JOURNALISTS IN THE DIGITAL AGE

Continuation of the Presentation by Lamin Fatty at the World Press Lamin FattyFreedom Day Symposium by the GPU

Challenges

Fragmenting public

The public is fragmenting, meaning there is no stereotype user anymore. Since there is more information available the demands of the public are higher as well:

As the internet is improving with all kinds of information providing, the need of consumers to get the news, they are as well interested in its growing. According to me this is the most important trend at the moment.

The internet as a mass medium is ideal to serve a small audience with specific needs. An unlimited amount of information can be published and the user chooses what he wants to read. Currently blogs are ahead of publishing focused information.

Blogs can bring expert analysis which most journalists simply do not have. Blogging shows what people are interested in. Weblogs foresee the need for specialized information that consumers want in an online platform to express their opinions and communicate with others. Weblogs bring all the news from the entire world about one topic together. Who wants to read about a certain topic will easily end up by reading it on a blog.

The popularization of specialized information makes it harder for newspapers to be sold, since they mostly cover more general news in order to reach a broader public. On the internet he grabs whatever suits his interest from different news sites. He isn’t limited to one newspaper or to one news bulletin on the television. The overload of information made possible in the digital era created the fragmenting of the audience. Another consequence of this splintering is the minimal attention an audience has for news content. The more information available, the more the attention has to be scattered over different publications.

Free information

Since there is more and more information available, the information loses its value and becomes free. It’s hard to make money out of it and therefore there is a loss of high quality journalism.

There are millions of consumers on the internet, but they are too busy being a producer themselves. The revolution of the internet is to make everyone their own editor. Differently said, every demand is being overflowed by an offer. Opposite four users online is one supplier: there are 100 million websites for 400 million internet users. This turns things upside down. Information isn’t what it was anymore. What was once scarce is now overloaded.

With information being free on the internet, people get use to that and don’t want to pay for news anymore as in the case of newspapers.

Don’t think for a minute that young people don’t read. On the contrary, they do, many of them voraciously. But having grown up under the credo that information should be free, they see no reason to pay for news.

This makes it very hard for newspapers to survive. They lose a lot of subscribers to updated and specialized information which can be found on the internet for free. Having a decreasing amount of readers challenges their business model as Gillmor explains:

 Keys to success

According to the authors five factors determine the future of the news industry, namely: involve the public, transparency, providing specialized information, integrate multimedia features to present stories and immediate reporting. Some news organizations do already apply all of these, others apply some of them. The point however, is that enforcing those factors outline if a news organization will survive the above challenges.

Involve the public: The public is more powerful than ever and therefore challenging to the news industry. Journalists can’t control, neither compete with them. Instead of trying to beat them, journalists should join them. They have to get to know them, their needs and wants, and open themselves to them by being transparent about what, why and how they operate. Journalists need to make the relationship personal, embrace the citizen, because they know more than the journalist do and can therefore be a potential partner in making the story more complete.

In order to tighten the relationship with the users the news industry must make it easy for them to participate. They have to be open and invite them.

We need to be ‘provider of tools’. This means promoting open standards and interoperability, which will allow a diverse set of consumer-creators to combine disparate types of content.

The news industry should encounter the public in the production process since public contributions will enhance it. It will make better stories and make the coverage more complete because more knowledge is involved.

Embrace the citizen journalist. Journalists are more general, while readers are specialist on all kind of topics. You better use them. Look for the atom scientists, preachers, education scholars, chefs, econometrists, conductors in your own network and embrace them firmly; these are your best sources (Van Exter).

News providers will always need to perform the traditional job of letting people know what is happening, but they have the opportunity to do more. It ought to be possible to integrate professional journalism with the insights of amateur contributors in a valuable way for our audiences, as we at Reuters have begun to do. The future will be about mixing and matching the voices that deliver the most valueable – be they professional or ‘amateur’. There is no doubt that our business will be stronger if we employ a more collective and open-minded approach to content.

