The online crossroads

Is new media technology the way out of the journalism crisis?

“The general assumption was that journalism would be revolutionized by new technology.”
“Was”, writes Steen Steensen in his blog series on the promises of new technology, arguing that journalism’s saving grace, the so-called fundamental change brought about by the internet, never happened. He argues that the influence of the internet is much less radical in shaping the role of journalists than originally expected. Those on the side of ‘technological determinism’ however, namely the reductionist theory that technology is the driving force of social development, would surely disagree. Similarly, Axel Bruns blogs on the view that “technology is seen as the only way out of the current crisis in journalism” – is it?

If Bruns is right and Steensen is wrong, why is there evidence that publications are less than enthusiastic about investing in using technology to its fullest potential? Case studies carried out by The School of Journalism at Cardiff University in a report about the Trinity Mirror’s online strategy paints a picture of stress, dilution and the decline of quality under the heavy load of technological demand. “Why is use of multimedia, hypertext and interactivity still so rare?” asks Steensen in his post, following up with “Is it only because online newsrooms don’t have the resources they need to be innovative?” Staff at the Trinity Mirror’s newsrooms would probably say yes, with findings in the report outlining journalist concerns with being spread too thin across content platforms, while at the same time receiving no extra pay or investment for much-needed resources.

We’ve now got adverse circumstances that make it even more difficult to define the internet and new technology as either a problem or solution. Do journalists even control the webspace in question? Robert Picard at the Christian Science Monitor (yes, I know, but bear with me here) argues that staff like the Trinity Mirror’s may get low pay, but that journalists actually deserve it. The value that journalists create, writes Picard, “is being severely challenged by technology that is ‘de-skilling’ journalists,” putting their jobs, and the command of online content, in the hands of almost anyone.

Will the internet then open the door out of a crisis or open a door to more problems?

Optimism is dead

How viable are news operations, actually, in this brave new world of technology?

In Paul Bradshaw’s post ‘How the web changed the economics of news’, a list of “changes” to be taken advantage of by news organisations is set out, the author’s how-to in reality-check format. Though his mention of ‘Measurability of users’ and ‘Digitisation and convergence’ hit home in explaining the usefulness of the web, holes in his arguments could give journalists that sinking feeling of industry failure. If ‘technology has reduced the cost of newsgathering, production and distribution to almost nil,’ then why are media organisations declining? Quality costs, but fewer are willing to pay.

Then we have Francois Nel’s ‘Laid Off Report‘, a collection of dismal figures and ominous forecasts (“this much is clear: the layoffs aren’t over”). The key focus here, however, is “traditional” journalism, and mixed responses from those who’ve been forced to say farewell to it. Bradshaw lays out the challenges and realities of a new media environment, and Nel’s report shows the realities in cold, hard numbers – through it all my optimism as an aspiring journalism is declining, apparently just like my chosen industry. Or maybe, honestly, I’m just confused with the overwhelming analyses and strategies about the business itself.

With endless words like these from journalists about journalism, and everyone clawing at tips on how to make it, maybe the trick to the industry’s survival is it continuing to talk about itself?