How is the diminution of traditional, often hierarchal, “authoritative” intermediaries changing the role of publishing in social life?

“But what’s happening today – the mass ability to communicate with each other, without having to go through a traditional intermediary – is truly transformative”

Alan Rushbridger, Editor of The Guardian Newspaper

How is the diminution of traditional, often hierarchal, “authoritative” intermediaries changing the role of publishing in social life?

Let’s face it; newspapers won’t be around for much longer. Soon, they will be more dead that Rasputin. But they aren’t on their deathbeds just yet. At the moment, newspapers are sitting quietly in their wheelchairs in nursing homes firmly attached to breathing apparatus’, waiting for somebody to come and visit. But nobody will. (Domeneghetti 2011). Newspapers have thoroughly enjoyed a 150 year reign as the predominant medium in society. They have cemented themselves as the ‘fourth estate’ and time and time again proved their influence over the public, often swaying public opinion at the drop of a hat. Large circulation attracted a myriad of advertisers, all willing to part with big dollars to reach huge audiences. Meanwhile, audiences had access to cheap news. The papers, advertisers and consumers were all happy little vegemite’s. But this perfect symbiotic three-way relationship has stumbled upon hard times in recent years. With the advent of online news and Web 2.0, people are more connected than ever, and it would seem that newspapers will soon be an obsolete medium, only to be viewed under glass casing at a museum, a soon to be ancient relic. The very fact that you are reading this blog post further reinforces this idea.

As Alan Rushbridger argues, what we are witnessing now is the “transformation from transmission to communication.” (Rushbridger 2010). Previously, the news industry relied on one way sending of information; there was no conversation or interaction with their audience. However, with the advent of online news and social media, all that is set to change. No one owns the digital space, and as Rushbridger says, it’s barely regulated. It also brings with it an entirely new idea of what journalism actually is. (Rushbridger 2010). People are now interacting with communicative online versions of media more than ever before, choosing to disregard their traditional and seemingly authoritative counterparts. This shift away from print journalism (and by print I mean the literal act of pressing ink to paper) has left the newspaper industry scrambling to ensure, or merely prolong its survival.

For too long, newspapers lived in a world where they believed that their only competition was other newspapers. They were completely oblivious to what was waiting around the corner, something was creeping up behind them, ready to seize and attract consumers like never before. Now, online media and social media have snatched newspaper readers away. Their ability to keep up with the 24 hour news cycle and provide a higher frequency media as well as their interactive abilities attracts new audiences every day. The proliferation of social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter has been exceptionally destructive to the newspaper industry. Through these new mediums as well as search engines like Google, consumers are able to actively seek out what interests them rather than wait for the news to be presented to them on a silver platter. Now, when I find an article or a story that interests me, I am able to share it on my own Facebook wall, thereby making it accessible to my many thousands of followers. (I’m just kidding, I say many thousands, but I really mean a couple of hundred). More often than not, the most interesting part of an online

A stack of newspapers – could this be a rare sight one day?

article is the comments that a generated by users. A wide range of opinions on the matter emerges, often pitting one user against another in an intellectual battle of wits. Unfortunately, due to the anonymity of the internet, this ‘battle of wits’ will often plummet into a ridiculously stupid argument about who is ‘gayer’. But that’s they joy of the internet, once you are tired of one story, move onto the next one that interests you. Essentially, the line between a ‘producer’ and a ‘consumer’ is becoming increasingly blurred, as people are beginning to believe that anyone with access to an internet connection and fluid writing style can be a journalist.

For newspaper journalists, a decent portion of their pay check comes from classified advertorials. Hello Craigslist and eBay! Goodbye newspaper classifieds! Yes, display ads do still exist on online versions of newspapers and in print newspapers, but increasingly, companies are turning to Facebook and Googlefor their advertising needs as they are much more effective at matching ads to target audiences. Compound this with the fact that local shops and stores are shutting down daily as they cannot compete with huge chain companies who generally rely on national television ads to reach their viewers, and you have an economic model that once supported thousands of newspapers and independent reporters worldwide that has vanished.

