Today, the mass’ ability to communicate with each other without having to go through a traditional intermediary – is truly transformative. How is the diminution of traditional and often hierarchical, ‘authoritative’ intermediaries changing the role of publishing in social life?
In Journalism, print and broadcast media have traditionally been the main avenues for distribution throughout the twentieth century. These forms of distribution were and still are primarily geared toward established media outlets that have the resources and funds to publish and broadcast content to a public of consumers. What has changed dramatically in the last ten years is the availability of platforms, which consequently restructure the distribution of power in the media. Whilst it is arguable that a hierarchical structure of the media still exists in some form, there is no doubting that power is being yielded to the ordinary citizen. Alan Rusbridger claims that the consumers’ ability to sidestep the intermediaries is truly transformative. Throughout this essay, I intend to provide evidence as to why this statement holds relevance to a changing media landscape and how this is being made evident in the world of publishing.
In order to fully understand the transformation that is taking place in online journalism, it is necessary to disclose exactly what is meant by the term ‘intermediary’. In the context of Rusbridger’s article, an intermediary is the traditional print and broadcast media, which historically have been responsible for the facilitation of public discourse. Newspapers, Radio and Television according to Habermas (2006), are the media of the public sphere. Newspapers themselves were instrumental in the creation of nation states as they were the sole distributer of public information, and therefore worked to equally inform individuals, thus creating informed citizens. Traditionally, with distribution centred on established media, information flowed from sender to receiver. Within his article, Rusbridger describes this as transmission. Since the rise of the internet, particularly web 2.0, transmission is gradually transforming into communication as consumers are afforded the ability to not only respond to content, but to voice their opinions via blogging platforms and social networking websites. In an example of convergence, this trend is evidently being adopted by traditional print and broadcast media, exemplified through newspapers going online. But whilst the traditional intermediaries are embracing new platforms they are no longer the sole publishers of news.
It’s not just the internet that’s driving this transformation in publishing of journalism. Access to the internet is one thing, but accessing it anywhere is another. The rise of the smart phone is itself, truly transformative and empowering when you consider that suddenly, the average person has access to the network wherever they go, and the capabilities of such devices, such as video recording, enable anyone to create content and publish it online, whilst on the go. Essentially this is what can be termed citizen journalism, and it’s happening right now. Since the rise of the smart phone it seems that breaking news is usually accompanied by shaky video footage or pictures with little clarity, created by amateurs using smart phone technology. And it’s making its way into established media outlets. Think back to the tsunami that hit Japan, or the Earthquake in Christchurch, many, if not all of the pictures initially making the news bulletins, were images captured by citizens.
The effect of this trend on publishing is eliminating the need for an intermediary because access to the network enables the individual who recorded such content, to distribute it online via social media platforms. Users can upload content to many social networking platforms, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube being the most prominent. YouTube in particular is a very interesting publishing platform, completely eliminating the need for intermediaries, to allow anyone to broadcast content of interest to a potentially wider audience. Let’s not forget that this is creating a transformation, where established media outlets are becoming increasingly dependent on citizens to supply news content in the form of pictures and videos. This gives first hand accounts of news events as they are taking place. But what does this mean for the quality of content? It is arguable that quality is diminished because it’s all produced by amateurs, but really, does this matter? Such content would not have existed anyway if it were not for such technology. Essentially what results is more information and more recounts of events. The actual quality of material and the provenance of it are becoming less important.
From this, we see an increase in diversity online, brought about via the plethora of accounts of events from individuals across the globe, who are not necessarily professional journalists. The main side effect from this is what Goldhaber (1997) calls the economy of attention. As more information makes its way onto the internet, audiences of content become outnumbered by the seemingly infinite archives of information that exist, and therefore, audience attention, which is the scarce element in the mix, becomes sought after. As a result, it can be said that our attention spans are shortened due to an increase in distribution and therefore, we as consumers of content are aggregating in new ways. One of the social side effects of this is raised by Barron (2011) who suggests that we now ‘snack’ on news, reading articles in isolation from various sources. On the whole, it can be argued that we no longer immerse ourselves in news content but sift through the large amounts of information. The evolution of the news cycle brought about through the internet is contributing to the increased output of news content as well. No longer is the cycle a daily affair as it once was when newspapers reigned. The internet has allowed for the established media to update content frequently, however more significant is the role of social media, particularly Twitter, where updates are a constant occurrence. The news cycle now runs by the minute, whilst the best of the day’s news make it to the established press and broadcast distributors.
How can traditional forms compete when the news cycle of a paper is daily, not to the minute? It is obvious that the press cannot, and broadcast news is much the same given restraints on time. News feeds aggregate continuous updates of information for users online, and it would appear that the traditional intermediaries are continually trying to keep up.
