Week 6: Online – A “new” journalism, content and the rule of the search engine

The emergence of the Internet has been a boon for news audiences. They can now view text, images, audio recordings and videos across a variety of devices and at their own convenience and time; no longer do news audiences need a physical newspaper in their hands or have their attention glued to the television, nor do they need to wait for the twelve o’clock news bulletin to find out what’s happening in the world around them. Audiences can now even opt to personalise their news, receiving only news items that interest them via selective syndication technologies such as RSS.

With all those attributes, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Internet competes heavily with traditional print and broadcast journalism and, indeed, has become the biggest threat to their survival in the modern age.

Journalists, news publishers and executives of news media organisations, too, are not blind to the threat that the Internet poses. For almost two decades now, they have been asking themselves: Should journalists simply adopt the Internet as a new news-gathering and publishing tool, or should the journalism profession adapt to the rapidly-changing post-Internet world of communications? At the core of that debate is a battle between two opposing theories of sociology: social constructivism, whose proponents believe that technology is created to meet the needs of society, and technological determinism, whose adherents believe that technology is a unstoppable force that causes social and cultural change.

Although the contradiction between the two approaches to technology’s impact on communication seem to be an intractable one, Lucas Graves has proposed a middle ground that links the two together. In his 2007 paper on The Affordance of Blogging: A Case Study in Culture and Technological Effects, Graves points out that technological determinism and social constructivism can often both be simultaneously applied to technology and society. Grave shows that although new technology can cause social change, it is society that at the same time brings out the full potential of said technology. In essence, advances in society and culture – and implicitly in communication and journalism – is driven by both technology and society.

In practice, this means at the same time that journalists adopt and embrace the Internet as a method for news-gathering and a new publishing tool, the practice of journalism must also adapt to a world whose communication practices have been changed by the Internet. While the former has seen rapid adoption, with news media organisations now publishing news online in text, audio and video and their journalists gathering news through blogs, forums and social networking sites, the news publishing industry has been slow to adapt the changes brought about by the Internet. This is why many newspapers and news broadcast networks are now struggling to retain their audiences (for a more in-depth discussion, view week 4’s blog post).

Even if technology changes journalism, however, the essence of journalism still remains the same. It is telling that in Multimedia Newsgathering (chapter six of Journalism Theory in Practice), the authors still heavily emphasise on traditional journalistic skills such as face-to-face interview techniques, painstaking research and meticulous fact-checking. As long as journalists and news media organisations are flexible enough to both adopt and adapt the Internet – or any other new technology that comes along – to their current practices and business processes, they will find that they will be in a position to prosper far into the foreseeable future.

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