Driven by technological change, journalism is being transformed in the ways that it is used and produced. We are witnessing the emergence of a flurry of new tools and practices, leading to a redefinition of journalism in the digital age. While there is widespread fear and talk of crisis, we believe that current developments are paving the path towards better journalism and towards more independent journalists.
In the new digital environment, there is more information than ever before. More new facts are being unearthed daily, more voices are being heard, more diverse perspectives on the same news stories are being presented, more stories are available, archived and searchable for longer periods of time, more men and women of power are being watched more closely and more people are engaged more actively with the changes in the world, by taking photos of key moments, by commenting on blogs or by sharing the stories that matter to them. We believe that this dynamic landscape of witnessing, reporting, storytelling and sharing does not represent a crisis of journalism, but rather an explosion of it. In fact, journalism seems to be more alive than ever and going through a multiplication of forms and of content at amazing speed.
The new digital landscape presents serious challenges to the old institutions of journalism, but the “crisis” in journalism seems to be mainly a crisis of the traditional business models of print and broadcast journalism. So, there is indeed a crisis of the media industry, but not necessarily a crisis of journalism.
We see journalism as a public good. It does not have profitability as a primary goal, but rather the production of reliable information and analysis that is needed in a democratic society. Throughout the world, journalism is funded through a variety of financial models, including government license fees and taxes, philanthropy, advertising, subscriptions, pay-per-view, crowd-sourced contributions etc. As long as good journalism is available, produced at lower cost (thanks to technology) or produced through new business models, journalism is not in crisis from society’s point of view.
We use a broad definition of journalism, which includes various new practices related to the production of meaningful information in the twenty-first century. In our view, journalism is not just the news (of the day or the week, of a city or even a country), but telling meaningful stories about what is new or is happening in the world, understanding it in context, explaining it to others and making it available so others can use it (keep it, share it, remix it and so forth) for their needs.
Good journalists in the twenty-first century tell fact-based stories about the real world, through text, audio and visuals, which people can relate to, share and appropriate. Journalism varies in form and perspective and includes blogging, radio and television reports, data mining, data visualization, literary journalism, documentary films, photojournalism, immersive storytelling and much more.
Out of this growing collection of new practices, we may be able to sketch the new identity of the journalist. The current challenge for journalists is to dare imagining what they could be in the future, instead of hanging onto their mythical past.
For all those who want to experiment with new types of collaboration and technological tools, we have started to compile a field guide of best practices worldwide, keeping the key functions of journalism in mind. In the global network society, these key functions could be summarized as data collection, interpretation, storytelling and distribution, which are all subject to intense innovation and experimentation.
As the data ocean expands and information becomes more complex, professional journalists will increasingly need to collaborate with other professionals and with citizen journalists to perform their tasks adequately. Both specialization and collaboration will be needed to ensure the production of high quality journalism in the future.
Networked journalism refers to a diffused capacity to record information, share it, and distribute it. In a world in which information and communication are organized around the Internet, the notion of the isolated journalist working alone is obsolete. Every journalist becomes a node in a network to collect, process, and distribute information. Journalistic practice now usually involves networks of various professionals and citizens collaborating, corroborating, correcting, and ultimately distilling the essence of the story. There is still authorship of the report and the analysis, but it is driven by a networked practice dependent on sources, commentaries and feedback, some of which are constantly accessible online. At one point in the process, there usually is a single, analytical voice, the voice of the author of the report, the teller of the story (not necessarily an individual, the author may be a team). The result of networked journalism is a multiplicity of authored stories.
Crowd sourcing extends beyond citizen journalism and covers a wide range of practices that make use of collective intelligence to gather and check information, tell stories, or make choices in news production. It includes user-generated content (UGC), which refers to photographs, video, textual comments, and other material provided by members of the public.
The unearthing, collecting and distribution of information by citizen journalists exponentially increases the ability to know multiple dimensions of an evolving reality. However, to contribute to meaningful journalism, all these pieces of information require fact-checking, interpretation and analysis, though some of these processes are crowd-sourced as well. Indeed, in a situation of endless streams of distributed reporting, the added value that professional journalists can provide is their capacity to integrate information, provide context, and make sense out of the information collected. Many news organizations are already involved in crowd sourcing and crowd checking of facts, and integrate user-generated content in various ways. The BBC and the Guardian have led the way.
Colossal digital data sets are available as a source of news and analysis. Journalists can better navigate in the data ocean with the help of programmers, designers, and hackers who are more skilled at uncovering and penetrating digital information. Faced with large data sets, journalists can add analysis, context, explanation, and storytelling. Wiki Leaks is an obvious example. Of course, the liberation of data and the continued unobstructed access to digital information is of vital importance for the survival of journalism as a public good. Storytelling coupled with analytical capacity is key. Data visualization is a key component of storytelling in a digital age. Graphic design, data mapping and interactive graphics are essential components of conveying information.
Photos and video news are replacing text-based news as the main source of information for many people. Text, photos, video and audio sources are increasingly integrated in various forms of interactive storytelling. Search engines based on visual matching are becoming more refined. Visual literacy is important for journalists and users. The full integration of television, internet and mobile phones is a fact of digtal life. If there are no images, there is no news.
