In some ways the Internet has created great opportunities for journalists. For instance with the rise of Web 1.0, journalist were given instant access to communication with hundreds of people via email. Stories and people could be contacted and information had become widely available. Even more so was made available with social media in Web 2.0, live chats were created and stories became more abundant with notable people publishing messages online that were just as credible as what they said irl. However, in the past couple years the internet have given people the ability to create websites and fake sources with Photoshop, that people can take as gospel. With fake news on the rise it has made people question the mainstream medias credibility, and credibility might be the only thing the news have left.
News As A Megaphone
If we look back on where news came from, way before the printing press we may think of town criers. They were the loudest voice on the block, and could reach as many people as humanly possible. They could only function as they were paid for by the ruling power. Skip forward a few hundred years and we have the printing press. The press was owned by elite individuals who presented the news unbiased, to a degree. Go forward still and we get the revolution of television, where the means of distribution was still regulated by those who could afford it. With the news gaining a significant amount of power over the publics perception, laws were put in place to regulate what could and couldn’t be said. This created the news with a strong purpose to inform the fourth estate and hold power to account.
If anyone wanted publicity they would need to go through the news channels and pay for time, either that, or earn the coverage to gain attention. Because at this time, the biggest means of distribution to the mass public was through newspaper and television. This was the case for a few decades until the Internet came along. No longer do you need news or televisions to distribute information if the public you are trying to reach is more active online, than they are in front of the television. Although it is still difficult to grab the attention of the public online, because there are so many voices trying to be heard there are a number of techniques needed to bypass the news media to gain attention. This is speaking in terms of gaining publicity as a function of the news. This was one of the main functions of the news. However, with the ability for PR people to utilise online E-fluencers, it is in some cases more efficient and cheaper to not go through news channels at all and just use online public speakers. By doing this, the Internet has overtaken the news in terms of distributing information.
Is Credibility All The News Has Left?
Currently the only service that the news might provide, is an unbiased collection of what has happened. In the English speaking world, there are only a handful of news sources that can effectively do this. The main one being the BBC. Only the BBC can say they are unbiased because they are regulated heavily. Almost all other news sources are privately owned by people who almost always have their own agenda. As people slowly realise that what they are reading might be an agenda setting policy, how quickly will these News Stations stay active?
Fake news has not helped this phenomenon. With the Internet giving people the ability to create fake sources and accounts of things, this has not helped in giving news its credibility. Because so many people are no longer paying for news anymore and its demand increasing, it has become too expensive to hire fact checkers and their time. This has resulted in a significant amount of fake news being reported upon by even the most well regarded sources. Furthermore, we have seen what happens when fake news is published upon to push an unsavoury agenda. In 2016 there was the start of a campaign known as ‘Stop Funding Hate’ where the Daily Mail and The Sun had lost a significant amount of their credibility and reputation, this resulted in many advertisers to pull out. Advertisers being a huge source of income, and it is detrimental to news agencies if they end their contracts.
With many radicals taking the stage in politics, with a drop in news credibility it will be difficult to see who if anyone will hold power to account. Donald Trump has demonstrated this ability effectively as whenever he is criticised by the mainstream media he can dismiss their comments as biased and fake. Time will tell if this strategy continues to be effective.
With fewer and fewer people buying subscriptions to television and print news, profits have dropped dramatically for journalists. This has given great opportunity for advertisers to capitalise on this open vulnerability. However in terms of news credibility, for the reader you must now consider if what you are reading is news, or advertising. Neoliberalism has had a strong impact on the news where profits are needed to fix this problem.
However, with a huge amount of the public not trusting brands this increase of newspapers using sponsored content leads to a lack of credibility which as stated before, might be all the news has left. Without its credibility, the news fails.
Social Media As The Public Sphere
Many history books will tell you that the public sphere is thought of, in the past, as french coffee houses. This is where the aristocrats of France would drink their coffee and discuss what has been published in the news. The new public sphere however, has evolved with the online world.
The conversation has turned digital. With the ability for people to get information directly online from either people on social media and company websites, the need for journalists to relay information is no longer a necessity. Many companies have taken onto this trend as they will distribute press releases and vital information on company websites rather than keep it exclusive to the press. The public are able to directly talk to almost any companies online and in addition, have public discussions about topics without the need for media gatekeepers. In a way the Internet has democratised the public from media gatekeepers who have their own agenda setting policies. Because the public are able to become active online, they are able to hold power to account.
However, it can be argued that the quality of the conversation that is taking place online is not of great substance. Online trolls make arguments that would be considered unsavoury to some groups. In addition, the quality of stories that are published online are sometimes not of a high standard. Because of the huge competition to gain viewers attention articles have moved to a more click baited style of writing to drag the viewer in. With so many of these on your news feed it has become a sort of Scroll Journalism, where the Facebook and twitter newsfeed if cluttered with click-baited articles. Facebook has been widely criticized for this increased population of poor quality news. Regardless of this, in terms of creating a strong conversation online, groups have been activated and made significant change. We have seen this with the Arab spring.
Companies now have to become more active with their consumers and appease them online as negative publicity can spread faster through online word of mouth than the way television could distribute. With tools on twitter and Facebook, you are able to start things trending quickly that could defame a company if they are unable to solve the issue.
One of the aspects of news was its ability to produce live content from anywhere in the world. Citizen journalists have taken over on this with the introduction of Facebook live and live on YouTube. Why bother seeing commentators on the news when you can see live footage from people where the story is really happening. News has seen this shift as they have even taken to online to shoot their content.
It can be argued that news does hold itself to a certain standard. Comparing legitimate news to amateurs shooting on their phone would be making the comparison between, lets say Blue Ray and VHS. Not to shoot down citizen journalists so much, with powerful phone cameras there is no doubt that citizens are catching up but the substance can still seem poor.
Journalism is still alive, but only just holding on in my opinion. With the Internet giving life to new digital techniques and acting as a megaphone for advertisers, it is unlikely that advertisers will stick to journalists. This will be the result, especially if their lose their reputation and credibility. However, for the time being, the news is adapting to new technologies well however, it needs to find new ways to generate content that is compelling and credible if it is to stay afloat.