The driver of tomorrow is not thinking Green...

The driver of tomorrow is not thinking Green...
He's thinking Classic. (click on photo)


Dec 5, 2014

Journalism and the Internet: Assimilation is the Key

The Internet has impacted the news media and Journalism industry. Media companies scramble to adjust to the changing demands of society, newspaper companies shut down and consolidate print media, journalists end or broaden their careers, news is being produced at an on-demand rate, often without accuracy.

The reality is clear: The Internet is not a passing phase and in order for Journalism to survive, adjustments are required to assimilate this powerful medium.

In 59 B.C., Julius Ceaser ordered that the Roman Empire publish a daily report named “Acta Diurna” (daily acts). These reports were published by carving the information into metal or stone and placed where the public had access to read them. Throughout human history, the release of information, reporting of news, education of the masses, and the freedom and restriction of speech through various mediums, has been a focus of governments and society. The Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech were important enough to the founder of the United States of America that they embedded it into our Constitution, under the First Amendment.

Journalism is defined today by Merriam-Webster as the “collection, preparation, and distribution of news through media.” Media is described as “pamphlets, newsletters, newspapers, magazines, radio, film, television, and books.” Originally the term was a reference to printed material; however, with the explosion of the Internet around the globe, the term was changed in the late 20th Century to include electronic forms of distribution. The Internet has brought with it positive and negative changes to the Journalism industry.

The speed in which an event can be reported is empowering to networks, and journalists. This electronic society has opened a door for reporting to every individual in the right place, with a camera or online access. First Amendment rights are being exercised to a degree humans have never experienced before. Freedom of the Press is not only extended to professional journalists and news media, but also to the citizens who are the readers. However, the empowering speed and immediate access are also a stumbling block. As the “need for speed” envelops the news media output, the ability for fact checking, accuracy, and ethics, can be easily ignored.

The evening of Monday, November 23, 2014, the country waited in anticipation for the State of Missouri to reveal the grand jury’s decision in whether to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown. The shooting had caused local riots when it occurred in August, 2014, as tensions between the civilians and police increased. The National Guard was sent in to the area to regulate and dissolve inflammatory behavior. On November 23, the local evening news was ready. As they awaited the news conference, NewsChannel 5, reported live on The reporter advised viewers they could “stay connected” and tweet or post information from the streets to the news channels Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The news channel had just deputized thousands of citizens as reporters and the only badge they needed in their hands was an electronic device. No fact checking, no need for accuracy, no time allowed to intercept postings from the streets. In an area surrounding a highly volatile issue which caused the declaration of a State of Emergency, news reporting adjusted to the pressure of immediate online access, with what appeared to be little consideration to consequences of a citizen’s immediate feed. Instead of a reporter facilitating the news from the scene, the news media simply shared their social media sites with viewers and asked them to report the news themselves.

The Internet is a global forum. It’s creation and lack of oversight has created a massive platform and new writing outlets. Websites defined as social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, have been so successful, humans deem it odd if an individual is not connected and sharing. If an individual has something to say, they merely need to create an online blog and publish it themselves. Higher education institutions have accommodated the global change by updating Communication and Marketing Degrees to include the growing career field related to online management.

Paul Grabowicz is the Bloomberg Journalism Chair and directs the New Media Program, at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He wrote an article titled “The Internet Is Transforming Journalism.” The first transformation he addresses is “Web-First Publishing.” He describes the change that has occurred within news media publishing and news reporting where the online presence of the media outlet has become the driving force of how the news is relayed to the public, and print media has taken a backseat, also known as “reverse publishing.” He says reverse publishing “marks a major shift from the old ‘shovelware’ approach of newspapers in the 1990s, in which stories were written first for the newspaper and then shoveled onto the web, often with few, if any, changes.”

This change has forced professionals within the journalism industry to put down their pens, turn off the typewriter, step away from the landline, swivel in their chairs and grab computers, laptops, smart phones, tablets as quickly as the electronic world produces the newest gadget, in order to be prepared to connect and report at a moments notice. Professionals, who have spent years, perhaps decades, in print media have been forced to either assimilate the new medium or retire from their career. The Pew Research Center (PRC) reported in its 2014 annual “State of the News Media” that 2013 was an explosive year for the digital world. PRC reports, “BuzzFeed, once scoffed at for content viewed as ‘click bait,’ now has a news staff of 170, including top names like Pulitzer Prize-winner Mark Schoofs,” and that “Jim Roberts, New York Times’ former assistant managing editor, moved over to Mashable, and Ezra Klein of Washington Post now works at Vox Media.” These are not companies who have created a digital department, but are all companies who are digital brands. Digital is what they do. And therefore, PRC reports that while the digital realm has created entrepreneurs and the industry is showing 5,000 full time professional jobs, and the printing industry is decreasing due to job cuts related to the change in focus for news production.

