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Free Journalism Essay: Technology and Journalism

| October 20, 2011 | 1 Comment

New technologies are a poisoned chalice for journalists: at once equipping them with the resources they need to compete in the 21st century but at the same time threatening their very survival and forcing newspaper insiders to contemplate what Robert Rosenthal, the former Managing Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, called: “the greatest upheaval our industry and the institution of journalism has ever faced” (Beckett 2008: p.9). This essay will address the arguments and counter-arguments prevalent in three of the central issues facing journalists as they ride the wave of technological innovation: ‘citizen journalism’, newspaper circulations and the state of employment in journalism.

According to Allan (2006) it was a speech made by media mogul Rupert Murdoch in 2005 which heralded the death of the newspaper in the irresistible current of new technology. The Times has since adopted a Paywall for its online editions of the Times and the Sunday Times and Rupert Murdoch is at the vanguard of the new technology advocates amongst the old Fleet Street press. Max Hastings, then columnist of the Sunday Times, admits grudgingly that breaking the print unions was “Rupert Murdoch’s most brilliant achievement” (2002). Will the Times Paywall and Murdoch’s online developments eclipse his achievement in breaking the print unions? Allan (2006: p.2) observes of Murdoch’s speech:

 

“In the view of some who were there, his comments signalled the moment when time was effectively called on the newspaper, at least in its familiar paper and ink format, thereby ushering in a radical rethink of its very future”.

 

New technology has enabled a very radical form of reporting to flourish: citizen journalism. User Generated Content (UGC) has shifted the balance of power between consumer and the media by enabling the public to become more intimately involved with the process of deciding the content of news. According to Bevans (2008), UGC is any news related material produced by the public via the internet. Such ‘citizen journalism’ as it has been termed first surfaced during the Indonesian tsunami and has grown rapidly ever since. Guardian blogger Neil Mcintosh saw this as a pivotal moment:

 

“… for those watching this small, comparatively insignificant world of media, this may also be remembered as a time when citizen reporting, through the force of its huge army of volunteers and their simple type and publish weblog mechanisms, finally found its voice, and delivered in a way the established media simply could not.” (Guardian Unlimited News Blog, 4 January 2005).

 

Allan (2006) goes on to use the London bombings and Hurricane Katrina as example where citizen reporting was utilised by the mainstream media. In the aftermath of the London bombing the Guardian, BBC and the Times websites’ incorporated citizen journalists into the reporting process as a complementary tactic. Allan emphasises the point made by Roy Greenslade in the Guardian that: “the detached journalistic professional is still necessary…whether to add all-important context to explain the blogs and thousands of images, or simply to edit the material so that readers and viewers can speedily absorb what has happened.”(2006: 156)

 

The Times Online Editor at the time of the London bomb attacks, Mark Sellman, points out that reports from citizens must be closely monitored and examined: there is still a crucial role to play for journalists as editors of the citizen reporters (Allan 2006). How deep does the citizen journalism revolution go?

 

The impact of citizen reporting in the UK has so far been a complement not a substitute for the mainstream media, neither empowering citizens nor usurping traditional journalists. Despite this there are now websites which have adopted a completely citizen reporter based model such as OhmyNews in South Korea which has been described in the following terms: “in the space of four years, OMN has become a prominent player, not only in Korea but also increasingly in the international sphere of internet publishing, and it has achieved this through a series of innovations to the extent that it is cited as a model for similar ventures in the West” (Kim and Hamilton 2006 p. 542).

 

OhmyNews’ pioneering of the ‘independent internet newspaper’ has revolved around an aim for every citizen to be a reporter. This admirable ideal still includes professional reporters in editorial roles. The remit is to cover that which the mainstream media, as much by omission as exclusion, does not (Galtung and Rouge 1999). In light of the concentration of ownership into the hands of corporations in the 21st century, the “tabloidisation of news” and the particular news focus of these corporations being elite-centred it is not surprising that the remit of much of citizen journalism is to look beyond what is reported in the mainstream media (Wall 2005).

 

A powerful counter-argument runs along the lines of professional standards: does citizen journalism erode the standards of reporting? Atton and Hamilton observe: “…expertise and objectivity are less important, and the diversity of the approaches of citizen reporters enables a much wider range of forms than the classic inverted pyramid of Western journalism” (2008 p.101).

 

Although it can be strongly argued that allowing untrained journalists to contribute to newspapers dilutes standards of writing, truthfulness and objectivity it is important to remember that even OhmyNews, arguably the purest citizen reporting website, retains a form of editorial control over the contributions and it is almost inconceivable that an article written by a member of the public would get into a newspaper, online or otherwise, without being checked and going through at least one of the “gates” alluded to by David Manning White (1999).

 

The fall in newspaper circulations has been nothing short of incredible according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: UK newspapers have suffered the most dramatic fall in circulation since 2007 outside of the United States: 25% from 2007 to 2009. James Robinson of the Guardian (2010) sums up the report: “The growth of the global newspaper market slowed progressively from 2004 to almost zero in 2007, the OECD said, and has shrunk since 2008 – falling by 5% in that year – despite growth in countries in the developing worlds.”

 

The report concludes that there has been a dramatic drop in newspaper circulations globally since 2007. But can this be directly attributed to new technologies? Richard Addis, a former UK newspaper editor, believes it can: “Online consumption of news is absolutely galloping ahead with a 200% growth since 2001. An interesting fact that astonished me was that as broadband adoption goes up, there is a pretty sound scientific correlation to newspaper circulation. For every 1% of broadband growth, newspaper circulation goes down 2%, which would in turn see the death of newspapers by 2090…” (Beckett: 2008 p.21).

