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Journalism in the Digital Age

Introduction

What makes someone a journalist and what does this profession entail? Mere ten years ago, this question would yield an exhaustively simple answer. Journalists are working professionals who generate editorial content for TV, radio, or magazines. This material is later published or broadcast to the target audience of viewers, readers, or listeners. Today if a person runs a successful blog about politics or posts social commentary to a YouTube channel, can what they are doing be called journalism?

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The ubiquity and convenience of smart gadgets have allowed anyone to join the discourse and make a contribution (written or otherwise) to today’s media narrative. It appears that the entry requirements that have existed for decades such as education, affiliation with key figures in the field, and work experience are no longer in place. This observation leads to the logical question as to whether journalism in its classic sense is dead or approaching its downfall.

Description

The journalism industry has seen massive and not exactly positive changes in the last ten years. Belfont reports a significant continuous decline in newsroom employment in the United States with the majority of job losses being in the newspaper sector. The survey data provided by Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment suggest that only digital-native news outlets have shown some improvement in the employment line.

The outlets that were started and continued their existence exclusively jumped from employing 7.400 people in 2008 to 13,000 in 2017. Multimedia journalism has also gained a great deal of traction in the last few years. According to Watson, over half (56.6%) of local TV newsrooms employ multimedia journalists – specialists who produce content in different formats and use multiple media platforms.

On the contrary, the number of traditional newsroom positions not only stagnates but shrinks dramatically every year. The same source states that between 2008 and 2017, the newsroom employment in the US had declined by almost a quarter. In 2008, the landscape of the journalism field encompassed four more or less thriving sectors with 114,000 reporters, editors, photographers, and videographers. In only eleven years, the number declined to 88,000 jobs, or by almost a quarter. The sector that was hurt by the transition to the online world the most is newspapers (Watson). The Bureau of Labor Statistics outlined quite a concerning tendency: according to the source, newspapers lost 45% of their employees between 2001 and 2017.

The question arises as to what has come to be a more attractive replacement for traditional editorial materials. Shearer provides an analysis of Americans’ preferences on the news sources. Her data suggest that all traditional sources (TV, radio, and newspapers) had been steadily losing their popularity between 2016 and 2018. On the other hand, the share of people who stated news websites as their primary source of information had risen from 20% to 28%. Social media outpaced newspapers and was cited as a reliable source of information by 20% of people as compared to 18% in 2016. Lastly, 9% of American adults said that they no longer watch TV and prefer to stream TV programs online.

Analysis

The statistics cited in the previous section have shed light on two major tendencies that are characteristic of journalism in the digital age. Firstly, it becomes apparent that today’s media industry revolves around the Internet and new technologies. Viewers, readers, and listeners enjoy the convenience of smart gadgets that allow them to stay up to date with little to no investment on their part. In her analysis, Belfont brings up a realistic, down-to-earth argument: the author inquires who would want to pay for a weekly newspaper when they have access to the same information online. The online world gives users great freedom of choice between sources and all sorts of media: texts, pictures, videos, podcasts, and more.

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Another trend that becomes apparent from analyzing the state of the industry is the changing nature of employment. On the one hand, as it has been mentioned, anyone can become a “journalist”: reach out to broader audiences, spread the news, and start meaningful discussions. On the other hand, becoming a journalist officially, i.e. being employed by a recognized newsroom, has gotten extremely challenging. Ward goes as far as saying that working-class journalism is dead.

A few decades ago, a hardworking person could make it big and become the voice of its often underprivileged and underrepresented social group. Today, it is no longer the case: newsrooms cut the number of open positions and filter applicants by education and work experience.

Interpretation

The transition of journalism into the online world means that it will have to adapt to users’ evolving needs and preferences. First and foremost, the availability of the Internet has transformed the way people perceive and process information. The National Center for Biotechnology Information has found that people’s average attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2013 (Kim). One may infer that today, Internet users might find it extremely daunting to get through a long piece of high-quality journalism. What they tend to divert to instead are bite-size tweets that do not exceed 140 characters per each or pictures with short captions.

Besides, the popularity of social media opened floodgates to fake news. If official newsrooms typically put at least some effort into fact-checking, it is not always the case for online-only sources. Chatfield writes that in the age of information delusion, people often resort to irrational reasoning when deciding what to believe. Especially when confronted with uncertainty, one might be tempted to cave into the tribal mentality and trust those who they consider their referent social group. Lastly, as opposed to serious journalism, fake news often provides more entertaining and easy to process narratives.

