Is Journalism Being Crippled by the Internet?

Dec 09, 11 Is Journalism Being Crippled by the Internet?

On more than one occasion, I have wondered how our species can be so self-absorbed that we seem not to notice anyone else’s needs, yet at the same time be so curious about the worldly happenings that we need to stay up to date with the latest gossip on an hourly basis. Centuries ago, people certainly didn’t go out of their way to find out what went on in that love shack two villages down – they were quite happy tending to their own affairs. What changed between then and now? When did we become so intrigued by events that have little or no direct impact on us, and why?

Perhaps it was the availability of information that spurned this interest. The invention of the printing press marked the origin of journalism and with the circularization of newspapers, there began a reason for writers to investigate, verify and report events to a wider audience. As the dissemination of information became easier, the scope of our interest grew wider as well. Since then, journalism has evolved into so much more than just a few pages in the daily tabloid. The internet has given everyone with access the platform to broadcast their writing to the world. But is it always a good thing?

At a glance, it certainly seems so. Social networking sites such as Twitter provide real-time updates,and like a Fibonacci sequence, it has the ability to spreaddata faster than any other digital or print media. It is a great tool for warning people against seismic waves, but because it bypasses the verification process of traditional journalism, Twitter also serves as a tool for propagating disinformation. It is akin to publishing a newspaper that has not been proof-read by the sub-editors or verified by the fact-checkers. Sure, the timeliness is a bonus – in fact, one journalist (Mac McClelland) went as far as live-tweeting a rape incidence involving a girl in Haiti – but should we sacrifice accuracy (and maybe even ethics) for the sake of sensationalism and novelty?

The unbundling of the newspaper into its various digital forms has caused thousands of job losses in America. Since 2001, American newsrooms have lost more than 25% of their full time staff – there is simply not enough demand for journalism graduates when everyone, regardless of their communicative and writing skills, can type away at a computer and have their voices be heard. There is no longer a barrier of entry. The line between investigative reporting and social commentary is becoming increasingly blurred. Every time a significant event occurs, bloggers all over the world start contributing towards this buildup of information. The actual source gets lost in the midst. The dominant idea is the one that is echoed most frequently, and it may not necessarily be accurate or desirable.

While it is good that people are participating in social, economic and political debates, it is equally important that we distinguish real content from spam. The quality of traditional journalism needs to be preserved and upheld, and we should not let it morph into the sphere of blogging, tweeting and commenting. The internet has given us a universal voice; unfortunately the sensible ones are often lost in translation.

Image by Doviende