Democratization of Digital Media Technologies and their Impact on Journalism

Introduction

Today, essentially all of the functions that take place in our daily lives banking, shopping, business, communication, education, movie and TV show streaming, package shipping, news and gossip consumption you name it can be done online, all thanks to digital technologies.

“Technology and “digital media are such popular terms these days. This is because we are living in the “Information Age also known as the “Computer Age, “Digital Age, or “New Media Age where information is a commodity that can be widely disseminated to anyone in the world via accessible computer technology. Now, some even say we are moving into the “Experience Age” thanks to mobile devices, sensors, high-speed Internet connectivity, social media, wearable technology, 360-degree video, virtual reality, etc.

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About 84% of U.S. households own a computer and 73% of U.S. households have a computer with a broadband connection to the Internet (Rainie and D’Vera). The International Telecommunication Union has reported that the number of Internet users worldwide has increased from 738 million in 2000 to 3.2 billion in 2015. That’s a seven-fold increase that brought Internet penetration up from 7% to 43% of the global population (Davidson).

One thing has become absolutely clear as a result of the proliferation of personal computing and the incredibly fast pace of Internet development: the consumer is now in control. The user has the freedom of choice to decide when, where and how they want to enjoy digital media content. This is very different from the journalism and content models in the past when news editors acted as gatekeepers and only allowed information through the gate that they found to be “worthy of report.

History and Development of Mass Media and Culture

In order to move forward we need to take a look behind us. How did we get to where we are today? Although the term “mass media was popularized in the 1920s during the arrival of nationwide radio networks, magazines, and mass-circulation newspapers, it was really Johannes Gutenberg’s 1450 invention of the movable type printing press that made mass production of print media even possible (Mass Media). The reason Gutenberg’s printing press isn’t associated as the device of the “mass media era is that books remained too expensive in the 15th century to be called a “mass-medium.

In the 1880s, the first high-circulation newspapers began appearing and were facilitated by Richard Hoe’s 1843 invention of the steam driven cylindrical rotary press. At the same time, railroads were being built, which allowed newspapers to be transported and disseminated over a much wider geographical area. There were many important innovations nearing the end of the 19th century, with the telephone being invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 and George Eastman inventing photographic film in 1885. Then 1894, brought us the radio. All revolutionary inventions take some time to be developed for general public use. The emergence of a new communication technology for example, cinema, television, or mobile devices entails a series of challenges that need to be met in the only way possible: trial and error. In the early 1990s, there were no Web designers, in the same way that in 1915 nobody knew how to produce a radio program. In the emergence phase, there are no instruction manuals that explain what the medium is or institutions that teach how it works. (Scolari)

The Golden Age of Radio was an era starting in the 1920s and ending in the 1950s with the advent of television. During this time, radio was the dominating form of media with a variety of interesting programs and formats. Around the 1930s when radio was forecast to be the prominent news provider, newspaper publications were concerned that they would lose their dominance on the news market. Yet newspapers survived their first competitor: radio, and continued to contend as television and then Internet on personal computers “made the scene. All the historic media types have survived through various eras of technological advancements. As each form of media newspapers, radio, television, etc. was introduced to the public, each of those forms would have to reinvent itself in new ways to stay in the competition for audience members.

When television became popular in the 1950s era, it was considered quite seductive to passively watch the visuals and audio on the television screen instead of actively reading the newspaper. Televisions replaced radios in living rooms across the nation. “By the end of 1952, TVs could be found in 20 million households across America, a rise of 33% from the previous year. In 1963, TV surpassed newspapers as an information source with 36% of Americans favoring TV over print which had 24% (Hur). However, the radio, cinema, and print mediums did not fade away. Rather, they simply stayed in the background while television grabbed all the attention in the foreground. Radio focused on gaining more audience participation and engagement by serving the niche, narrower audiences. The movie industry focused on upping its game by advancing technology and adding more special effects with large screens and good-quality sound (Lehman-Wilzig and Cohen-Avigdor).

