Web 2.0 and Journalism: a tool or a curse?

Web 2.0 by definition is quite an ambiguous term and there doesn’t appear to be an academic consensus regarding its definition. The term originated as a 2004 marketing ploy in the wake of the dot com bubble burst, neatly described by (Strickland, 2007). There is no towering new technology to consider when we consider web 2.0 so the new experience comes mainly from changes in the way web pages are designed and used like mixing applications and/or content from different sources to create new services. (Pisani, 2006) outlines Web 2.0s broad elements by describing the web as a platform by which nearly everything can be done like email document writing and sharing, commercial transactions, phone communication etc.

This platform allows information to be received, published and/or modified by users who communicate and comment by uploading their own words onto blogs and wikis. Users are connected via Broadband allowing images, music and video to be transmitted which allows people to contribute and share what they have with others. This has a network effect to harness “user generated content” and develop business opportunities.

The essential difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 as outlined by (Krishnamurthy, 2008) is that content creators were few in Web 1.0 with the vast majority of users simply acting as consumers of content, while any participant can be a content creator in Web 2.0 and numerous technological aids have been created to maximise the potential for content creation.

The advent of this user generated content as well as greater access to audio and video technology has introduced new roles and responsibilities to journalists. Web 2.0 technology’s new tools enables journalists to create multimedia content news packages which include text, audio, interactive graphics as well as still images – oftentimes referred to as convergence (Kolodzy, 2006).

Journalists have had to adapt quickly to digital working practices and the biggest challenge is how they learn the requisite new skills while at the same time retaining traditional journalistic values and standards. Web 2.0 allows for openness, organisation and community based or citizen journalism. Web publishers are now creating platforms instead of content. Many users are now the ones creating content, becoming citizen journalists and because of this, there are concerns surrounding whether this is resulting in fundamental journalistic standards being circumvented. (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2003) list nine basic guiding concepts for journalists.[1] By critically analysing how some of these relevant principals have been impacted is a sensible barometer in gauging Web 2.0s impact on the journalism profession.

In a mobile-first world, people expect answers and information at their fingertips. They turn to the nearest device to make a decision, learn something new, get something accomplished or find the latest news stories.[2] In theory this should allow journalists to promote their skills more (Kolodzy, 2006) and the most accurate way to gauge this is to source the views of the reading public. However studies show that distrust in the media is at record lows as the public can now fact check and verify at the touch of a button.

In Ireland, the latest Edelsman survey, finds that trust in Irish media has declined to an all-time low in the 17-year history of the poll (Horgan, 2017). Respondents saw “the media” as “politicised, unable to meet its reporting obligations due to economic pressures, and following social media rather than creating the agenda”.[3] This is a clear example of how, despite increased access to news the media have failed to capitalise and utilise, in fact they have collectively achieved the opposite.

That is not to say that all reporters or journalists are distrusted. Mobile phones have become an ever popular way of reporting for journalist. With excellent cameras, apps and recorders a reporter can report in real time through tweeting comments or uploading mobile phone content. The BBCs Nick Garrnett describes (Steve Hill, 2014) how he used his smart phone to cover the riots of 2011 in the UK. “Using one device I was able to take stills, video, file copy, monitor TV, radio”.

Distrust in the media may be seen as intrinsically linked to its primary server – the owners and by extension the corporations and revenue suppliers they rely on, and not its citizens. A recent report into media ownership in Ireland (Leahy, 2017) says that “Ireland has one of the most concentrated media markets of any democracy” because of the dominant position of Denis O’Brien, who owns extensive newspaper and radio holdings, and the extent of RTÉ’s reach.[4]

However user-generated news has allowed the consumer of news to source out their most trusted source. The rise of alternative media and alternative news is testament to this. Alex Jones’s “truth-seeking” Infowars show has 5 million listeners per day (Sykes, 2016) and the Drudge Report is now the third biggest media publisher in the United States (Reisman, 2016).  Web 2.0 has facilitated a much bigger marketplace for news and the mainstream media is suffering accordingly.[5]

