The current innovations have had many impacts on almost all professions. The emerging use and easy access to the internet had its effects on traditional journalism. News houses, therefore, are changing their approach to journalism with changing training techniques offered to journalism students. One of the most fundamental concerns that have had to be addressed in this changing environment is the negative impacts, which may require policy regulations in information dissemination. An analysis into the impact of the internet on journalism needs to be carried out to bring to light not only the negative but also the positive impact of the internet of journalism. This paper focuses on the changes and impacts that the internet has had on this professional field. The research will compare traditional journalism (journalism during the internet blackout era), and modern journalism commonly referred to as citizen journalism.
Traditional journalism represents the typical profession of reporting experiences or events by use of print material, picture or even video in a publishing press, radio or television. Journalism, as a profession has its own ethics and professional principles that uniquely determine the conduct of the profession. A traditional model of these principles includes pro-active and restraining principles. The pro-active principles guide journalists to investigate truths in an independent manner. On the other hand, the restraining principles give the journalists the standards of using their journalistic freedoms responsibly without causing any unnecessary harm to other parties. Traditional journalism enjoys some privileges of a shield law, and thus, the professionals have special access to some information and protections by the law, but these privileges vary from country to country.
In the recent past, journalism has experienced a sea of changes resulting from technological advancements. These advancements have to lead to the rise of citizen journalism. Unlike traditional journalism, most of the principles no longer apply. The major characteristic of citizen journalism is a breach of one of the proactive principles of traditional journalism that is, the journalist carries out an independent investigation into the truth (Lasica, 2003). Under citizen journalism, the public becomes an active participant in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing, and disseminating information. This means that the public also plays the role of the journalist (Schudson, 1978; Reddick, 1994). The major cause of the rise of citizen journalism is the easy access to the internet, the rise of the social network, which makes it much easier for the public to report information faster than the traditional journalistic approaches.
The idea behind citizen journalism dates back to the 20th century after the professional journalists realized the need for them to incorporate the average citizen in the reporting process. These participations began with the realization that the public need not to be a spectator of political affairs, and therefore, there was a need for “people-oriented journalism.” This initially focused on specially selected topics, and professional journalists oversaw the reporting process. Once the topic was covered, this type of reporting was over until another problem or topic arose. This explains the episodic nature of civic reporting. By 2003, this kind of reporting had come to an end reason being that it was expensive and time-consuming.
The actual inception of the typical citizen journalism began in 1999 with the birth of blogging expertise. This change was not in America alone. In South Korea, the incorporation of “Every Citizen is a Reporter” in 2000 was a major boost to citizen journalism. This company published contributions from freelance contributors who are ordinary citizens. Existing trends reveal that these freelance writers turned out to be professional journalists with time.
Proponents of Citizen Journalism
These two views have generated a considerable amount of debate with two groups; one standing for the new change whiles the other against this new trend. One of the proponents for this new change is Stuart Hall. In his argument, he offers a critical analysis of the principle practices based on the three components of the communication model. One of his chief arguments is that the information is not transparent. According to Hall, each of the four stages in the information circuit (production, circulation, use and reproduction) is relatively autonomous and therefore, the coding process can control the interpretation but cannot control the transparency of the information (Hall, 1978, 508). In this, he argues that information is, therefore, not open to any interpretations since each of the stages imposes its possibilities and limits.
Another chief argument against traditional journalism is that the interpretation of the information is not fixed or solely dependent on the sender. In the communication process, the message is the object while the medium is the means by, which the information is transmitted to the aspired audience. This circuit, therefore, experiences distortions, which are neither the failure of the sender nor that of the audience (Hall, 1978). Therefore, there exists a gap (discursive moment) between the encoding of the information and the decoding. This translates to the fact that the perspective of the viewer or receiver of the information is not necessarily the same as that of the encoder. An example of this situation is whereby the encoder of the information requires passing some emotional message. Procter argues that the social status of the reader might influence interpretation (2004, pp. 110). The decoder will not necessarily perceive the emotional part of the story if the discursive part of the story is not available.
Another blatant failure of the model of communication is that it assumes the recipient of the information as passive. By the word reading, we create a scenario in which the reader has the capacity to not only identify and assign meaning to a certain number of signs but also the subjective capacity to put those numbers into creative relation between themselves and others. This capacity in itself signifies complete awareness of the reader’s environment (Hall, 1978). Therefore, considering this fact assuming or claiming that the recipient of the information is passive is a grave mistake.