Online, one of the biggest changes to news journalism is blogging, which has none of these restraints. Anderson and Dresselhaus (2011, p.31) argue that blogs showcase hidden experts and provide deeper analysis than any mainstream media can provide. They can essentially cater for any area as experts in different fields can publish them in order to reach target publics without having to rely on the traditional intermediaries for exposure. Furthermore, blogging enables for a far more in depth analysis, because firstly the author is usually an expert on the topic, not a journalist, and second, the audiences who consume it are most likely genuinely interested in the subject to remain engaged. To sum up this point, I would argue that traditional publishing of news has involved a compromise between available space and time in either the publication or broadcast of the content, and the need to recognise the diversity of consumers. New platforms, which allow for diversity, eliminate this problem.
This leads us to the transformation of content, which is taking place, from largely impersonal to personal (Rusbridger 2010). There are many tools for aggregating news content that is relevant to users, and traditional media aren’t the most convenient. I often find myself flicking through newspapers disinterested in the content within, which is probably a sign that the internet has made me used to personalised forms of consumption. One very useful aggregation tool which is allowing more personalised news consumption is Flipboard, an application for Apple’s iPad. The Flipboard app connects to social media, aggregating content from others in the network, to provide the user with content that is relevant to their interests. This effectively eliminates the need for users to actively go pursuing news content, because it comes to them instead. But what is particularly special about this aggregation tool is the way it displays content in the format of a magazine. Suddenly, the consumption of news content online is as easy as reading the traditional newspaper, yet far more convenient and potentially more enjoyable given the content has relevance to the consumer. Here we also see evidence of communication as opposed to transmission, because being linked to the social network means that content that is consumed by the user is recommended to other users of the app who are also in the network.
It would appear as though the publishing of online news journalism is evolving to become as polished as traditional forms in order to eventually supersede it indefinitely. But the deeper social ramifications of personalisation through such platforms are also relevant and could prove to change the media landscape also. Scott, 2005, (p.92) claims that the surplus of content that caters for almost anything, could lead citizens into becoming ‘self employed gatekeepers’. As this occurs, the power is transferred from the media conglomerates to individuals who will more likely consume content that is outside of the mainstream media. I am inclined to argue that this is potentially a positive transformation, because it creates citizens who are informed not by large established media corporations who may have hidden agendas, but rather through diverse and alternative sources, which provide a range of different views and perspectives on news and current affairs. There is however an alternative argument that suggests that the internet may be working to ‘break down’ the public sphere because citizens are consuming content that is too different (Pariser, 2011). It has been said that this is potentially damaging to democracy as citizens are not informed equally. But if we consider how platforms such as Flipboard are using social media to create communities of shared content, perhaps these concerns are unnecessary. Ultimately these are not only tools for aggregation, but also distribution. That’s more than could be said for any newspaper.
With platforms available to the public that collect and share content, aggregation becomes a form of expression and allows users to distribute to others in their social network. The everyday consumer of news whether they realise it or not, is portraying their tastes and interests on others, which is essentially a form of publication in itself.
To conclude I think that whilst the intermediaries still hold control, it is ever evolving. As consumers become savvier on the internet, publishing will continue to evolve, and consumers will increasingly become publishers. As I hope this essay has shown, the publishing of news journalism has become increasingly diverse as new platforms have led to a more effective aggregation and distribution of content, which most importantly have enabled individuals to consume news that is more aligned to their personal interests and circumstances. The internet has eliminated the restrictions of traditional media, allowing for alternative views, greater depth, and overall increased personal autonomy.
Anderson K. & Dresselhaus A. (2011) ‘Publishing 2.0: How the Internet Changes Publications in Society’, The Serials Librarian, Vol. 60 (1-4): 23-36.
Barron P. (2011), ‘News-bites can satisfy all appetites’ British Journalism Review Vol 22: Issue 2. Pp. 23-31.
Flipboard: Your Social News Magazine By Flipboard Inc. http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/flipboard-your-social-news/id358801284?mt=8
Goldhaber M. (1997) ‘Attention Shoppers!’, Wired, http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/5.12/es_attention.html
Habermas J. (2006) ‘The Public Sphere: An Encyclopaedia Article’ in M. Durham and D. Kellner (eds) Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks (Revised Edition) London: Blackwell pp.73-78
Pariser E. (2011) ‘Beware Online Filter Bubbles’ Ted http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html
Rusbridger A. (2010), ‘The Splintering of the Fourth Estate’, The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/19/open-collaborative-future-journalism/print
Scott B. (2005) ‘A Contemporary History of Digital Journalism’, Television and New Media, Vol 6, No 1, pp. 89-126.