Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Metamorphosis of Journalism

Earlier this year, the Toronto STAR ran an article by Catherine Wallace, winner of the 2016-2017 Atkinson Fellowship (a journalism award), about the whirlwind changes currently happening in the field of journalism:

Journalists Are Vanishing

The traditional media outlets, especially newspapers, are no longer the only source of news. For many people, they aren't the primary source, and some don't read old-fashioned newspapers at all (a practice that seems incredible to me—give up my morning papers? never!). The traditional media used to be the "gatekeepers" of information, as Wallace puts it. Now we get news and opinions from many different sources in addition to printed papers, not only broadcast programs (TV and radio) but a variety of Internet formats such as blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and videos filmed by ordinary citizens. In Wallace's words, "My smartphone is a 24-hour news feed — a newspaper, magazine, computer, radio, TV and town square in a single mobile device." The Internet has blurred if not abolished the distinction between content providers and audience. Journalism is "no longer an industry, now an ecosystem." What have we lost or gained with the passing of the former status quo?

The Internet makes it possible for anyone to publish anything. Wallace applauds the "democratization of news and information." We can all express our opinions publicly. The news "ecosystem" has become diverse rather than monolithic. We have "countless witnesses to big events" instead of just the official line.

On the negative side, she mentions the loss of jobs in the field of journalism, a decline that endangers the objectivity we used to expect from the traditional news media. The Internet is swamped by information, but much of it is "raw." Traditionally, reporters and editors made sense of this flood of information (and misinformation). And then there's the "bubble" effect (though Wallace doesn't use that term), in which it has become too easy to surround ourselves with information and opinion sources that reinforce what we already believe. We're in danger of consuming "fake news" and "alternative facts" without checks and balances. Wallace draws particular attention to the role of traditional news sources in reporting on local community events and issues. That's one reason why I'll never drop our subscription to the local paper, even though, since it was bought by the company that owns the Baltimore SUN, the two publications print a lot of the same articles.

Wallace's long essay contains lots of thought-provoking observations and is well worth reading in its entirety.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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