics that the word “multimedia” has become a somewhat dated term for cheesy graphics and limited interactivity circa 1997). And multimedia journalism in turn, is what is enabled and expected in the increasingly digitally mediated world we live in.

 

What is New Media

 The dynamic and fluid nature of new media and its many undefinable parts has kept authorities hopping since its inception. There are a range of explanations and hypothesis, but there is a lack of one specific definition.  New media can be defined by its technology (interactivity, digitalization, convergence); services (delivery of information, entertainment, political participation, education, commerce); and textual forms (genre hybridity, hypertextuality, multimedia) [1]. There is great uncertainty regarding the changing media environment.  Many argue new media will supplement rather than replace old media.  As the diversity of media increases audiences become more fragmented.  Audiences are less predictable.  As the information and communication technology advances new forms of media content will arise. The Web has put traditional journalism into a tailspin, and newspapers of all sizes are scrambling to find a way to monetize their content.  Globalization has been fueled by the technology.  The sudden changes brought about by the Internet and new media has left many old media organizations behind.  They did not see the power of emerging new media and were slow to respond. Will old media respond by producing more locally driven content or present a more global identity? 

Looking at the results of the transformation process, critics point out that public service broadcasting is in crisis, political pressure on the media persists, journalism performance is often weak, ownership concentration is increasing, media pluralism is at risk, minority access to the media remains scarce, nationalist and hate speech is spreading, technological change in communications is slow, and commercialization and tabloidization dominate the media landscape. Yet others maintain that media change has been a global success; we see dramatic changes in ways people communicate with each other. Traditional boundaries and cultural mores are tested as new media augment the information landscape and challenge prevailing orthodoxies. Old institutions are threatened as broadcast entities and newspapers lose some primacy. Questions abound about a Twitter generation, a Facebook society, and a world in which mobile telephony becomes a more and more significant platform for the diffusion of news. Are these concerns overblown? What are some of the implications for existing entities, for governments, for civil society, for media development agencies and funders? The influence of new forms of communication may be pervasive, the opportunities legion. But is the business of journalism up to the challenge?

Apart from the role that is being played by traditional media, new media is now leading this new era of globalization and knowledge. It has often been stated that the traditional function of journalism will erode with the advance of new information technologies. Direct news supply by satellite television and computer networks, the explosion of information and the increasing communication autonomy of citizens, less public service and more commercial exploitation of media, textual blogs, photoblogs, videoblogs, wikis, podcasts, and moblogs all suggest critical journalism is becoming redundant. So far journalism has experienced several transformation periods: Every new medium brought new challenges for journalism practice. To understand the impact of “new” technologies on journalism, practice in new technologies must be seen as continuous with and embedded in existing social, cultural, political, and economic networks in which journalism practice is entrenched. It has been said that journalism is turning from a lecture into a conversation [2], and in many way this is extremely desirable. Taken from one perspective it allows us to move away from the propaganda model of media espoused by Herman and Chomsky to a potentially disinterested, unbiased form of engaged reportage by multiple sources [3]. Equally, it is the very strengths of the influence of new media on journalism that could and have been used in a disingenuous manner to allow confusion and a lack of consensus on what should be more widely accepted.

The influence of the Internet has drastically changed the media landscape, often to the detriment of print newspapers. Is new media edging out accountability and standards with ill-informed opinion and user-generated rants? Or is it the evolution of journalism, breaking down barriers, which previously restricted the flow of information and narrowed the range of debate?

