Unlike the traditional print and broadcasting media, which were and still are shaped by the nation’s law makers, the Internet has been fashioned and shaped first by scientists, then internet luminaries and activists and now by many people. This distinctive attribute has underpinned the course of the Internet and set the stage for the Internet to become a remarkable social technology.
In this paper I will discuss how news of the Internet is presented and received, and the effect that styles of reporting have on popular understanding of the “net”. To appreciate the net’s role and the effect it has and likely to have in the future I will discuss some of the communication genres of the Internet as well as how the society is engaging the Internet in the process of collection, pluralisation and diffusion of news and information
Society and the need for news:
There’s a persistent view that high tech is constantly ahead of the society and it takes time before the society catches up with new technology and applications. However, it is the other way around; it is the technology that lags behind the societal needs and expectations. It takes time for the technologists to catch up with the wants and the needs of people and deliver mature technological solutions. Society’s demand for change and newness thus, is always ahead of whatever is current or new. The moment a system or a technical gadget meets people’s expectations – providing it is also affordable - its acceptance becomes a natural thing. There’s nothing remarkable about the fast acceptance of the Internet once it has enabled people to do what they always longed for; freely engage in all kinds of interactions, news making and modes of expressions and all these from the comfort of their own environment.
Often human desires remain unfulfilled for a prolonged period especially where people have little influence over the change. This is usually the case with institutional structures which are controlled by few and whose interests are not in tandem with the society’s interests. Traditional media is one such institution which is slow to evolve yet for centuries it set the tone and the scope of its news, information, education, and entertainment genres. The traditional media has been at the vanguard of adoption of new information and news production technologies for as long as it met its production frame. It has been slow, however, in adopting bi-directional interactive technologies to engage with its audiences. Louise Sito, publisher and editor of Spanish tabloid Hoy once lamented "We were all, as an industry, asleep at the wheel. While we were trying to protect markets...our customers changed dramatically, and we have not adapted to the marketplace gracefully."
Migration of news audience:
Despite the fact that newspaper readership has been in decline for over three decades (The Readership Institute – Impact Study), the traditional media has been slow to engage with its readers. The traditional “few to many” communication topology suited the news makers; it was highly profitable for them to control the content and context bias. The Internet, however, has challenged the stoic print, radio and TV media. It has delivered something people always longed for; having an input into the news- making, news-breaking and selective news-focus. A report by The Pew Research Center titled “Internet Sapping Broadcast News Audience” warns: “Traditional news outlets are feeling the impact of two distinct and powerful trends. Internet news has not only arrived, it is attracting key segments of the national audience. At the same time, growing numbers of Americans are losing the news habit. ... And more Americans than ever say they watch the news with a remote control in hand, ready to dispatch uninteresting stories.” When it comes to the print media’s news genre the situation is not any brighter. Louise Sito: "Look at most of the newspapers,...They are boring! They are boring! What are we doing to attract new readers to a product that competes with the 24/7 coverage of news on the electronic media? We have to evolve into something that has more analysis, has more relevancy, has more educational punch to it, has more fun....“ The Internet has developed its own dynamism of blended genres ranging from headline news and sharp/short news snippets to the classic in-depth coverage on any subject of interest. This blend of news genres all on a single web site or even on a single web page is appealing to broad news readership ranging from an occasional peruser of news headlines to professionals, intellectuals and college graduates with zest for in-depth news.
Interaction and Communication genres:
The Internet with its web of hyperlinks to any bit of news coupled with its capability to connect people in real-time and asynchronously has made it possible for people to engage with the news makers. Moreover, the Internet has evolved into a news/media outlet where anybody who wishes to be, can be a publisher, an editor and a producer of anything. More than that; with pod-casting technology virtually anybody can be a broadcaster too. The Internet is one unique medium, which is capable of facilitating most of the human communication genres of monologues, dialogues, polyogues and a hybrid of any or all of these genres. This hybrid of genres is comprehensively evident throughout the myriad of cyber communities, individual portals, web pages and blogs as well as through supplementary communication, news gathering and news following applications and mediums. People are the news makers! People extract, create and share content of their specific interest and with others like never befor in the history of human communication. They engage with fellow netizens in interpretation, analysis and dissemination of the news, reviews, truths and lies. Netizens employ various genres of communication such as: essays, articles, arguments, debates, political discourses and story telling including such pop culture genres as fantasy, flirtation as well as myths and naïve and utopian political chills. Through this process of communication, I have observed with interest how many have became not only skilled news finders but also de-facto news makers, publishers and editors by embedding their spin and perceptions into the news; often completely distorting the facts, other times exaggerating them and other times amplifying important details otherwise unnoticed by others. Indeed the spectrum of genres employed is broad. However the online communication and presentation skills determined the extent of engagement of the audience. Some succeed spectacularly and spawned both broad and deep response from many. Others scream and yell, yet they remain unheared. In the final analysis as potent the Internet technology is, the extent of engagement always depends on the skill of the communicator rather than on the content itself. The Internet provides many communication tools and genres so people can augment or amplify their message such as: mind maps, audio/visual sensation, online interactive games, P2P content sharing, synchronous and asynchronous communication, animations, blogs, personal web pages and portals. Those who can express best their personal flair and charisma are more successful in drawing others into their sphere of interest and influence.