Despite offering criticisms against traditional journalism, the proponents of citizen journalism offer several arguments for the field. One of the most popular arguments for the citizen journalism is the fact that the traditional journalism has lost much in the past thus, the role of citizen journalism is to cover the roles that the traditional journalism has failed (Lewis, 1996). An example is the lost jobs of professional journalists in America.
Another popular argument is that citizen journalism avails information much faster than traditional journalism. As a result, proponents argue that online investigative journalists provide the best coverage of the important issues and in a timely manner (Carey, 1989). This option is limited because of the financial limitation on traditional journalist houses, which cannot send journalist across the world to collect important information. Therefore, citizen journalism fills up the void left by traditional journalism.
Proponents of traditional journalism
Proponents of traditional journalism argue that only trained professionals can understand one of the underlying goals- objectivity. Objectivity requires that the journalist does not influence the society in which he/she is addressing by reporting, but instead, it should focus on delivering information, as it is (Warren, 1890). Therefore, only trained journalists can understand the work ethic of reporting.
Moreover, traditional journalists view their citizen journalism counterparts with scepticism, arguing that the quality of work they offer is very low. They argue that their editorial content is of low quality, and therefore, it is a disgrace to the profession (Carey, 1989). Furthermore, they argue that access to information in some cases is limited to traditional journalists, and therefore, citizen journalists cannot provide certain information; thus, provide limited information.
Another argument is that when considering the legal environment, the vulnerability of the citizen journalist in courts is higher compared to that of the professionally trained journalist. Trained journalists enjoy the privilege of not revealing the identity of the source of the information they provide, unlike the citizen journalists (Warren, 1890). This gives the professional journalist an advantage when collecting information over the citizen journalist.
The impact of the internet
The impact of the internet on journalism has gone far beyond the expectations or in the ways foreseen. While the internet was foreseen to democratize the media offering more perspectives and stories, it has gone beyond this since its primary focus today is on packaging new products elsewhere rather than producing the news itself. On a different point, research has shown a considerable amount of conformation from the journalist’s side whereby, they are embracing the challenges posed by the internet, and as a result, many of the journalists prefer to work on blogs and more so place much value on the customer feedback (Warren, 1890). This is a considerable change in the profession. This change has come with new motivation for many journalists who see the job as enrichment rather than a tiresome responsibility.
Another significant change that cannot escape mention, in this case, is the fact that the internet has enabled the user of the information to navigate and access various related information through one’s blog. This also plays a very important role in making the user access different perspectives of a given story (Warren, 1890). The most amazing and unexpected result is that the blogs by the citizen journalist are far less attracting commentaries from the outside when compared to the mainstream media.
Another unforgettable point is the economic impact that the internet has had on journalism. Considering the viewpoint of the user, the access of information is much easier with the availability of the internet. The cost of printed texts has been reduced significantly. The need to visit libraries for research has also been reduced since quality information is available, and research has become an online activity. From the viewpoint of the producer like the media house, the internet has made it easier to collect information not only across countries but also across continents (Stephens, 1988). The cost of sending out a journalist to collect information has significantly gone down, considering some of the information is available through the internet. Furthermore, the amount of information that the media houses can produce has significantly increased.
Finally, one of the most significant impacts that the internet has had on journalism is a linearization of the access and transfer of information. In the recent past, the internet has played an important role in liberating the flow of information in countries whose regimes have constantly controlled the news available (McCubbins, 1992). Such liberations have brought political changes, and in extreme cases, this kind of new information has stirred political unrests with many people calling for democracy.
The internet has had a great impact on the journalism profession as a whole. Despite all the problems (sociological and professional) caused by the internet, it is important to note that it has had its positive impacts also. The emergence of internet reporting has, by far liberated the media and access to information. The rise of citizen journalism is a revelation to the mainstream media to engage in more viable and economical use of the internet for reporting. Other than the journalists, it has reduced the costs that the citizens or rather an audience incur in acquiring information in terms of both time and money.
Most people in society have also embraced internet technology. With regard to this, it is important that the journalism professionals join the use of internet in gathering and presenting news instead of fighting citizen journalism. Such engagement will soon bring the desired professionalism in citizen journalism in response to the challenges posed by their professional counterparts.
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