 

New Role of Journalists

The introduction of new media has challenged the traditional form of journalism as global emphasis shifts to online, real-time reportage of events. Today, news is delivered in a unique manner, combining audio and visual in such a way that its impact can never be over-emphasized. New media has silently, but steadily, become a force to be reckoned with in today’s world. Saving journalism will not in itself save the world. That should be left to people and politicians. But a healthier local and global news media is a necessary precondition for international development and security. The media realm is ever-changing and journalism has to adapt. Professionals in journalism, public relations, advertising, broadcasting, and mass communications have to confront with a new and still evolving media landscape. Today the environments in which journalists work—across various media platforms of print, radio, television, and online—have begun to rapidly change in response to innovations in technology, increasingly competitive and fragmenting markets for readers and audiences, government media policy, and changing audience requirements for news and the ways in which it is presented and delivered. The high-tech revolution has significantly altered the way the public obtains its news and information, and has deprived mass media of its traditional monopoly.

The media and the practice of journalism, however, have been slow to adjust to the Internet and the global ramifications produced by the new information technology. While major media companies have become multinational operators, their news product still remains substantially unchanged. Journalists throughout the world still separate “domestic” from “foreign,” while their audiences casually chat between continents. Such are the key lamentations on the fate of journalism today.

The demise of the existing business model of the local and regional press and of broadcast news together with the struggle for survival of many national newspapers demands critical consideration. Many scholars blame technological convergence as the main culprit and lament the dismantling of demarcations between journalists and technicians and between print, radio, and television journalism. They argue the ongoing conversion of technologies undermines the basic skills and standards of journalism and foster so-called “multiskilling” in newsrooms, which may be result of economic pressures that can lead to cut backs on resources while increasing workloads. Even though, the impact of new technologies in the news industry is varied, two general conclusions can be drawn: The process increases demand for and pressures on journalists, who have to retool and diversify their skill set to produce more work in the same amount of time under ongoing deadline pressures for one or more media. A second conclusion is technology is not a neutral agent in the way news organizations and individuals do their work; hardware and software tend to amplify existing ways of doing things, are used to supplement rather than radically change whatever people were already doing, and take a long time to sediment into the working culture. The contemporary drive toward some kind of convergence across two or more media thus tends to offer little in terms of radically different forms of journalism or ways in which to gather, select, or report the news.

The technology once handled by specialists and consultants is becoming part of all media professionals’ jobs. Magazines, television programs, and newspapers are publishing on the Internet in an attempt to "cross benefit" by having two media products [4]. Media professionals must also understand some practical theory of new media technology. As an example print and broadcast journalism are evolving, as story length becomes less of an issue due to the incorporation of hyperlinking [5].  Media professionals of today and the future will need to be able to work in and produce multiple media. Those who work only in one medium, such as print, will be too highly specialized. Likewise, advertising and public relations firms that cater solely to Internet business also stand to suffer from being too highly specialized. In either case, there is no "jackpot" in media specialization. Instead, the roles played by media professionals continue to evolve to include new characteristics that operate in a new landscape. However, most media professionals can expect their job duties to rely more and more heavily on experience in and knowledge of practical uses of technology (technical literacy) in producing both traditional and new media.

Now that the playing field is level in the online world of journalism, journalists may spend hours wading through vast amount of information to find the relevant material.  Suddenly the skill of filtering information in a crowded domain takes on added importance.  As information transfers quickly on the Internet it can be very easy for disinformation to be spread.  Breaking news stories are now produced online.  If information is incorrect there are not enough checks and balances to stop the flow of this misinformed news.  It is a large competitive space and being first with the story may override publications standards of accuracy.   

Overall, journalists tend to embrace new technology as long as they perceive it to enhance their status, prestige, and the way they did their work before. Resistance to a wholehearted embrace of innovative communication technologies as an instrument to foster community-generated content or connectivity tends to be grounded in reluctance by management to lead towards adoption, lack of resources to invest in new technology, lack of training, little or no access to the new technology. The success or failure of journalists to deal with the new role of new technologies in their work must therefore also be set against the history of their professional identity, the changes in the institutional structure of the industry and the fragmentation and even disappearance of their audiences.

