Journalism: Changing Technologies

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Journalism: Changing Technologies 

Journalism, as a profession, has enjoyed a long and stable development in most countries around the world. (Deuze and Witschge, 2017). With historians and scholars cumulatively trying to trace the very first testimony of journalistic endeavour, giving rise to journalism as a field of study, increasing audience participation and keeping up with the fast and steady technological and societal growth. (Witschge, Anderson, Domingo and Hermida, n.d.) (Loosen and Schmidt, 2012) (Deuze and Witschge, 2017)

(Engelke, 2019) . It is safe to say that journalism both as a profession and as a field of study has witnessed steady and powerful transition in the last few decades. In the book Beyond Journalism, Mark Deuze defines journalism as, “a set of values, principles and practices enacted in different ways and settings with a ‘sense of wholeness and seamlessness.’ (Hallin, 1992:14 as cited in Deuze,2017) around the world.” Over the last few decades the world has seen the rise of technology and the advent of the internet alongside it. It has brought about significant change in the ways we live, perceive life, entertainment and information. Journalism as a whole has been no foreigner to this transformation. The rise of ‘Digital Journalism’ which is usually associated with the emergence of the internet in the 1990s, has remained profoundly ‘destabilising and transformative’. (Witschge, Anderson, Domingo and Hermida, n.d.) New forms of audience participation and the circulation of news and information at the speed of light has not only challenged traditional journalistic practices and its epistemology but also the present-day newsroom practices and beliefs. Wahl-Jorgensen in Emotion and Journalism, writes about how new forms of audience participation and user generated content is ‘ushering new conventions of journalistic storytelling and hence new forms of truth claims’. The news that is created today steadily caters to what the audience demands because ‘journalism has to take information about its audience into account in order to produce news that will be noticed.’ (Loosen and Schmidt, 2012) Journalism first and foremost serves the public with information, it acts as the bridge between high-ranking powers and the general public. Journalists see themselves as providing a ‘public service’, they hold a certain privilege to information and are the ‘gatekeepers’ (or ‘gate-watchers’) of information and news. The newsroom was the autonomous form of employment and organisation of work in journalism throughout the 20th century.(Deuze and Witschge, 2017) The 21st century brought with itself the rise and growth of digital journalism and with it, its subsidiary, audience participation. Digital Journalism is ‘complex and expansive’. It has given the audience the power not just to be recipients of the news, but to become producers of it too. Audience participation in the field of professional journalism far predates the digital era (Lee & Tandoc, 2017) however the digitisation of journalism has caused online journalism and within it the online participation of the audience to take numerous forms and substantially rise.

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Audience Participation:

The term ‘audience participation’ encompasses a large variety of actions carried out by the audience depending on the openness of each of the news production stages. (Domingo et al., 2008) These news production stages have been identified as the formation, dissemination and interpretation of news. The advent of the internet has given the audience the power to ‘finance journalistic platforms’, ‘influence the journalist’s content selection’ and ‘contribute actual content’. (Engelke, 2019) The audience has always been an integral part of what journalism is. While there has been much debate about the use of the terms participatory journalism and citizen journalism. There is some unanimity that participatory journalism implies to forms of citizen participation ‘within the framework of the media’, guiding citizen journalism to be the ‘activity performed outside the media’. (Masip et al., 2015)

Participatory journalism has been described as the participation or input of the audience in the production and dissemination of news within ‘professional journalistic context’. Citizen journalism has been interpreted as the, ‘autonomous production of news by the audience without professional involvement.’ (Engelke, 2019) In recent times, the rise of audience participation through various web-based activities such as ‘reposting, linking, tagging, rating, modifying or commenting upon news materials’ (Goode, 2009) has furthered the development of audience participation in the field of journalism. The audience in recent years has been able to create the content or news that is being shared in the ‘digital public sphere’. The rise of audience participation has given the audience a chance to be active members in the news making process. The relationship between journalism and the audience has always been complex even paradoxical in a way, wherein the audience is the central force that’s drives journalists to search for stories and information to bring to the forefront and yet plays ( or used to play) a ‘subordinate role in the newsroom’ (Loosen and Schmidt, 2012). However in today’s age of technological advancement and ‘digital network media’ the audience is no longer a mere receptor of the news brought to them but creators of it too.