As for the second tendency mentioned in the analysis section, the overall interpretation could be that journalism is becoming an elite profession, if not to say a hobby. Wai and Perina discovered that Wall Street writers and journalists were more likely to have gone to an elite school than US senators, federal judges, and house members. Ward writes that gone are the days when a journalist could be receiving a decent salary and supporting a family. Today, newsrooms overwhelmingly cease to offer full-time job opportunities with all the benefits that official employment provides in the United States.

For instance, Ward cites an infamous job advertisement posted by the New Republic. In the ad, the online newspaper was seeking a part-time writer for their inequality projects. The job that was only three hours a week short of what is considered full-time employment was non-unionized and implied no benefits for the accepted candidate. Besides, the New Republic was looking for someone who would be based in the most expensive city in the United States, New York. One can conclude that only a privileged person would be able to make use of this opportunity, which renders the idea of writing about inequality laughable.

Evaluation

The downfall of journalism in the form that it has existed for decades is neither negative nor positive. If anything, the painful transition that the industry is undergoing at the moment is only reflective of the broader tendencies in society (Hanson 102). For example, in his opinion piece, Martinez writes that journalism is not dying: it is returning to its original roots. According to the author, today, not a single source can state absolute subjectivity and superiority over others. Viewers, readers, and listeners can fact-check in a few clicks and debunk bogus claims. What Martinez forecasts for the industry is the fusion of reportage and opinion.

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This estimation seems fair because essentially, what attracts people in independent bloggers and YouTubers is their raw, uncensored perspective on things. Therefore, once the dust settles, it is possible that the role of journalism will be rewritten to meet the new challenges and objectives. Newsrooms will give up on their control of the factual narrative and instead become meta-information: they will help readers and viewers navigate the political and social landscape.

Engagement

It becomes apparent that today, people still crave high-quality content and sophisticated opinion pieces, even if they have departed from traditional journalism. Stears writes that supporting journalism in this time means supporting democracy and free speech. Hence, according to the author, it is extremely important to locate trustworthy journalism and promote it. Firstly, one should refine its critical thinking skills in order to tell between a piece of fake news and a legitimate reportage. Secondly, it is worth considering one’s engagement with modern journalism to be an act of advocacy and resistance.

Stears writes that since the journalism industry became more open, audiences have received more power to reward those whose works they deem especially important. Therefore, it would be a good decision to pick a cause that one wholeheartedly believes in (for example, women’s rights) and support the platforms, newsrooms, outlets, and independent writers who advance it.

Conclusion

The rise of the digital age in the 2010s introduced new rules to the game and made the boundaries of the journalism field quite fuzzy. In a world where anyone can share their opinion on the Internet and find their audience, the usual definition of a journalist starts to look outdated. The massive transition of information to the Internet caused a significant decline in the journalism industry. While traditional newsrooms were cutting the number of open positions and firing employees, digital-native media have seen an increase in jobs. The facts suggest that the future of journalism is largely online, which means that the media will have to meet users’ evolving needs.

The downfall of traditional journalism can hardly be characterized as downright good or bad. The new forms of journalism are arising, and in a way, the industry is returning to its roots as well. The industry is likely to become the meta-informator, providing opinion pieces and advancing human rights causes.

Works Cited

  1. Belfont, Tamar. The Downfall of Journalism. Web.
  2. Chatfield, Tom. Why We Believe Fake News. Web.
  3. Hanson, Ralph E. Mass Communication: Living in a Media World. Sage Publications, 2018.
  4. Martinez, Antonio Garcia. “Journalism Isn’t Dying. It’s Returning to Its Roots.” Wired. 2019. Web.
  5. Stearns, Josh. How to Find and Support Trustworthy Journalism. Web.
  6. Wai, Jonathan, and Kaja Perina. “Expertise in Journalism:Factors Shaping a Cognitive and Culturally Elite Profession.” Journal of Expertise, 2018, pp. 1-21.
  7. Ward, Justin. The Death of the Working Class Reporter. Web.
  8. Watson, Amy. Journalism – Statistics & Facts. Web.

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