Blogs – The New Media:
The Internet’s capability to record every bit of news, information and chatter coupled with its powerful search, filtering and news following technologies made it easy for people to find, extract and publish news. Moreover, the Internet has enabled both professional journalists and amateurs to interweave the original news with their own spins and opinions, in effect creating new, uniquely Internet news genre. Blogs are one of the finest examples of such a news genre. Naturally, intensive pluralization of news often results in indiscernible noise. Such “noise” genres, are not uncommon in real life; town hall meetings, mass gatherings, etc.; however, due to the spatial nature of such gatherings, once the audience is dispersed the environment together with its content and context is lost irrecoverably or at least cannot be re-created faithfully. With the Internet, spatial constraints do not play a significant role, thus the blog noises may be revisited and re-dressed many times. It is not difficult to re-create or maintain blogs and re-assemble the original audience or engage new entrants who may be interested in the subject. Eventually, through the process of content filtering and attrition of boring or incoherent authors it possible to make sense out of seemingly indiscernible noise; spawning new discourses, discussion threads or engender an avalanche of new blogs. What makes blogs such an engaging news media is that they are immediate, spontaneous and they are not constrained by rules of the conventional news genres which often perceived to be boring and dull. Blogs are especially great serendipity media, as some students have also discovered.
“The question arises from the groundswell of legitimate media criticism that newspaper journalists have lost touch with their audiences -- that they write for their institutional sources and their peers rather than for fellow citizens; that they focus on inside baseball rather than public problems; that they emphasize political style and strategy rather than the substance and impact of policy proposals; that, in a desperate quest to produce what they perceive readers "want," they fail to produce what readers need to participate in democracy.” (Tim Porter)
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Internet as a social media is that not since the Socialist revolutions of Europe (1848-1851) and the American Civil War (1861-1865), the traditional media have failed to provide a real forum for the citizens to participate in the shaping of their own democracies. With the Internet’s marvelously unregulated construct the Internet has grown not only to become a technological marvel but even more impressively it has grown into an unrestrained social media. The citizens finally have at their disposal a medium which, if they wished, they could use to actively participate in the shaping of their democracies.
Yet despite clear advice from some seasoned news men and the sight of dead newspapers littering the media road, some are still having hard time to come to grips with the impact of the Internet as a news service. They may go a distance, recognize a part of the problem but then they fall into a wailing pit. The following excerpt from the Sydney Morning Herald demonstrates this: “The world is changing, and clearly the demand for our product is not as high as it once was," Lynn Dickerson, publisher and president of The Modesto Bee, said at a panel at the Associated Press Managing Editors annual conference examining the challenges newspapers face. "I still think we're the last collective effort for democracy," she said. "We've got to survive, and we've got to succeed."
"At the same time, I'm trying to reach younger readers. I'm trying to do online. I'm trying to do multimedia," she said. "I'm trying to do a lot more, and I've got a lot less in terms of staff resources. And I've got a smaller newshole. I'm trying to figure it out."
Lynn Dickerson has failed to realize that the traditional media has long ceased to be the bastion for democracy. This failure is one of the chief barriers on the road to recovery. Reaching out to audience without listening, understanding and engaging with the audience, is a trivial pursuit.
Tim Porter, a seasoned news paper man has put it this way in his First Draft blogticle Journalism by Every Means Necessary:
“These days, when someone from a newspaper or a journalism school asks me to join a panel about the future of journalism or address the question of why a newspaper should have blogs, my inner response is a scream: You are slipping into irrelevance! You have an analog product in a digital world! Your economic platform is dying! You must do something! Now, go read my stuff for the last two years, and Jarvis and Rosen and Yelvington and Thompson and Sands and Robinson and the Readership Institute. Then let's talk.”
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The absence of any shame in self-contradiction among our journalistic and political controversialists today is a powerful indication that they only expect to be heard by the already-persuaded. In other words, communication has ceased.
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