Or About the Disconnect Between Professional Journalism and Communities
The increasing preference for readers to get their news through the Internet rather than through newsprint has been cited as the key factor behind declining newspaper circulation figures and broadcast news audience numbers in Western democracies. However, this view emphasises an external threat to the survival of professional journalism and downplays the possibility that it is professional journalism that has grown irrelevant to the communities that it developed to serve in the first place.
In many ways, journalism has suffered because of its practitioners’ claims to professionalism and authority. As early as 1998, journalism professor Julianne Schultz recognized that in asserting the media’s independence and authority as a source of information using the notions of objectivity and professionalism, the media has alienated the public.
To put it in more down-to-earth terms, journalism academics Angelo Romano and Cratis Hippocrates argue that most news has “little direct relevance or use” to the average person. The news media often simply reports a claim and counter-claim in the name of objectivity and balanced reporting, making it difficult for the average person to make sense of the conflicting messages. While this style of reporting is suitable for one-off events, such as a natural disaster or a community charity event, it often leaves the average person frustrated and confused when significant social, economic or political issues are covered without the extensive background knowledge and context required to understand them.
It is no surprise then that people are starting to turn to the Internet, where professional “objectivity” is not so much of an issue, for their news fix. Those that write in blogs, forums and other forms of self-published media often inject their personal opinion into news copy and link to extensive resources and background material, helping the average person to interpret and make sense of messages put out by news makers and various interest groups.
To stem this problem, it might be instructive to observe the Asian experience with journalism. Known as development journalism, this form of journalism seeks to give the voice back to the community by ensuring that everyone in the community, not just the social, economic or political majority, gets a fair chance to share their information and opinions with the broader community. Development journalism seeks to position media organisation as a platform through which public debate and participation can be accelerated, rather than a platform which merely seeks to record public conversation.
Development journalism could well explain why newspaper circulations in Asian markets show no sign of decline, as well as provide a more in-depth explanation that goes to the roots of why readers are abandoning traditional news media in favour of Internet-based media.