Can journalism survive the Internet?

After watching the documentary Page One about the New York Times I wanted to look into the big question that has been on everyone’s minds for a long time: Can journalism survive the Internet?

From what I saw, it seems the print news industry is taking a huge nosedive in America, possibly more so than in other countries. In Australia the paper giants are feeling the pinch but not as extensively as America, or so it seems.

When the documentary was filmed in 2009 WikiLeaks had just released the controversial video about the U.S soldiers in Bagdad who carried out an air strike attack on civilians from their aircraft.

This was a big eye opener for the news industry and reporters/editors at the New York Times recognised this as a major turning point for the news industry and news organisations. In the documentary, the New York Times noted that previous insider leaks and whistle blowing had been broken through newspapers, especially the New York Times.

“But instead they [WikiLeaks] just dropped it [the footage] off on YouTube and waited for people to find it”.

They were however one of the first news organisations to run the story. So instead of the news coming to the organisation as we often saw with traditional media we now see the organisation seeking out the news or ‘scoop’.

This is where the debate about online content and user-generated content starts. As it was said in the Page One documentary:

“News isn’t dying…newspapers are”

The word on the street goes something along the lines of: everyone and anyone can be a journalist thanks to Twitter, blog sites, Facebook and YouTube. But the documentary also believes in something called the New York Times effect (well in America especially) where that specific paper sets the majority of the news agenda and by the time it reaches the public they don’t even know it came from the New York Times. I guess this is where the money making problem comes into it and so many of the papers are becoming bankrupt. It is no secret that many Australian news networks are tightening their spending belts. From what I’ve heard many local news organisations aren’t sending out helicopters as frequently to cover events as it’s too costly and are opting to source information from the internet if they don’t think it is worth sending a journalist on site. Money is tight for a number of reasons, but for me, at the core of the problem is that people no longer depend on these traditional mediums because they can get news when they want where they want, through mobiles, computers and tablets.

Tablet use. Source: Poynter Institute.

For me I find that the Web 2.0. era is an information overload. We are producing so much information in the online world now that I highly doubt we would ever be able to consume it all in our life time. Sometimes I have nightmares about drowning in a sea of information, it’s so consuming and overwhelming and the scariest part is no one knows where it’s heading.

Daniel Flitton in the book News 2.0 uses the analogy that trying to obtain an accurate picture of whats happening at an event through Twitter is “akin to taking a drink from a fire hose – the rushing stream might wet your mouth, but it could just as likely choke you.”

Martin Hurst in his 2011 book News 2.0. says alternative forms of journalism such as user-generated content are not yet mature or robust enough to overturn the dominant paradigm and while the bottom up model has broken through, citizen journalism is not in a position to really challenge the news industry.

Hirst: “Many people want to see the journalism industry improve rather than disappear under a smorgasbord of badly written and badly argued blogs and shallow 140 – character tweets.”

For me I don’t want to see the traditional, credible, respected, hard-working, reliable sources from established news organisations disappear. One key element about journalism and news is trust. The audience and the world need to trust that the source of information will result in the delivery of accurate information because this very information is what helps to form societies views and decisions.

According to Martin Hirst in the future the collective control of the news process – by news producers and the people we used to call the audience – is the only real and sustainable way to defend and extend the public interest in news.

I have spoken with social media expert Dr Sean Rintel from the University of Queensland who says he thinks we’ve only just seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what we can expect from the internet and social media.

So we now live within a convergence culture and like we’ve said before we’ll just have to see what happens.

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