 

How the Web Brings Us Together

New media technology introduced two major differences in media access. Time and geographic distance are insignificant with satellite and computer networks. The same hardware offers limitless channels of distribution that come without centralized control. These technological changes initiate new culture. McLuhan described this as the "global village" in which electronic communication would break down the barriers and obstacles encountered in traditional media by allowing people to see, experience, and understand more [6]. Similar to McLuhan, Bolter and Grusin explain we define ourselves through our media. In traditional media, the audience understands the content from the producer’s point of view. Interactivity allows the user to have controls over how and what content is viewed. Note how even the role of the audience has changed as reflected by the term "user." This operational freedom is significant to our culture because it corresponds, "to various attitudes about the role and value of the individual" [7]. While media do not determine cultural or individual identity, technology influences how we see ourselves and how we perceive the world we live in.

With the introduction of new media technology, the Internet is seen as the most dynamic mass media in this century. Its interactive nature has attracted people from all walks of life. Unlike its predecessors, TV and radio, the Internet is also a storehouse of knowledge providing access to huge pile of information. It is the most recent communication tool of the world where a user can transcend borders and have access to the encyclopedias, newspapers, bulletin boards, video arcades, hypermalls, broadcast stations, the movies, grapevine, travel agency, and mail order—all at one stop [8]. The Internet brings with it new ways of collecting and reporting information heralding a “new journalism” that is open to novices, lacks editorial control, can stem from anywhere (not just the newsroom), involves new writing techniques, functions in a network with fragmented audiences, is delivered at great speed, and is open and deliberative—a democratic model for our times.

With new media, journalism is no longer a sermon but rather interactive: The audience is now part and parcel of the information gathering and dissemination. Inasmuch as journalism is involved, new media complements other media in regard to influencing the shape and space of press freedom. At the same time, the freedom of new media—like other media—is dynamically related to the overall societal context as regards press freedom dispensations. Old and new media realms do have different issues, and there are particular matters for developing countries. But there is also much in common between old and new media, and between developing and developed countries, and all have interdependent interests in a free environment for journalism.

We are witnessing a media metamorphosis like never before. Not only has the digital age made information dissemination faster and more efficient, it has fundamentally altered the direction of this information flow. We must ask tough questions: Have new communications technologies revitalised the public sphere, or become the commercial tool for an increasingly un-public, undemocratic news media? Are changing journalistic practices damaging the nature of news, or are new media allowing journalists to do more journalism and to engage the public more effectively?

With massive changes in the media environment and its technologies, interrogating the future of  journalism is one of the most urgent tasks we face in defining the public interest today. The implications are serious, not just for the future of the news, but also for the practice of democracy. In a thorough empirical investigation of journalistic practices in different news contexts, new media and journalism explore how technological, economic, and social changes have reconfigured journalism, and what the consequences of these transformations for a vibrant democracy have in our digital age. The result is a piercing examination of why understanding  journalism matters now more than ever. In part II, we will discuss the influence of social media.

 

References

 [1] Livingstone, S. Young People and New Media: Childhood and the Changing Media Environment. London: Sage Publications, 2002.

[2] Gillmor, D. Moving toward participatory journalism. Nieman Reports 57, 3 (2003): 79-80. Available from http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reports/03- 3NRfall/V57N3.pdf

[3] Herman, E. S., and Chomsky, N. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon Books, 1988.

[4] Beam, C. The Character of Content Online: You need to understand why you’re going online and then make it a real business. Folio: the Magazine of Magazine Management 25 (1997). Retrieved from Infotrac on 3/7/2012.

[5] Isaacs, S. D. The Golden Age Maybe? Columbia Journalism Review, 33 (Nov./Dec 1994). Retrieved from Infotrac on 3/7/2012.

[6] Fidler, R. F. Mediamorphosis: Understanding new media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press, 1997.

[7] Bolter, J. D. and Grusin, R. Remediation. United States: Graphic Composition, Inc., 1999.

[8] Hashim, R., and Becker, G. 2001. Internet in Malaysia. Bangi, Malaysia: Department of Communication, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 2001.

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