Print media offered readers the option of reading whenever and wherever they chose. Broadcast media was different in that its programming was operating on a fixed schedule and people would have to arrange to see or listen at the appropriate time. The rise of personal computers and the Internet in the 1970s and 80s represented the dramatic shift from traditional print and broadcast mass media to “new media. “New media technology is the application of digital computer technology to mass media, specifically media production, distribution, storage, and use. Digital technology provides interactivity, non-linear communication, and a new economy in the mediums it brings forth (Kaul). The web as we know it today was born with Tim-Berners Lee’s invention of the “World Wide Web back in 1989. Thanks to Lee’s visionary and innovative work, we are able to browse the web and do things that were not even fathomable in the golden ages of traditional media. Regular people now have the power to express themselves in a limitless medium which connects billions of people around the world. However, what challenges does this new media “democratization present to the traditional media industry? How does journalism benefit from the abundance of digital technology surrounding us? Are traditional media forms going extinct as a result of the extensive competition provided by the Internet? Let’s go ahead and study the current media landscape to see if we can answer these questions.

New Media and the Democratization of Digital Media Technologies

What does “democratization even mean? It is used in reference to “expanding access to the masses or “making something easy and accessible to many. As Verizon Chief Product Officer, Ted Middleton says, “In just 30 or so years, computing and development have evolved from being the domain of the uber-nerd (I certainly counted myself in that category when I started programming in junior high in the early 80s) to being accessible to millions (Middleton). The boundaries between amateurs and professionals working in creative industries are blurring significantly since everyone has access to the tools of the trades. In videography, for example, prices for video gear are becoming more and more reasonable for the passionate layman to acquire and begin work. There are special companies dedicated to serving the beginners and amateurs in the business. Maybe the quality of these companies’ products is slightly less than the super-professional grade products, but this way the little guy at least has the opportunity to try it out. These artists and creatives who are just starting out in their industries are also benefiting from the open, instant and free access to potential audiences around the world through online distribution platforms. There are also dedicated platforms that provide assistance to these amateurs in production, distribution, monetization, and audience development (Bhargava and Klat).

Social media networks are also considered to be important tools that have changed the terms of the free speech debate worldwide (Fukuyama). Even though the social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, weren’t initially created to be places for news or political discussion, that is ultimately what people ended up gravitating towards. Today, the major social media networks have become rife with news and politics and are considered the primary topics for discussion on these platforms. Social media has now become one of the main reasons for the consumption of news on mobile devices with over 51% of people using social media as a news source (Bradshaw and Rohumaa). “Citizens are using social media, such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Weibo, as a channel for participation in political discussions, aiming to directly or indirectly influence public concerns or even reshape the public agenda, promoting the democratic public sphere (Zhao). Although there are many problems and concerns related to social media and how the information is often misleading, the positive uses far outweigh the negative. Social media and the Internet in general have also played a key role in shaping political processes. One of the most noteworthy events relating to the power of the Internet combined with social media networks was the Arab Spring of 2011. The people in multiple Middle Eastern countries including Tunisia, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, and Syria came together within their countries on social networks to organize protests against the authoritarian regimes in their countries. The people used the tools they had available to force systematic political changes in countries where the voices of the people are not considered important.

Challenges and Benefits New Media Present to Traditional Media

The Internet has become integral not just to a journalist’s job but to the roles of a majority of professions. The world around us is now digitized to the point that it is unavoidable when it comes down to finding information or getting in touch with someone. Most journalists are now required to be skilled in many areas and specialties, especially those involving digital technologies and the Internet. Today, when we think of online news, we visualize sophisticated multimedia content and responsive designs for mobile devices. However, all of this technological innovation requires advanced skills in order to create such content. It is no longer enough to be the middleman between the laymen and the events taking place in the world or local community. Now the regular public can also be “citizen journalists or “non-journalists by publishing news events via online websites, blogs, and social media. “Professional journalists have to stand out in some way from the bloggers and “citizen journalists so they are expected to be expert content curators and verifiers, data journalists or multimedia producers. Interactivity is key to how the arrival of the Internet changed the journalism industry. The best online journalists today make use of the Internet to take their medium to new levels. The objective is to engage with their readers and to communicate information to them in the most effective manner.

