Where are we going and what will we have to face?
Dec 11, 2013
Where is journalism heading? Uncovering the challenges and uncertainties in a rapidly evolving media landscape.
In the last decade, journalism has morphed into so many different things that it's difficult to define what it is and what it is not. For example, entertainment has gained so much traction that it accounts for a significant portion of news companies' revenues, but the quality of its content is hardly a reason for pride. On the other hand, newsmaking has taken on so many forms, platforms, flows, and authors that it's hard to distinguish between journalism and pure conversation. Additionally, the advent of big data, which has always been around but never as accessible as it is today, allows us to see the trends that people are currently prioritizing on the world map.
Since I started looking into crowdsourcing, some things were already clear, while others were not. The current 24-hour news cycle is very much dead (one of the philosophical reasons for the struggles that afflict newspapers these days). The traditional newsmaking flow is also set to die - journalists relying solely on their work, skills, and knowledge are bound to fail, outnumbered and outgunned by a legion of other sources that are faster, richer, more authentic, closer, and larger than theirs. In the column of ‘checks’, technology has taken the driver's seat, now ruling the show with better or worse content. Finally, the news market is not disappearing, as people are hungrier than ever to be aware of what happens down the street or on the other side of the planet.
But there are several doubts as well. There are more news sources than ever in history for both audience and journalist, but how much can we trust each one? If companies are not behind the scenes, who will fund expensive, demanding, challenging investigations to confront the establishment? As the usual players fade away from the scene, how will we be able to find out where to find the most reliable information providers? And regardless of who or how the newsmaking will rebuild itself, which business model will fit to make this new environment run? Will there ever be a market solid enough to sustain that? Or will we depend on wealthy patrons to bankroll the news industry? Will they ever put their interests aside to fund the spread of the truth, even if they are harmed by it?
The great difficulties faced by society and journalism together are linked by the inability to understand which things have changed, how they have changed, and what features the new environment offers to create a new scenario - a scenario where the root of the needs are basically the same, but its execution is almost completely different. The interconnection people have been dragged into affects all the ingredients of the communication process - information source, message, medium, receiver, and decoding of the message. The process will never be the same again. However, this doesn't have to be bad, but it won't be easy either.
The first task industry and professionals need to approach is to define things. What are the assets? And what are the challenges? What are the liabilities we are carrying due to our own blindness? What works? What is no longer working - and why? What is the role of this "new" journalist and what should we expect the "former audience" behavior to be? What does society demand and how can it monitor the development of the new environment?
The problem is not that we don't know the answers, but that we don't know how to ask the right questions. This leaves a widespread sensation of doom, a complete and utter feeling of the inevitability of a future we are not ready for. But history is rich in examples that show us that we are never ready for the future, but we also manage to find solutions to seemingly unsolvable enigmas. Once we stop whining and look towards the challenge with determination, things will look far better - at least if we don't waste much more time.