 

Perhaps the death of newspapers by 2090 has been exaggerated. There are two powerful counter-arguments: firstly the notion that online news complements mainstream media and secondly the failure so far of the Times Paywall. The OECD report suggests that online news does not replace mainstream media but complement it. Jim Chisholm (2010) rejects any link between falling circulations and the journalism made possible by new technologies. The OECD report cites the New York Times as an example of this where 70% of its 1.1 million subscribers are also subscribers to the print edition.

 

Furthermore, the experiment of the Times Paywall, apparently the future of online news, reinforces the comments of the OECD: “”the willingness to pay for online news remains low”. If all sites are to introduce a Paywall then perhaps online news will be at a crisis point and mirror the Times’ loss of 90% of its online readership in July 2010 (Halliday 2010). Figures have now been released by News International but they are far from convincing that a new sustainable model has been discovered although it is admittedly still early days (Fenton and Bintliff 2010).

Redundancies in journalism have become a weekly occurrence and a worrying sign of the times. The Newsquest furore symbolises the stories which have come out: “The company announced nearly two weeks ago that nearly 250 journalists and production staff on the Glasgow-based Herald, Evening Times and Sunday Herald would be made redundant in 90 days and had to reapply for between 30 to 40 fewer jobs on new pay scales, terms and conditions” (Carrell December 2008). Beckett (2008 p.26) suggests that “mainstream news organizations are being undermined by the drift online”. He uses the example of Le Monde to argue that this drift has been felt on the continent as well and is not isolated to the UK. Dr.Andrew Calcutt has pointed out that some in the mainstream media have seen the introduction of citizen journalism as an opportunity to cut costs by sacking journalists (2010). Certainly new technology cuts costs and citizen journalism is a cheaper alternative: but how bad is it?

 

The OECD report suggests that the situation is not as bleak as some would make it out to be. In the 10 years from 1997 to 2007 the number of journalism jobs in the UK has actually increased by 1% from 51,756 to 52,047. This is a figure which goes against the trends globally however, and it is significant that the US suffered a 12% decline in jobs in the same period. Despite these figures the OECD reports that job losses have intensified in recent years. A potential counter-argument here is the jobs created by online journalism which could soften and distort the figures from the newspapers.

 

In conclusion the surge of ‘citizen journalism’, falls in newspaper circulation and job losses among journalists are all powerful indicators of the uptake of new technologies and the decline of the mainstream media. Although the death of newspapers is exaggerated in each of these issues, the mainstream media in Britain must adapt to the new technology or face the fate of Le Monde: “It’s like the last days of the Titanic…or…something else tense and very unpleasant with possible terrible consequences. The final hours have come…though they might last a very long time” (Beckett 2008 p.27).

 

Bibliography

(1) Allan, Stuart (2006) Online News Berkshire Open University Press

 

(2) Atton and Hamilton (2008) Alternative Journalism London SAGE

 

(3) Beckett, Charlie (2008) SuperMedia: saving journalism so it can save the world Blackwell

 

(4) Bintliff, Esther and Fenton, Ben Financial Times Online ‘Experts doubt Times paywall data’ on 2nd November 2010 and viewed on 13th December 2010 available at:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/85340078-e660-11df-95f9-00144feab49a.html

 

(5) Calcutt, Andrew ‘Objection! The Case for Professional News Reporting” viewed on 13th December 2010 and available at: http://www.proof-reading.org/objection

 

(6) Chisholm, Jim The Drum ‘No proof that online has affected newspaper circulation says chisholm’ 15 November 2010 viewed on 13th December 2010 and available at:

http://www.thedrum.co.uk/news/2010/11/15/16614-no-proof-that-online-has-affected-newspaper-circulation-says-chisholm/

 

(7) Galtung, Johan and Rouge, Mari Holmboe (1999) ‘The Structure of Foreign News’ In Tumber, Howard (ed) News: A Reader Oxford University Press pp21-31

 

 

(8)Halliday, Josh Guardian Online July 2010 ‘Times lost almost 90% of online readership’ viewed on 13th December 2010 and available at:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/jul/20/times-paywall-readership

 

(9) Hamilton, James W and Kim, Eun-Gyoo , (2006) ‘Capitulation to capital? OhmyNews as alernative media’ in Media Culture & Society Volume 28, Number 4, July 2006 pp 551-560

 

(10) Hastings, Max Editor Pan Books 2002

 

(11) Mcnair, Brian  (2003) News and Journalism in the UK Routledge

 

(12) Mcintosh, Neil Guardian Unlimited News Blog, 4 January 2005

 

(13) OECD report on “the future of news and the internet” viewed on 13 December 2010 and available at:

http://www.oecd.org/document/48/0,3343,en_2649_33703_45449136_1_1_1_1,00.html

 

(14) Robinson James Guardian Online October 26th and viewed on 13th December 2010 available at:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/oct/26/times-paywall-traffic-news-international

 

(15) Severin, Carrell Guardian Online December 2008 viewed on 13th December 2010 and available at:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/dec/17/newsquest-redundancies-illegal

 

(16) Singer, Jane (2003) ‘Who are these guys? The online challenge to the notion of journalistic professionalism’ in Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism  vol.4 no.2 May 2003 pp 139 – 159

 

(17) Wall, Melissa (2005) ‘Blogs of War: weblogs as news’ in Journalism: Theory, Practice and Communication Volume 6, Number 2, May 2005 pp 153-172

 

(18)White, David (1999) ‘The ‘Gatekeeper’: A Case Study in the Selection of News’ In Tumber, Howard (ed) News: A Reader Oxford University Press pp66-78

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Category: Essay & Dissertation Samples, Media & Journalism Essay Examples

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