A visualisation exploring the decline of newspapers in the United States

But can anyone be a journalist? Is it really as simple as writing a story or a rant and publishing it on a blog? As journalist Michael Bourne argues: “Without a way to make a living from their work, most bloggers are hobbyists, and most hobbyists come at their hobby with an angle… What you don’t have is a lot of guys like I used to be, who couldn’t care less about the outcome of the events they’re covering, but are being paid a living wage to present them accurately to readers.” (Bourne 2012). I think that the blurring of the boundary between consumers and producers is a good thing, but clearly, professional journalists will be a casualty of this change – and that is a frightening prospect in my opinion.  Some will argue that journalism is thriving. “There are more journalists than ever!” they cry. But where is the quality? How do we know that this story or that story has been thoroughly researched and is presented in a balanced, non-bias manner? Bottom line, we don’t know.

But then again, have newspapers fulfilled their ethical service to society? In Australia, newspaper ownership lies with two major companies, hardly a diverse range of opinions. News Limited and Fairfax have flooded the Australian market with their papers, each with their own agenda and purpose. It’s no wonder people have become disillusioned with mainstream media, especially given the recent News International phone hacking scandal in England. There’s just no diversity! So it seems natural that people will be drawn to the web get their daily dose of news. Newspapers have tried with varying success to migrate to the web in order to hold onto their readers, but it just might not be enough to save their industry as advertising revenue is dramatically less than it was for print versions.  Instead people turn to independent news sites such as Crikey and The Daily Beast as they provide up to date information from around the world and generally provide a more pleasant and interactive experience for consumers. Given the choice, would you rather a static and awkward to read paper, or a dynamic service that conveys information instantly? Is it even a question which one will dominate the market? (McFarlane 2012).

There is still one field that is greatly underappreciated for its ability to provide news to consumers. I spoke a little earlier about Social Media, but now I really want to have a proper look at how effective services like Twitter and Facebook are and whether they do pose a real threat to traditional mediums like newspapers.  Rushbridger provides an excellent account of the effectiveness of social media and what its rise means for the news business. Now, I myself am only currently on Facebook. I haven’t joined the Twitter revolution just yet. I tried, but I found the whole format too alien to handle, so I’ve sort of ignored it. But even in my limited time in the “Twittersphere” I learned a valuable lesson.  Twitter isn’t all about Kim Kardashian’s breakfast or Justin Bieber’s favourite movie. It’s a lot deeper than that, and as a medium, it is extremely valuable.

Essentially, Twitter is the most amazing form of distribution I’ve ever seen or heard of. Back to the Kardashian example for a second. Just a second, I promise! Can you believe she has almost 15 million followers? But she really does ask the tough important questions, like this beauty: “What do you like better, steak or cake?” [sarcasm alert!] Getting back on track now, despite Twitter’s 140 character limit (which doesn’t really matter as a lot of the best tweets are link to other websites) it has entrenched itself as the fastest form of distribution we have today. Newspapers are those poor monks that were suddenly unemployed when the Gutenberg Printing Press was unveiled. Newspapers, like the scribes and monks, have now realised they are obsolete.  Further, when something happens, anything for that matter, you’ll find it first on Twitter. For example, in 2011 Sohaib Athar, A Pakistani, live tweeted the American raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound. He complained about the noise of the helicopters, and gave numerous updates as to what was happening. “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)” he tweeted. Athar had unwittingly been the first person to report about a top-secret attempt to kill an internationally wanted terrorist. (O’Dell 2011).

Also, Twitter is possibly the most diverse medium available, especially in comparison to traditional media. Twitter follows the voices of everyone signed up. It creates communities and makes everyone, in a certain regard, a journalist. Each reporting on events that some may find interesting, and others may fin inane. Twitter, as well as other social media changes notions of authority and serves as an agent of change. Twitteris changing the

Twitter, blurring the line between consumer and producer

very idea of what a news story is. Live-blogging of events allows anyone, wherever they are to access information update continuously through their computers or mobile devices.  It allows people to interact with news, to answer questions or provide their opinions, something that a newspaper cannot do.  But we must remember that this new media isn’t trying to destroy old traditional media. As Rushbridger says, “the social web is not about the end of what came before, but the starting point for what comes next: richer and more complex societies.” (Rushbridger 2010). I don’t think there has ever been a greater communication technology than the internet, and its ability to transform an individual’s publishing power and interaction with what is published, and what it means to be a consumer of news is un-paralleled.

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