19 March 2015
Evaluate the impact of the internet on the status and practice of journalism.
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to link several billion devices worldwide. It is a network of networks (1989). Internet has been used intensively for only six decades since 1957 when it was born and it’s still changing the way we communicate. This essay will mainly discuss how internet impacts journalism from the aspects of news publisher and readers/audiences. My discussion covers multiple channels including paper press, radio, television and internet itself.
It took 40 years for the internet to be developed into a public service. There was no even any proper ‘modern’ technology for journalists at the end of 1980s – no mobile phones, no computers, and no commercial internet either. Paper press, radio and television were the main mediums which uses limited space or time to tell people what happened at those days. If breaking news happened, it would take longer and cost more for news companies to spread them out. After the internet became domestically applied, there was no doubt that it brought much more convenience.
Back to the first online breaking news, which was the Oklahoma City bombing on 19th April 1995. At that day, people started to seek for information online as never before. The online media also acts quickly – within an hour the website was filled with information, images, maps and discussions. Marshall McLuhan says that “medium is the message”, and internet has becoming one of the most vital mediums to record news since then.
* IT’S LIKE A HUGE BOARD WHICH CAN BE PUT WHATEVER, AT WHENEVER AND BY WHOEVER.
First of all, internet starts new ways of storytelling: it can provide a variety of media. The internet is one of the medium through which words stories, images, audios and videos are showed simultaneously in one platform. The integration of multimedia brings more fresh and options to online news users.
Secondly, internet means unlimited space and can be used to store and connect all types of information. For instance, hypertext links create a branching structure that direct to the related information. Clicking ‘read more’ to load another relevant page, which enables people to ‘dig’ into attractive stories and topics. Hence, if traditional media (e.g. paper press/radio/television) goes online and creates its own news websites, the unlimited internet space will makes it not limited in the actual paper or time space anymore.
Thirdly, faster speed of production is the most common impact of internet for news companies. Newspapers have to wait for the next day, or even two days later if it is a late-breaking story, before being able to publish it. Throughout the development of the event, journalists are able to feed online sources the information keeping readers up-to-date in mere seconds. “Broadcast is no longer the only medium for breaking news. We don’t have to stop a press to replate… we can and did break and update and expand a story on a moments’ notice – numerous times in a single hour.” Bruce Siceoff, the editor of NandO.net, website of the News and Observer in Ralegh, South California – launched it in 1994.
Fourthly, internet creates ‘citizen journalism’. New communication technology, including accessible online publishing software and evolving mobile device technology, means that citizens have the potential to observe and report more quickly than traditional media outlets. Courtney C. Radsch defines citizen journalism “as an alternative and activist form of news gathering and reporting that functions outside mainstream media institutions, often as a response to shortcomings in the professional journalistic field, that uses similar journalistic practices but is driven by different objectives and ideals and relies on alternative sources of legitimacy than traditional or mainstream journalism.” (2013) Whoever could post on the internet indicates that all the citizen could write news report independent with mainstream media, either for breaking news or normal news.
While some traditional news outlets are reacting with fear and uncertainty, many are adopting open publishing features to their own online versions. The Guardian and other mainstream media outlets have added blogs to their sites. The BBC’s web site posts reader’s photos, and other sites solicit and use reader-contributed content. Mainstream news outlets are increasingly scanning blogs and other online sources for leads on news items, and some are hiring journalists from the blogging ranks. Journalists are blogging live from courtrooms, from Baghdad, and elsewhere, allowing them to post frequent updates in near real-time.
Fifthly, the impacts of internet for journalism also related to the online news readers. Digital journalism allows connections and discussions at levels that print can not offer – people can comment and discuss news stories. Before the internet, spontaneous discussion between readers who had never met was hardly possible. People’s active participation is a big portion of digital journalism. Internet gives all audiences an opportunity to be part of the conversation and sometimes even shape the content of news sites. In a sense, the Internet has made news media more democratic.
* DISADVANTAGES / BAD EFFECTS
All of these advantages and impacts of internet above save space, money and time either for journalism companies or readers; however, everything has two sides. There are also several disadvantages of internet. Firstly, Internet is a symbol of technology, and the technology is challenging the whole journalism – in the future, robots will write news. Here comes the robot reporters: minutes after Apple released its record-breaking quarterly earnings this week, the Associated Press published (by way of CNBC, Yahoo and others) “Apple tops Street 1Q forecasts.” It’s a story without a byline, or rather, without a human byline — a financial story written and published by an automated system well-versed in the AP Style Guide. The AP implemented the system six months ago and now publishes 3,000 such stories every quarter — and that number is poised to grow. (2015)
Secondly, internet is changing people’s news gathering habits because of its huge amount of diverse information, which forces the traditional media either join the internet or die – less and less people will spend their money for getting news on a actual newspaper, or spend their time on waiting for television/radio news show . On one hand, it saves money; on the other hand, developing new platforms is rather costly.
