The internet, and specifically the recent meteoric rise of social media platforms like Twitter, has irreversibly disrupted the status quo with regards to journalism. Gone are the days of desks cluttered with coffee-stained research material, the “man on the beat”, “the old hack” with a byline you could trust to produce the goods. Or have they?
Milo Yapiannopoulos raises some telling points in his article deriding the role social media has played in journalism, the major one being that the anticipation is gone. The fact that breaking news can be “broken” within five minutes thanks to Twitter means that newspapers don’t generate the kind of anticipation and fervour that a front page splash used to.
He’s right. In the past, a lack of technological innovation meant that lovers who were miles away, waited weeks before their love letters were returned. People used to take black and white photos too. As we evolved technologically, those things were going to be disrupted. That said, there’s still anticipation for content online — all of the hype around The Dark Knight Rises (despite the terrible shootings) created a lot of anticipation for the content. Other journalistic havens can do this too; for example, in a country like South Africa, Mail & Guardian does a great job of promoting its content.
The traditional business model for journalists is disrupted: I think what we need to acknowledge is that there are different types of content floating about the internet. From Lolcats, to news-based content, to tv series and movies — the money also flows that way — Lolcats-type content is free, and users start to pay for quality content. Yapiannopoulos raises a good point in saying that YouTube is still having issues monetising (and those pre-roll videos are getting irritating) whereas Apple’s iTunes store is turning healthy profits.
The grey area, however, lies in the content that sits between UGC and the next season of Sopranos — the kind of content we used to consume in our newspapers. Bar a few outliers, the attempts at paywalling the content are failing; but that doesn’t mean that good journalists can’t band together and get the backing of companies that condone the content. We’re looking at a model where the brands ultimately pay the journalists, but that the readers know their content is provided for by the associated brands. The problem then, is that the benefactor starts to call the shots, which means no more editorial independence for the journalists — which then leads to mistrust with the readership.
“Democratisation” of journalism has lead to a stark decrease in its quality — this is extremely hard to defend. One aspect that is encouraging is that now we all have a mouthpiece, it means a broader spectrum of voices out there. The sad fact is that society’s “average” intellect is too low to affect the kind of change that thouroughly trained old-school journalists do. Sure, there are exceptions, like the Arab Spring, but constant research and effective scrutiny is not for everyone with a smartphone or a laptop.
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