Thursday 29 July 2010

MED104 - 3.1 Inform me! news media

Christopher Harper (2003). Journalism in a digital age. In H. Jenkins & D. Thorburn (Eds), Democracy and New Media (pp. 271-280). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Online mainstream and alternative news sites including:

* Crikey
* Perth Indy Media
* The West Australian
* The Huffington Post
* Salon

This week's reading was from 2003 so some of it was a bit outdated but overall I found it quite interesting. The first point that was made was that traditionally it was the media was the gatekeeper that set the agenda for what we should think about, by emphasising and focussing on specific events, ideas and social values and presenting them for us to think about. However online media changes that premise, because the user has more power to challenge the gatekeeper, and to compare the media presented with many other sources.

It was interesting to read that in a 1998 poll by Roper Starch Worldwide on what people used to source news, 69% said TV, 37% newspapers, 14% radio, 7% other people, 5% magazines, and only 2% said online. By 2004 a Pew Research Centre survey reported that 29% of people sourced their news online, and a recent 2010 Pew survey reported that 61% of people now source their news online, which is third only to local and national TV. So the way that people are sourcing their news has changed dramatically over the last 10-15 years.

This has impacted traditional media in some key ways. As a rule the cost of a newspaper did not even cover the cost of paper and ink, let alone all of the distribution costs, but traditionally newspapers generated almost 40% of their revenue via classified advertising alone, and then even more money from other forms of advertising, and this made most newspapers profitable. However, as newspaper circulation has dropped and traditional classified advertising has gone online, advertising revenues have decreased dramatically and many smaller newspapers have folded or been taken over by large news media corporations. At the same time those corporate owners have cut editorial staff while at the same time increasing their output, forcing many journalists to spend far less time on producing quality stories than they did a generation ago and resulting in some stories being produced that should never have been produced, such as the stories about Saddam Hussein and his WMD that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Some people argue that the digital revolution will spell the end of professional journalism, but I don't agree. In the words of Leah Gentry, an online journalist who works on the Chicago Tribune "Journalists who succeed online will do solid reporting, careful editing, compelling writing, and visual storytelling, using the latest tools available. They'll tell their stories in whatever medium people use. But the tenets of the industry will remain the same". In our discussion forum we were asked if traditional forms of informational media are dying. Personally I don't think they're dying so much as evolving. At the end of the day people just want to see and hear what's going on - whether they see and hear via a newspaper/TV/radio, or online, doesn't change the basic premise of wanting good, solid information.

I think one of the problems with journalistic ethics and credibility has come about because when newspaper classified ad revenue and circulation both started to decrease in the last 10-15 years and editorial staff cuts started happening, not only did reporters have much less time to work on good solid verifiable stories, but a lot of publications seemed to think it was OK to resort to flashy, sensationalist, headline-based "scandal" type reporting in an effort to get readers back in, instead of accepting that things were changing. So not only were journalists not given appropriate time to get things done properly, but a lot of the stuff they were producing was complete rubbish, which in a way also opened the door for a lot of non-traditional outlets like Crikey to jump in. I don't think the rise of new outlets such as Crikey will kill the more mainstream professional journalism, but hopefully it will encourage the mainstream professionals to do a better job.

The biggest question at the current time is, who will pay for quality journalism in the future and how do online newspapers make money? Currently some sites such as the Wall Street Journal and the UK's Times are experimenting with paywalls, which means that a subscriber must pay to view the site. There are also several publicly-funded news websites available, including Australia's ABC News and SBS World News Australia. But nobody really knows how it's all going to pan out.



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