I just read a fresh report entitled Post-Industrial Journalism written by C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky and published by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. Those who are engaged in journalism studies in the US would know the authors: Anderson is an ethnographer who teaches at CUNY, Bell used to work for The Guardian and is now at Tow, and Shirky is the author of Here Comes Everybody where he praised the rise of social media and its impact of mobilization. Here are my first theoretical and empirical thoughts on the report.
The report concludes that the “news has to become cheaper to produce, and cost reduction must be accompanied by a restructuration of organizational models and processes.” They add that “journalism is no longer organized around the norms of proximity to the machinery of production.” I have to admit that I like these conclusions. But here’s a thought… many news organization still rely on the machinery of production and this is important to raise this point.
Journalism as a network
I am not going to accuse a US-focused report of overlooking other journalisms. The culture, practice, norms and political economy of journalism vary worldwide. But, just for fun, lets look at journalism in a country like India. Indian newspapers still rely on strong readerships and, incidentally, turn a nice profit from newspapers sales. Should they be going more digital? I’m sure that my friends at The Hindu would have a lot to contribute to the debate, since they are striving to innovate in an industry/society that generates lots of barriers. Since we live in a world where the flow of information is networked, this is a valuable question to raise in light of the American experience. The way other countries use social media influences the information that publics get. U.S. journalism should be understood not in isolation from other journalisms, at least not in social media contexts.
That being said, it is true that American and European journalists are interacting in new spaces of communication online. In my research on the BBC, I found that journalists engage more and more with their audiences online, which creates a new narrative around news production and content.
Here are more interesting points of discussion from the report:
— The authors of the reports talk about the problematic of the word “audience” and what it means in social media contexts.
— p.61 “A failure to rethink workflow under conditions of digitization can often lead news organizations to suffering all the drawback of digital processes while achieving none of the benefits”
— p.62 Some news organization fear that transparency will help the competition. Nevertheless “there is no reason that organizations cannot continue to make money and get scoops in this new era, even when they show their work”
— p.70 What news institutions will look like!
— p.117 “news isn’t a coherent or ontologically robust category; it is a constantly negotiated set of public utterances by a shifting set of actors, one that happened to go through a period of relative stability in 20th-century America.”
My favorite part of the report discusses the “news ecosystem”, a term I have come to cherish over the past few years. This section is also one of the main reason that I was inspired to write this blog post. Ethnographers and researchers would benefit greatly from understanding news as an ecosystem (or an ecology) rather than an isolated “newsroom”. My comment above on Indian journalism is a reflection of this. US journalism cannot be understood without taking it out of the context of the global news ecosystem. The authors of the report add: “the only reason to talk about something as abstract as a news ecosystem is as a way of understanding what’s changed” (p.77). I could not agree more. Rather than focussing on the process of innovation implementation in newsroom, an ecosystem helps researchers (and practitioners) to understand the interactions that foster changes in journalism.
Continuity in change
Of course, there are continuities and changes too in changes in journalism. Check out how the New York Times deals with social media, such as by editing social media:
- “Why the NYT is wrong to put a social-media muzzle on its journalists” here
- “NYT’s Jerusalem bureau chief: Problematic social media usage in a highly politicized setting” the other side here
(something that the BBC and Sky have similarly been accused of about a year ago)
Not everything that we are noticing in journalism right now is new. For example, citizen journalism existed before we decided in the 1990s to coin it as such. Take the example of the popular radical press in England in the late 18th century and mid-19th century that took activist stances and whose audience would report for the press. One of the most used example of citizen journalism before the advent of the term occurred on November 22 1963 when Abraham Zapruder documented the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy though his Bell & Howell camera. Zaprunder sold the print and film rights to Life magazine for $200,000.
Towards a journalism of interactions
I am starting to believe that: it is within the study of interactions and “joint actions” across new technologies as technological structure, system and platform; acting individuals; and single news organizational systems in a new media ecosystem that we can consider the extent of changes (and continuities) in journalism. But that’s another story that hopefully will see light soon :) For now, in the report, the authors wrote:
The arrival of the internet did not herald a new entrant in the news ecosystem. It heralded a new ecosystem, full stop. Advertisers could reach consumers directly without paying a tool, and it turned our many consumers preferred it that way. Amateurs could be reporters in the most literal sense of the word—story from Szechuan quake to Sullenberger’s Hudson River landing to Syrian massacres were broken by firsthand account… And so on. (p.83)
In sum, change is not small nor localized.
The bright side of the future of journalism
I’m happy to see more and more studies like this that see the bright side of the future of journalism. But lets not forget the darker side. Yet, on the bright side, researchers and practitioners are grasping changes that are happening in journalism. At the very least, these researchers ask important theoretical and “real life” questions. These questions raise even more questions — that are going to give us more information about the web of information we surround ourselves with.
To read the full report, follow the link: http://towcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/TOWCenter-Post_Industrial_Journalism.pdf
Copyright: Image by shawncampbell on Flickr. Creative commons licence. Some rights reserved.