The Impact Of Internet, Mobile Phones And Blogging On Journalism

Internet and Blogging

The value of exploring the impact of new media on both journalism practice and public behaviors is rooted in an awareness that actions of both journalists and the wider public intertwine and can become influential in the production of mainstream news. Since this research area is inevitably wide, with governments, industry and their associated PR agents also acting to influence news content, this article concentrates on the perspectives of journalists. Newsroom observations and 40 face-to-face interviews with journalists from eight major news organizations in the United Kingdom and Canada1 are used to illustrate how individual journalists and their organizations are adapting to the unique circumstances enabled by new media. The strength of new media within the public domain rests in its evolution towards cheaper, more mobile and widely accessible technologies. Yet mere availability is not enough to alter the media landscape within which journalists work. The creation of a new technological device does not ensure its success nor do consumers necessarily use devices in ways intended by developers. Furthermore, the more substantial developments currently influencing journalism are largely extensions of public behaviors that had existed without the enabling technology but operated in a less visible and influential way. For example, audience interaction with news organizations was once limited to written letters or phone calls but has expanded to include e-mail, text and an abundance of online options. As well, free online publishing tools have enabled the growth of a blogosphere essentially mass broadcast, containing opinions and commentary that otherwise may have only been accessible to a few*via small-scale circulations, personal communication, diaries, etc.*or may never have escaped the minds of many who now choose to openly publish their thoughts. Since these new tools enable the potential for boundless discussion2 among the public, engagement with new media by news organizations ‘‘holds the promise of a better, more efficient, more democratic medium for journalism and the public’’. At the same time, however, information overload inevitably leads to filtering and potential group polarization of views, both of which fragment audiences and contradict the democratizing function supposedly inherent within new media. This is because democracy is dependent upon citizens being ‘‘exposed to materials that they would not have chosen in advance’’ and many or most having ‘‘a range of common experiences’’. However, predicting the long-term impact of new media on democracy is not the aim of this paper. Instead, analysis focuses on the means through which journalists and news organizations are adapting their practice to reflect the possibilities enabled by new media. Three significant transformations are highlighted: (1) shifts in traditional news flow cycles; (2) heightened accountability; and (3) evolving news values. Developments within the public realm relevant to these adaptations include: mobile phone picture and video recording at the scene of a news event and subsequent transmission to news organizations; publishing original news reports, news analysis and commentary via publicly accessible blogs; and online criticisms of mainstream news output complete with video ‘‘evidence’’ that greatly enhance flak-producing campaigns. Relevant developments within the realm of journalism include: electronic transmission of news agency feeds; organizational adaptations to the volume of images received from the public; occasional incorporation of blog content into news output, particularly within the online section of converged newsrooms; experimentation with professional journalist blogs; technologies expanding ‘‘live’’ coverage; and engagement with interactive functions of new media. The research design for this project involved a focus on production within television news organizations, which ultimately also encompassed associated online activities. Therefore, it is the body of production research that this project has sought to expand considering new media developments. News production research has typically privileged the constraining factors that influence the final news bulletin to the detriment of those factors that facilitate agency within the daily practice of journalism. This analytical focus began with gatekeeper studies that considered only the initial process of selection, which most researchers depicted as subjective and determined by individual preferences. Research soon developed into more inclusive studies determined to expose news as a social construction and in so doing focused attention on the routines of production and hence the predictability of most news coverage. These relatively stable routines were analyzed within the framework of structural constraints and thus everything from the daily news conference and the ‘‘trickling down’’ of policy to rampant professional ideologies, newsroom cultures and logistic-centric decision-making were viewed as limitations on news output. Since this explosion of production studies, most research has continued in 114 RENA KIM BIVENS Downloaded by [Laurentian University] at 10:18 24 September 2013 the same analytical direction, with less attention to the agency periodically secured by journalists despite this overarching system of internal and external constraints. A journalist’s position determines the level of accessible autonomy yet what is most interesting here is the bulk of journalists whose greatest opportunities to exercise agency occur after story assignment (e.g. choosing resources to browse and selecting sources to quote). These decisions are a necessary part of the production process and can have a significant impact on news content, despite what are often rigid instructions from superiors regarding preferred story angles, internalized notions of which approaches to news content are most desirable by the organization and attempts to achieve professionalized notions of impartiality and objectivity recent exposition of research in this area supports the conclusion that academics continue to overemphasize constraints and largely dismiss any anomalous findings despite the need to engage with today’s emerging political, economic, ideological and technological environments (hence his suggestion to shift from a ‘‘control paradigm’’ to a ‘‘chaos paradigm’’). According to McNair, the balance of power is shifting, leading to a weakened capacity of elite groups to influence news agendas. Considering the capacity of bloggers to sporadically influence news agendas, there may be some validity to his claim, but any perceived shift is only slight and elite groups are adapting hastily and will likely continue to find ways of shaping news output. Therefore, apart from elite groups, this research exposes those developments within the public realm enabled by new media that act as catalysts for transformations within journalistic practice. In so doing, the adaptations individual journalists can make to their daily routines are considered in relation to traditional constraining factors. Journalists do not necessarily embrace whatever level of agency they perceive to have and attempt to improve their news gathering by, for instance, engaging with more voices through the outlets now provided by new media, but if they are not organizationally constrained from doing so it is important that researchers question why they choose not to.

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