Reflecting on The Future of Journalism

It must be said that I embarked on covering the future of journalism as my CA for New Communications Technologies simply because I had to.

Being the co-editor & co-founder of pop-culture website Popspoken (and hopefully, future editrix extraordinaire), the future of journalism is something I had to keep my pulse on. Everyday, I scan media roundup sites such as The Next Web and Gawker’s Media Roundup section and all I see are worries, acquisitions and layoffs. It’s like journalism has entered a recession of the editorial voice: one that is making way for a more organic, individual system of blogs and citizen journalism. I was worried that journalism would die and I didn’t want to enter a dying industry after hyping myself up for 10 years, so I took the chance to be aware and embarked on the CA (at the expense of ditching another group that originally wanted me in it).

But, I digress.

After the presentation (which went splendidly well, if you ask me), I concluded that journalism is an ever-evolving industry and it will continue to do so. However, the human’s basic need to find out what’s happening will stay. It’s just now that “journalism” will take on a whole new meaning, old-school reporters be spurned.

My group brought up the past in journalism for a simple reason: to find out how journalism evolves, we have to see how it evolved before. From propagandized loudhailers to democratic fact-checkers, journalism found its voice early on because people saw themselves as independent entities with a right of speech and decision. The movable printing press made mass-produced newspapers a lot easier and fastened the newsmaking process. Because news could be printed daily, news could be made daily. Democracy and speed made news what it is today.

That is exactly what will make news tomorrow.

Now, people are beginning to realise that you can’t leave democracy to someone else: you have to take it in your own hands. Gone is the booming voice on the radio declaring the end of the war and “the beginning of independence and freedom”, replete with the dramatic pause. The Internet made each person count and made each person responsible for the information he or she possesses and spreads. Knowledge was now being controlled by the user, not the creator. And so, the user felt empowered to become tomorrow’s creator. Now, isn’t that a charming way of looking at democracy?

Citizen journalism has plenty of evils. It may be inaccurate, inflated, biased, et cetera. However, the Internet democratised technology. It made itself the lowest common denominator amongst the people. Its speed was highly alluring to the faster pace of news and, inevitably, the insatiable hunger for knowledge. The word “immediacy” should be banished from the news values of traditional media because, frankly, that is one huge lie.

Tommorow’s advancements now combine democracy and speed to make sense of the Internet. With the countless information sources out there now, democracy now means giving fair credit to credible sources. It also means crediting consumers as prosumers and no longer leaving them out when a story is being made. The Information Divide was such an excellent theory in affirming the increasing credibility of the average Joe in reporting news. It also was great in showing how the tables have turned: breaking news and “the big announcement” was no longer with the traditional media; it was with the people. The media now steps in as a supplement: a fact-checker, a source-digger, and a story-enhancer.

Try calling a reporter an “enhancer” of information as opposed to “the first to break the story”. It hurts, but the sooner one accepts it, the better he/she can function in this new realm of news.

In technologies, aggregators have made sense of the Internet’s gazillion sources for a long time, but it made sense to the algorithm, not to the reader. I love what Google News is now putting up: personalisation toolbars that aggregate into a section called “News For You”. It’s a big wake-up call for journalism: to chase stories that users want, not what agencies’ pockets want. I hope aggregators will soon upgrade to versions where personalisation will be simplistic comprehensiveness: easy to navigate, but highly effective in finding out news about Texan farmers in June 1974 on Page 1. Speed: check.

Data visualisation has boomed in recent times, thanks to HTML5 and very, very beautiful CSS. It’s sad that Newsmap by Google News is only a pet project, but hopes are high that Google will see the value faster than Apple does. Heck, if Facebook sees the value first, that could be a pretty good news aggregator layered with “social capital” in the form of targeted communities and discourse that advertisers will love to pump more money to. Plus, ads will finally look pretty and useful for discourse.

Two other things: one of them, the liquid newsroom. Honestly, it shocks me that there are plans to expose the inner working of news gathering on cloud computing technology. I saw it coming, but it’ll destroy leads that cannot be exposed until the story is out. I didn’t want to bring it up but it would be foolish not to see this coming. Trust will play a key factor in this (even though the physical newsroom is already experiencing a metamorphosis of its own) and it will be interesting to see if the journalist-reader relationship in future will allow for this kind of trust and loyalty to exist on an open-source lead gathering platform. Society now tells me there’s no hope for this at all, but I’m idealistic. I’ll hold.

The other exciting thing(s): curative journalism & hyperlocalisation. Finally, the Internet takes responsibility for the chaos it makes with the “bottomless pit” analogy. What excites me is that social media news curation website Storyful has made a tweet just as important as an investigative story in creating news. Really, if you combine 10 tweets of the Egypt revolution together, it does look like your BBC News breaking story article. (And, it probably is.) Curating the internet and presenting it in coherent, all-inclusive packages (the death of media channels!) is going to be very important for users who only have 5 minutes to know the news. I see media convergence as an important part of curative journalism, but curating will give all-inclusive media the relevance in tomorrow’s ecosystem. Why combine text, audio, video & reactions together when it still is a mess? Media convergence as a whole doesn’t make much sense, until you see it as a filter more than a collector.

Now, hyperlocalisation seems dandy and all, but knowing that your neighbour’s embroiled in a huge sex scandal doesn’t seem as “newsworthy” as the war in Afghanistan. I blame traditional media for this, even though Afghanistan is nowhere near relevant to my life. However, the democracy of journalism will continue to treat all news as equal. My groupmates forgot to mention in the presentation how geo-tagging will combine with hyperlocalised news in the near future, so that could add further relevance to this trend of news. I don’t want to call it “community news” yet, because our definition of community seems fragmented in a globalised world. To bring us back to a super-local world is highly disconcerting, but if we can start seeing gold in our towns and estates, perhaps there is a future for “The Toa Payoh Daily”.

Journalism is changing, but with what’s happened in the past, I’m confident it’s just shedding old skin and growing a new one. But it’s still the same old snake. Pun intended.

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