By involving the public, both parties are better off. The public has the control he wants and the news publication is able to offer coverage with specialised insights. Moreover, by working together, the news organization bonds the public to them, which is crucial as it is getting harder because of the fragmenting of the public. News organizations need to answer the demands of the public. I think our industry’s opportunity right now is to show our audience that we really want to engage in a dialogue with them and we want to work with them when big events affect our community to help keep our community informed. We also want them to turn to us in any format they want. If they want us on an iPod, we need to be there. If they want us to send live scores from their favorite team’s games, we need to do that. If we can figure out how to beam content directly to our readers’ brains, we should do it. Besides involving them, the news industry must engage in a dialogue with their public. A dialogue is more enriching than a lecture. Both parties must be equal, no wall between them, act as colleagues contributing to a better product.

Since there is a growing need for specialized information, journalists should respond to this by doing what they are supposed to do, but then even better. They have to provide high quality specialized information that isn’t covered by any other media yet.

Internet is indeed ideal to please the fragmented public with all kinds of information, since an unlimited amount of information can be published and people tend to turn to free and updatable information. The key is to find a topic where people might be interested in and which isn’t covered by any medium.

Multimedia

Since journalists have tools at hand which enables them to integrate image and sound into their stories, they shouldn’t tell their story solely by text anymore. Stevens illustrates what is all possible with multimedia:

Multimedia storytelling uses some combination of text, still photos, animated, graphics, videos and audios, presented in a nonlinear format in which all of the information in the elements are no redundant – a very different form of storytelling. It’s a two-way communications system: that people can search for information. They send their own text, photos, graphics, video clips and audio to comment on stories or provide additional information.

Multimedia features make it possible for the public to interact with the content. They can contribute by adding their own content and they can look for more information. But even within the site the amount of information can increase as other happenings occur. Information can be added, edited, updated and corrected.

Print and television simply can’t provide that much information around each story.

Facts are put in their context, which makes it understandable for the public. By updating the news it is as if the journalists are pursuing their dialogue with the public.

The journalists explain what happens and the public can interact with what is exposed by watching videos or listening to an interview. In order to adjust to these new features, journalists need to be trained to know what is possible and what a story needs.

To create an environment that embraces convergence and multimedia storytelling, editors and news executives will have to lead their newsrooms through those changes. This means incorporating some new elements into the newsroom culture: formal training, informal training,

 Future role of journalists

A consensus about the future role of journalists is hard to find. So far they all agree on the challenges the industry is facing and what should be done about it to survive those. The only thing they disagree on is the willingness of the public to contribute to the journalistic practice.

As for the role, two roles are noticed: guide and provider of specialized information. These roles don’t exclude each other. They can be practiced both in different situations.

Guide, filter and signifier of trust in an information overloaded society, the audience is having a hard time to find what they are looking for and to know what is trustworthy and what is not. Therefore a journalist will be the guide. They will guide the audience through the jungle of information and filter relevant from irrelevant information.

Professional journalism will take advantage of the rise of expertise on particular topics. The role of the journalist will therefore change slowly. Journalism changes, but I am definite that journalists – if independent – don’t have to worry about the future of their profession. The journalist will be more indispensable than ever.

 

Besides the empowered public, there is the technological change to take into account. New media features make it possible for the public to interact, customize, add a link, image and sound.. Additionally, it changes the demands of the public.

Those digital features are the source that empower the public, but are also the solution to meet their demands and experience with new ways of practicing journalism. First, interactivity makes it possible to involve the public in the production process. Secondly, a fragmenting public can be satisfied by customizing news sites to their needs and wants. Thirdly, in an information jungle, the public needs someone to trust, rely on what they are exposed to. This can be achieved by being transparent about how the work has been done. Since there is so much diversity in information, attention is hard to gain and to hold. Therefore image and sound should be integrated in a story to tell it more livelily.

In short, since the public has the power and the tools to do it mainly for themselves without needing the intervention of journalists. This is why the journalistic values objectivity and autonomy become more important in order to get the public’s attention. Those values are what will make the difference between professional journalists and bloggers. Journalists operate according to those standards which can be used by the public as a ‘certificate’ for journalistic productions. Once a journalist has the public’s attention, he can fulfill his functions as a journalist and thus make the intervention of journalists happen. The contradictions in the results between the fragmented empowered public and the need for objectivity and independency are broken down by telling trustworthy stories.