All kinds of new formats have emerged as interactivity becomes more and more associated with journalism. Quizzes, Image Maps, Interactive Maps, Timelines, Sliders, Multiple Path Stories, etc., can be seen frequently in articles online. (Bradshaw and Rohumaa) The age of gatekeeping is over. The reader is now his or her own gatekeeper. Access to information and knowledge is free for anyone to reach out and grab. “Now the gatekeeping role that the legacy media newspapers and network television news once played falls to all of us. Today, everyone assumes the position of publisher. Technology has democratized the process of making, or making up, news. Journalists no longer decide what goes public. Information flows unimpeded and unchecked through the Internet, filling a multitude of websites, blogs and tweets. (Col?n) As a result of this shift in editing and curation control, the Internet has forced news organizations to allow the user some degree of control over input and output by allowing article contributions and “comments sections.

Today, it is expected of news companies to share the control with their audiences or to give inside looks into the editing process. There is much more competition in today’s world of journalism cyberspace than there has ever been in the history of media. The variety and number of platforms and technological devices now available at our disposal has significantly increased. The speed with which change and development is occurring in the digital media technologies is explosively quick and all forms of media are having to keep up with this rapid pace. It is believed that because of this, the quality of journalism tends to suffer from careless mistakes, bias and inaccuracies. “Journalism is suffering because it’s perceived as ‘free’ and therefore inherently undervalued. (Yin) So, what does all of this mean for journalists? What role will journalism play in the future?

Future of Traditional and New Media Journalism

Regarding the future of journalism, the book to turn to is titled Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. The important idea is this: In the future the press will derive its integrity from what kind of content it delivers and the quality of its engagement, not from its exclusive role as a sole information provider or intermediary between newsmakers and the public. To do this, newspeople must replace the singular idea of the press as a gatekeeper with a more refined and nuanced idea based on what consumers require from the news particularly reportorial news, rather than commentary and discussion. (Kovach and Rosenstiel) Kovach and Rosenstiel present eight essential functions and roles for journalists in the future news service. They are: authenticator, sense maker, investigator/watchdog, witness bearer, empowerer, smart aggregator, forum organizer, and role model. Although anyone can be a “citizen journalist in today’s digital world, people will still look up to the professionals for authentication and authority relating to fact-checking and getting the story right. “Learning how to use tools is different from saying everyone is a reporter. Anyone can make bread, but it’s lousy bread. You need to spend time like a true, professional baker to learn to make good bread. (Krotoski)

Since information is becoming more and more plentiful by the day, it becomes harder to sort through it all and find what you need. The more data and information there is, the more time and resources are needed to organize it all in a way that makes sense. This is where the sense maker role will be critically important. “Algorithms or ‘software-generated’ news, also known as ‘robot journalism’ has recently given rise to concerns that the automation of news will make journalists redundant (Linden). We can see automated journalism taking place today with some specific stories being broken down into parts that can be automated. So, what does this mean? Will human journalists be replaced by robots? Not necessarily and hopefully not. Online journalism is struggling with all the uncertainty and lack of trust surrounding the environment. “People are just not sure anymore if what they see on TV or read on Facebook is actually true. (Roho).

Roho suggests some ways for the online journalism industry to change its tactics in order to survive. He recommends news publications to slow down and publish less. Getting a perspective on the stories rather than just publishing something just to get it “out there will raise the value of journalism significantly. “There is too much content in the world. Journalism as a product needs to focus on excellence. Its role is not to add noise, but to add meaning to the never-ending discourse of society with itself. Roho also says, “Media needs to listen, answer, learn and become an open community. Journalists need to become better at talking with their audiences. Humility leads to trust. On a similar note, Jeff Jarvis also argues that the key word for the future of journalism is “relationships. If our role as journalists is to help communities better organize their knowledge and themselves, then it is apparent that we are in the service business and that we must draw on many tools, including content, and place value on the relationships we build with members of our communities. We are in the relationship business.

So now let us begin to catalog the forms those relationships can take with the people we serve, with the ecosystems in which we work, and with our business partners. (Jarvis) Conclusion The future of journalism both traditional and new remains unknown in the digital world. As of right now we see massive journalist job cuts and more robots and artificial intelligence taking over. The problem is that the business revenue models need revision in order to sustain quality journalism. It seems the key focus should be to create news communities rather than news audiences. The way to do this is to create relationships with your community members. Will the various forms of traditional journalism survive the digital age and the Internet like it has with every new invention? What will the news business models look like in the future? I guess we will have to wait and see.

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