The reciprocal contact between media outlets and its readers has broadened. Media content that provides comments for reader’s feedback and another new outlet called “live blogging,” give readers a platform to respond to the news. The reader no longer has to type up a letter and mail it to the editor. Instead, with a few clicks, the reader can engage other readers and perhaps the writer, in an instant response stream or discussion forum. Paul Grabowicz says one drawback to an online comment feed is that “a few people also will post comments that are offensive or disruptive, quickly turning an intelligent discussion into an online food fight.” Live blogging is conducted by a writer, who blogs a current news story and allows readers to discuss it, while the writer continues to moderate and respond within the discussion.

Matt Wells is The Guardian’s US blogs and network editor in New York, and also created their audio department. He wrote an article titled, “Live Blogging Is Transforming Journalism,” and while he claims to have a “personal interest” in this new forum, he declares positive and negative facets exist. As already discussed above, these online forums support the rising demand for instant news. Matt writes: “Live blogs give the ability to post significant developments quickly—more quickly than editing and re-editing a news article. They also allow us to link out to other coverage, to include comments from Twitter and Facebook, to display multimedia.” It’s a quick, direct and to the point forum. The negative side stems from the lack of a timeline to the story reported, the ability of the comments to continue far beyond the original news posting and the writer’s need to moderate and reintroduce the original story content. Paul Grabowicz reports the ability for a live feed of comments to deteriorate has caused some news companies to discontinue reader participation entirely, in order to protect the company’s reputation.

Facebook, originally created to allow people, or “users,” to connect with each other online for personal reasons, has become another medium for news reporting. Amy Mitchell, Director of Journalism Research, published a report in 2013 titled “The Role of News on Facebook.” While the research does not show that users access Facebook for the purpose of obtaining news, it showed that 78% of those polled read news while on Facebook. The research also showed that of those polled who are not news readers, 47% used Facebook as their only source of news.

Enter, Citizen Journalist. In 2008, Liane Hansen of “Weekend Edition Sunday” interviewed Jacob Saboroff, original host of HuffPost Live and co-founder of YouTube Nation. The two discussed the new blogging trend and an incident with Mayhill Flower, an elderly blogger, who attended two political functions that were closed to the Press and “off-the-record.” Mayhill scooped the entire nation’s media by reporting on her blog certain comments made by then Senator Obama and President Clinton during these events. Hansen and Saboroff discuss the ethics involved with journalism that didn’t seem to pertain to citizen journalism. Professional traditional journalists’ viewpoint is that it remains unethical to not identify oneself as a journalist or representative of the press when initiating contact for an interview. However, citizen journalists do not operate under the same professional codes of conduct and can act without oversight due to the ease and immediate access of posting via the Internet. Therefore, the Internet has forced the culture to assimilate another change. Soboroff states in the interview: “I think we will see a shift where politicians and campaign workers may approach these events differently going forward.” Hansen confirms: “In other words, approach them as if everything they say is on the record.”

Soboroff portrays some hope that codes of conduct will be applied to the citizen. He says, “I wouldn't be surprised soon if we see some sort of Internet ethics petition where citizen journalists and bloggers can sign up and have a code of their own.” It has been six years since that interview and the ethics petition of citizen journalist is yet to be circulated. The Internet movement has obliterated “off-the-record” for not only politicians, but also every citizen on the planet.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of “assimilate” is to “absorb and integrate (people, ideas, or culture) into a wider society or culture.” The journalism industry has progressed to assimilate the Internet. The Earth’s population has assimilated the Internet. Or perhaps the reality is, the Internet has assimilated us. Technological change is a given in every future, and so is loss. Time brings with it change and often in order to assimilate change, old traditions must abdicate to new traditions. The written news moved over for the radio. The radio shared with the TV. The TV abdicates to the Internet. And all mediums race to keep up with the changing tide, or be retired for good. Throughout history, humans have navigated change with perseverance, good and evil seemingly found within each progression.

The answer: Resistance is futile.

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