Multiple versions of the same story are a natural fact of digital life. Since most people are using multiple sources of news on multiple platforms, the presumed neutrality and objectivity of the journalist is difficult to maintain. For viewers and readers, it is easy to compare different stories online and spot the differences. Some journalists become trusted authors for their readers and followers. Some names become brands. Formats offering multiple points of view on the same topic are perceived as authentic and popular with audiences worldwide. Moreover, innovation in camera technology provides new camera angles and enables new forms of point-of-view journalism, while interactive storytelling may use the whole range of digital effects to offer multiple perspectives on the same news story. Not objectivity, but transparency and independence are vital for journalism in the twenty-first century. Journalism with a clear perspective is more convincing than neutral narrative. The journalist builds on credibility and analytical capacity by being transparent about his sources and background.
Innovation in 360-degree and 3D cameras is providing an increased sense of physical immersion and previously unavailable spatial points of view in visual storytelling. Immersive storytelling may also provide added engagement and the possibility of reflection through interaction and choices for the user, based on interactive models of game design. Immersive journalism emphasizes the first-person experience in a news story. It is a relatively new field, which incorporates news games, virtual reality technology and “world building”. It involves the creation of virtual realms based on factual reporting to do interactive storytelling with a point of view. The user is invited to participate in a computer generated re-creation of a factually reported news story, sometimes using an avatar. This is especially useful when images are lacking because access is denied.
Increasingly, journalism will be produced by machines. Software robots of the crawlers type identify and retrieve press releases and news sources to package them, write articles and redistribute them to specific news outlets for information diffusion. Some business news organizations, such as Forbes, use these programs because the speed of information distribution is essential in globalized financial markets. There are also successful models for game coverage in sports. And the New York Times uses what it calls “semantic web technology” to compose, more or less automatically, the wedding announcements it publishes. In these cases, the analytical component of journalism is still present in the design of programs of content analysis that form the basis for each type of software. Yet clearly, the more automated journalism develops in the phase of data collection and writing, the more journalists will have to specialize in interpretation, analysis, and storytelling.
Publishing of news and information is prone to intense experimentation globally. Digital tools and networks have dramatically diminished the technical costs of production and distribution of news. However, these innovations are not so easily integrated in the old news cycle. While the traditional institutions of journalism are struggling to maintain a subscriber base, cut costs and reinvent themselves, many alternative models for the production and distribution of journalism pop up. Some of the new initiatives are mainly focused on pay walls and business models, while others relate to viewers, readers and users in entirely new ways. A monopoly on the production and distribution of information no longer exists.
Digital networks have transformed the newsroom. Working at Internet speed is changing the practice of professional journalists and puts tremendous pressure on journalism schools. Journalists in the digital age must be at the same time great multimedia storytellers, applied social scientists, and technologically savvy operators of expert data systems. Very few journalists will be able to reach this new level of sophistication in all of these fields. Therefore, they will have to specialize, in subject matter or in a phase of the journalism cycle, and collaborate. If not, they will lose the competition to the robots capable to perform routine data gathering and to the citizen journalists who constantly retrieve information in real life situations around them. The added value of professional journalists will be their analytical capacity and their ability to network.
While the news cycle is speeding up, journalism is slowing down at the same time. Ultimately, much of the daily news will be automated and journalists will concentrate on the interpretation, analysis and storytelling of the slower and more fundamental changes in society. Since news stories and television programs are now being routinely tagged and stored on the Internet they are effectively becoming part of a worldwide digital archive. Many stories will be available for reference at any time in the future and accessible from anywhere in the world. This tremendously increases the value of journalism as a public good since users are now liberated from the dictatorial, scheduled information flows and can freely access the information provided by journalists whenever and wherever they want. For journalists this means that they are not only telling stories for tomorrow, but for eternity. With time, the logic of the archive will further permeate the consciousness and work flow of journalists and the tagging of stories, whether textual, visual, or audio, will acquire central importance.
Now, as in earlier eras, and in the future, only the true independence of the journalist ensures the survival of journalism as a public good. We argue that this independence could be strengthened in the digital age, because:
* The culture and technology of the Internet is constructed as a platform of freedom. Information circulates globally. Internet freedom and net neutrality are key.
* Countless citizen journalists contribute with their reports, images and opinions, broadening the scope and diversity of sources.
* New tools and practices lead to a multiplicity of stories. There is no longer the possibility of imposing one official story to the exclusion of all others.
* The multiplicity of content and platforms exposes direct manipulation and makes it difficult for governments and corporations to enforce censorship or monopolies.
* There is a major need for sense making and for professional storytelling. To deal with increased competition and attract attention of audiences in the information overload, effective storytelling will require special skills and special talent. Thus, the practice of professional journalism can rise to a higher level of quality and autonomy.
* We see a need for increased specialization in content areas. Reporting on issues such as nano-technology, bio-informatics, financial journalism, national security or religion, increasingly requires special training or at least substantial knowledge of the field.
The multiple journalism of the digital age is not a threat to the independence and quality of professional journalism, but a liberation from strict corporate control. It is an opportunity for journalists to each excel in a unique way, and for society to benefit from an endless expansion of information and from a meaningful interpretation of this information in a world characterized by informed bewilderment. And as rich as the information available through the Internet is, much is not there, and first-hand reporting remains an essential part of good journalism. As a network we can optimize resources and generate synergy. New creativity will emerge from our sharing.
To inspire journalists and storytellers, Multiple Journalism collects and shares information about new tools and practices in independent journalism. Browse through the most innovative cases worldwide.
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