12th Jan2009

Journalism 2.0 – The Changing News Landscape

by Dorothy

Early December, I had the privilege of being asked to share my online habits at Prof Netzley‘s workshop, Digital Communication for the PR Professional, and it was a blast. Both literally and figuratively speaking because the questions came fast and furious after the sharing. I’ll be dedicating a couple of blog posts coming up next on those issues that were particularly thought provoking.

One topic that kept surfacing was the comparison between digital and traditional media. The workshop participants were curious as to whether Gen Y preferred to read online or physical books. I’m probably learning towards being a digital native, but I’ll have to say that spending my formative years engrossed in story books means that I still prefer reading a physical book/paper. Other factors include the amount of material and type of information being presented.

Some of the questions raised:

  • Do you still read books? Yes.
  • Do you find that you read less now that most information is consumed online? Not really.
  • Where do you get your News? Hardly ever from the newspapers first hand.
  • What role does the traditional media play in your life? No TV. Newspapers only for extra information on current news that I’ve already seen on the web.

Journalism needs a new function
Breaking news no longer comes from the newspapers, but rather, is more likely to spread through microblogging sites such as Twitter and Plurk. I learnt about Obama’s win and about the Mumbai terrorist attacks from these platforms. Traditional news media (be it in paper form or online news sites) only comes in when I want to look for more in depth information.

If they are not breaking the news anymore, what can professional journalists do to remain relevant? On Sunday, a photography outing lead our group to a reporter from a local newspaper, who quipped that it was “embarrassing” that bloggers were breaking news stories, and that journalists themselves had to learn of the news through these citizen journalists. That got me thinking.

It is difficult to fight with the speed push button publishing (especially with an editor breathing down your neck and having to follow the dictated style of the paper you write for) but what journalists can do is to place all these information into context. Since the masses are already getting their news from elsewhere, traditional news sources can compete on accuracy of information, breadth of expertise, or even interviews with established authorities – all of which are weak links where blogging is concerned. Many thoughts were inspired by this excellent article, Journalism’s battle for relevance in an 
age of too much Information, which encourages journalists to consolidate the information out there and package it to “teach” the public.

Much like educational institutions, the best news organizations help people convert information into the knowledge they need to understand the world.

The tragedy of the news media in the information age is that in their struggle to find a financial foothold, they have neglected to look hard enough at the larger implications of the new information landscape—and more generally, of modern life. How do people process information? How has media saturation affected news consumption? What must the news media do in order to fulfill their critical role of informing the public, as well as survive? If they were to address these questions head on, many news outlets would discover that their actions thus far—to increase the volume and frequency of production, sometimes frantically and mindlessly—have only made things more difficult for the consumer.

The article goes on to suggest a polarization of behaviour. Those who are keen to be informed will take advantage of all the information accessible to them. Those who are passive simply moved away from these overwhelming sources of information, leading them to become even more uninformed than before.

Citizen journalism may be all the rage, but it is not without issues of its own. Incidentally, I found this journalism-related piece off Vic’s page, inspired by the article about how bloggers ought to try and win the conviction of the community instead of the government.

While we may relish the autonomy that seems to come with being able to pick from all the choices available to us regarding media consumption, having too many choices is not exactly a good thing. This only results in a cognitive burden.

Some things to ponder:
Research by Pablo Boczkowski, who teaches communication studies at Northwestern University, has revealed that when we consume news online we do so for significantly less time than in print and that we do it while we’re working.
News media must not only compete with one another, as well as with an ever-increasing assortment of information and entertainment options, but also with the very thing that supports their endeavors—advertising.

All of this only further confirms what we already know. Fatigue results as all the different sources compete for our attention. It is impossible to encode all the material that we encounter. Our coping mechanisms automatically kick in to screen out any information we deem peripheral.

In an age of infinite choices
Not too long ago, I was engaged in a great conversation with Mr E. who shared with me this gem of a sentence – In an age of infinite choices, the conviction then becomes being chosen in return. Granted, it was to address a totally different context, but it is no less applicable to this situation.

How, then, does traditional news media work towards being chosen, over all the possible distractions that the average cosmopolitan city dweller is exposed to? How, then, does a single blogger work towards being chosen, to be taken credibly alongside mainstream media? Is there even a need to work towards that?

Only time will tell.

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2 Responses to “Journalism 2.0 – The Changing News Landscape”

  • LT

    Some unsubstantiated thoughts:

    Perhaps the role of mainstream journalists now is not so much to break news as it is to buttress it. Where in the past, the mantra used to be that “the public has a right to know”, non-professional journalists are now answering the demand for the public to know first, whereas professional journalists (in theory – editorial pressures aside) continue to exist because the public has a right to know more.

    As regards competition for attention, people read newspapers because they are actively seeking news. News they obtain online may be expressly sought or incidentally stumbled upon. So I’d hazard a guess these news media answer slightly different needs and offer slightly different types of gratification. In which case it may not be so much a case of jostling for a slice of the news attention pie as it is fighting to enlarge the pie, if there is sufficient newsworthy information.

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