However, these two disadvantages for journalism above are the inevitable outcome of the development of the technology and society.
In this paragraph I am going to talk about the bad effects that internet brings to journalism which we could avoid: taking production speed as an example – the speed in which a story can be posted can affect the accuracy of the reporting in a way that doesn’t usually happen in print journalism. From this perspective, traditional media (such as paper press/radio/television) acts better than online journalism as the names and sources are actually there. Before the emergence of digital journalism the printing process took much more time, allowing for the discovery and correction of errors.
Now we are living in a digital world where information accumulates exponentially. It is cheap and quick to get news information online, but it is also easy to get wrong information – online information is not always genuine. Due to easy circulation and reprint, fake news and rumours appear more frequently online. Misleading information, which is before any professional edit by journalists, also flourish on internet.
Online news is usually harder to trace back to source or to verify the reporter who wrote the story, therefore dispelling a news rumour online is not easy. People always have the tendency to believe some objective opinions, but have less interested in facts, and even doubt the facticity of dispelling. Breaking a cup need only one second, but the repairing time is much more than that one second. In the same way, buzzing is much easier than dispelling on the internet.
* ANY SOLUTIONS?
For those bad effects of internet for journalism, are there any solutions? What shall we do as journalists? Some problems may have no solutions because they are the result of the development in technologic era. But there some have solutions. News consumers must become Web literate and use critical thinking to evaluate the credibility of sources. Because it is possible for anyone to write articles and post them on the Internet, the definition of journalism is changing. Because it is becoming increasingly simple for anyone to have an impact on the news world through tools like blogs and even comments on news stories on reputable news websites, it becomes increasingly difficult to sift through the massive amount of information coming in from the digital area of journalism.
For journalists, they should take more responsible for the truth of the information, which means carefully check the sources of news before reprinting to their own websites. Confirming accuracy is vital on journalism field. Mark Thompson, the former director-general of the BBC, said “We would rather be right than first.” when Chinese journalist Jin Chai interviewed him.
Internet news usage spikes significantly when large news stories are happening such as the Iraq War, the 9-11 attacks and the 2000 Election. In 1996 that just 4 percent of Americans had gone online for campaign news in the election, yet in the year 2000 the percentage had already increased to 20 percent. The number of Internet users has grown dramatically since then.
In 2000 United State President Campaign, George W. Bush versus Albert Gore, Jr. Many of media organizations include CNN, in order to attract people or release information in the first time, they speculated the final result, but the consequence was that they kept changing their news for three times within six hours, reprinted papers and kept correcting the reports. BBC waited until the last minute when the result officially released.
Another story, happened in 1988, an airplane exploded on the ground in Scotland, in a small town called Lockerbie, 270 people were killed. The incident was known as Lockerbie bombings. After the airline is crashed, everyone thought that was a vital news, many journalists pressed it in a hurry, but BBC decided to wait for 30 more minutes when they got the news. Mark said: “I thought it was wrong to go on air and saying an airline is crashed without saying which airline, because the panic you caused people, means if you got a family member on any airline, anywhere, you might be afraid they were in this tragedy. So that’s the example, is accepted that we will going to break the news a few minutes after our rivals, but we will do it be absolutely certain what happened, which airline was involved.”
Those two historical examples above show one of the vital principles: We would rather be right than first. “Speed is very important, but we should put speed second to be right.” Said by Thompson.
In conclusion, internet is changing the way we communicate to the world significantly. It provides unlimited space, integration of multimedia, new ways of storytelling, more immediacy and more citizen involvement – which traditional media hardly or could not provide us. There are also some bad effects such as easily get untrue news online etc. Internet could effects journalism but cannot change the basic principles of journalism: accuracy. Learning to use the advantages and avoid the disadvantages is another step for a further civilization.
(Total words: 2256)
・RFC 1122, Requirements for Internet Hosts — Communication Layers, 1.1.2 Architectural Assumptions, 1989
・The Internet’s Impact on News Media
(Centre for Communication & Civic Engagement: https://depts.washington.edu/ccce/digitalMedia/newsimpact.html)
・Radsch, Courtney C. The Revolutions will be Blogged: Cyberactivism and the 4th Estate in Egypt. Doctoral Dissertation, American University, 2013
・AP’s ‘robot journalists’ are writing their own stories now (published on 05.03.2015)
・Jin Chai (2012) The Contemplation of UK. (Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H13yzAh2yco)