The perception of the original saying ‘Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one’, has certainly changed now. The advent of technology and the Internet continues to reshape almost all corners of our world, and no institution has been more profoundly altered than the practice of journalism and distribution of information.
One cannot underestimate the impact the Internet and digital communication has today, as compared to 20 or even 15 years ago. In a short span of time news became little less of an industry, and a little more of a breathing organism – less controlled and more vulnerable. Journalism has not perished or grown old, or merely survived in this time, but changed tremendously.
The Internet proves to be a revolutionary technology through its effect on news reporting: news editors – and in some cases the governments that they observe – are no longer the gatekeepers to information because costs of distribution have almost completely disappeared. If knowledge is power, then the web is the greatest tool in world history. The Internet has instigated a rapidly-changing media landscape, whereby news can now be disseminated at a much faster rate and reach a far broader audience than ever before.
Julian Assange, founder editor of WikiLeaks had stated, “What can achieve large reform is information and information can spread, and it is our aim to change the world by using the power of information and knowledge by sharing both of those with the public.” That is why today, we can safely say that everyone is a journalist and the lines between professional and everyday journalists have blurred – and why not? We are currently in a Golden Age of journalism – it was revolutionized by the Internet, but is now largely driven by mobile devices and these are turning us all into reporters. Dozens of websites encourage ordinary people to be citizen journalists by reporting airplane crashes, earthquakes, floods, or crimes they have been witness to etc. Often called “user generated news”, it is the result of the mobile phone revolution, wherein one can take a photo, add a caption or story, and send it to a news source in minutes – which is faster than a news corporation getting a reporter to the spot.
Being largely a cell phone-driven phenomena; everyday people can record and broadcast information widely, and in narrow channels. This is also making an unprecedented amount of data collection possible, besides turning new experiments in publishing, possible and profitable. Internet and digital communication has also changed the media landscape in India. The pontificating tone of the government is regularly put under the scanner on the web, and access to YouTube and television programmes online means one need not listen to tanpura and sarangi vadan on Doordarshan all the time – as was the norm in the 70s and 80s.
Alan Rusbridger, editor of UK’s The Guardian, said recently that a news item or feature on the web can be torn to pieces by knowledgeable readers – more adept in the written topic than the author – writing in the comments section. He says that journalists and editors today must be careful not to underestimate the intelligence of the reading public. Easy Internet access and everyone carrying mobile devices have made it possible to refute claims of a story within minutes across the world, which was not possible before.
One must bear in mind also that modern communication technology has lessened the gap between the so-called developed and the so-called developing world. It is much harder in today’s world to perpetuate traditional stereotypes about communities or even nation states – especially those well connected to the net. This has made the world of journalism even in the developing world much stronger, and people in these countries are connected to the web and offer different perspectives, thereby expanding horizons of the journalism world.
However, despite hopes of empowerment this kind of journalism has brought, much criticism and challenges must be overcome. Credibility and authority are major issues, and credibility in this regard is very relevant because it inevitably signals a decrease in editorial control of online news – particularly that generated by citizen journalists. Citizen journalism, when done correctly, can be very powerful because of its speed and the ability of the fledgling industry to be anywhere at any time. What is emerging, however, is that citizen journalist forget that framing of information affects how consumers of news interpret that information. A high number of cases of frivolous news have caused citizen journalism to be seen more as a hobby than a profession, or not meeting professional standards of transparency.
Undoubtedly, the new practices of journalism have broadened the scope of journalism itself and brought about a shift in communication practices from the top-down, one-to-many, and closed communications practices. While many claim journalism is dying, Internet and mobiles have opened doors that never existed. The winds of change certainly sweep through the profession, and the rise of social media does not completely symbolize the death of traditional journalism.
The culture of journalism may have changed and journalism has now become something you do, not something you are. Anyone can do it and that has repercussions for all forms of media. However, we can still safely say that journalism has a future. It is just not on your doorstep, or even on your desktop anymore, but in your hands and pockets.