‘The increasing role of citizen journalism and user-generated content have yielded new means of learning through personalised and embodied reports of news events ranging from bush fires to revolts and resolutions.’ (Witschge, Anderson, Domingo and Hermida, n.d.) Citizen journalists can range from,‘one or a number of individuals, a citizen group, or a nonprofit organisation without a paid staff running a news blog, news website, community radio station, or newspaper.’ (Nip, 2006) Events such as the Tsunami, the 2011 Brisbane floods, the 2005 London Bombings and more recently the Black Lives Matter and the MeToo movement have been witness to the surge of audience participation within the public sphere and in the field of journalism. Letters to the editor have been part of the printed press for over 200 years. But the advent of the internet has brought about a ‘real-time direct relationship between the media and their readers and between the citizens themselves.’ (Masip et al., 2015) During the Brisbane Floods of 2011, the Australian TV programme Sunrise, became a ‘platform through which the public could respond to the event.’ Sunrise reporters drew on stories from their audience to mediate the event. As the flood crisis aggravated, the media and government became ‘interdependent on each other in the mediation’, presentation and administration of the calamity.(Carah and Louw, 2012) On July 7th, when bombs exploded on the London subway trains and a bus, within six hours the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) ‘had received more than 1000 photographs, 20 pieces of amateur video, 4000 text messages and 20,000 e-mails.’ The following evening the TV newscast began with a package edited exclusively by the videos sent in by the audience. (Sambrook, 2005). This was an example of audience participation wherein the audience participated through various forms of networked media but the end authoritative decision still lay with the professional or ‘traditional’ news outlets. In this case, with BBC.

At present there are various user generated websites, including news portals and blog sites that operate across the globe offering the audience a chance to become citizen journalists. Journalism websites such as Cable News Network’s (CNN) iReport feature launched in 2006, Al-Jazeera’s Sharek (share) Portal launched in 2007 and Sounth Korea’s commercially successful news website OhMyNews, which was founded with very motto,“Every citizen is a Reporter”(Noor, 2016) also shows how user-generated content is widely created and circulated. ‘These networked public spheres rely on new modes of communication afforded by digital media.’(Loose and Schmidt, 2011) The words ‘Black Lives Matter’ first appeared on the world’s largest social networking site, Facebook when Alice Garza wrote a ‘love letter to Black Folks’. It was the evening of George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the killing of seventeen year old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. She ended the post writing, “Black people. I love you. Our lives matter. Black Lives Matter.” (Ince, Rojas and Davis, 2017) The movement has gained widespread momentum over the years. With the most recent video that surfaced on the internet of police brutality that led to the death of the Black American citizen George Floyd, there was massive public outcry in the digital public sphere which eventually turned the BLM into full-fledged demonstrations day after day, organically organised by the public themselves. On June 6th, 2020 even in the midst of a pandemic the Black Lives Matter peaked when ‘over half a million people turned out in nearly 550 places’ across the United States. (Buchanan, Bui and Patel, 2020). Much ‘sentiment analysis’ has focused on Twitter because postings on the site are public and searchable. Ashok Ahir, the Political Editor for BBC Wales, 2018 suggested the significance of Twitter as,‘a tool of journalistic reporting that has changed professional routines of impartiality.’(Witschge, Anderson , Domingo and Hermida, n.d.)

Immediacy is embedded in the very concept of what news is – if it is not delivered with a sense of immediacy, it is not news (Steensen,2011 )As Wahl-Jorgensen puts it, ‘Objectivity is more often than not seen as the stark opposite of emotion in the field of journalism and elsewhere.’ (Witschge, Anderson, Domingo and Hermida, n.d.) Traditional journalism has always been looked upon as the objective representation of news and information, far from emotional vulnerability and highly dependent on evidence and neutrality. The power vested upon the general public with the origin of the internet and birth of the ‘digital public sphere’ allows the instantaneous transfer of emotion-ridden, factual and personalised stories of the audience, without having to go through the ‘gatekeepers’ of information and news. The ‘news stories’ are produced by the members of the audience who do not necessarily hold a degree or experience in journalism and yet and bring information to the people especially during times of war, calamities or distress.

Conclusion

There is a requirement for a ‘willingness to go beyond the idea that citizen journalism and mainstream journalism are opposed to each other and instead to consider them as elements of an ecology of “networked journalism” (Noor., 2016). Journalism has always been about the audience. Even though the mainstream media is extremely important, it is facing declining trust amongst the audience (Engelke., 2019). Contemporary critics have suggested that news should be more like a conversation and less like a lecture. (Domingo et al., 2008) It is rational for journalists then, that public expression is no longer tightly regulated by professional norms. ‘The era of digital journalism has also made emotional expression increasingly prominent.’ (Witschge, Anderson, Domingo and Hermida, n.d.) While the involvement of citizens in the process of news-making has for the first time encountered ‘a serious challenge to it’s social function’ but the monopoly of the professionals still exist. (Domingo et al., 2008)       

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