Has Web 2.0 affected journalistic standards in terms of verification? Nick Davies (Davies, 2009) refers to how journalists increasingly fail to perform the simple functions of the profession, like the checking of basic information and fact. Davies argues how delivering the news electronically has the potential to slash the heavy costs of producing and distributing conventional newspapers which could be re-invested into journalism. But instead, simple journalistic functions like fact checking are being over looked as cuts to newsroom editorial budgets result in journalist working faster than ever before. This is often caused by cuts to newsroom editorial budgets, meaning journalists have to work faster than ever before. The race to get information out into the public to compete with citizen journalists and social media has led to this and a decline in newspaper sales.[6]

Editors and newspapers owners are always conscious of falling behind to the latest technologies as competing publications may get an edge over them. As proof of this The National Union of Journalists say its members are often placed under immense pressure by their employers to quickly adapt, upskill and produce more stories at an increasingly fast rate (Steve Hill, 2014). Revenue relies on hits and traffic to a site and today regular content is what attracts and dominates the search engines. This has lead to journalists looking to fill spaces and report on tabloid type content rather than what’s significant, interesting and relevant.

But web 2.0 has not been all bad for verification. Take for example Storyful, a website which uses freely available user-generated information to fact check is a fabulous tool for instantly fact checking information.

Journalists must maintain an independence from those they cover and must serve as an independent monitor of power. This is often be interlinked with owners as media moguls are often themselves kowtowing with political hierarchy. The political links between Denis O’ Brien and the government is cause for concern but on a global scale WikiLeaks can be held as a champion for independence for those in power and those seeking power. Its user based system has made it possible for whistle-blowers to upload information leaked from government agencies, corporations and powerful individuals generating front-page news stories and significantly influencing political processes. A counter argument to that is that whistle-blowers are turning to WikiLeaks, which really isn’t journalist entity, instead of news media organisations and dumping unedited and sometimes private information into the public sphere

There are very few reasons to think that the news media have failed to embrace and provide forums for public criticism and comment. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter act as an absolute necessity for journalists as they are compelled to use these mediums to interact with the reader and to drive them to their websites because their revenue and sponsors are located here.

John Dolan, features editor for Corks Evening Echo who has over thirty years’ experience in the industry has lived through the shifting landscape (Interview with author). He says that journalist’s first port of call for feedback is social media and it is now easier than ever for the public to engage with the journalist. This he maintains has helped journalists must make the significant interesting and relevant. He feels that Web 2.0 has served as an excellent barometer to gauge public opinion and gauge what stories they feel are important. Analytics of social media are very important for editors to see what’s being read and how it’s being received, it means you can see who’s viewing what and allows them to keep the news in proportion and make it comprehensive. Traditional news routines privilege the voices of politicians, official spokespeople and perceived ‘policy experts, and it is often they who set the agenda. But Web 2.0 has allowed for citizens to set the agenda which can only be described as a good thing, unleashing the shackles from some journalists. A typical example here in Ireland is the water protests and how activists posted where blockades or disputes were happening and it drove supporters to these sites but also facilitated journalists knowing where to go and allowed them to know who was there.

For Dolan, like many he sees both positive and negative effects and he labelled web 2.0 a “double edged sword” – For all it has helped speed the decline in newspaper sales. He concurred that people are driven to digital media and now almost expect that all their media be free. “It’s in everyone’s interests to have trained journalists” Dolan says. “Today everyone thinks they are journalists”.

So is Web 2.0 a tool or a curse? There is no definitive answer only to say that there are advantages and disadvantages. Web 2.0 offers journalists incredible tools to disseminate information in different ways to the masses. Information can be obtained at the touch of a button but there are no excuses for not fact checking and verifying our facts. It is up to us, trained and guided by our principals to uphold and maintain the privileged place – that is the fourth estate.

 

References

A new understanding: What makes people trust and rely on news. (2016, April 17). Retrieved February 14, 2017, from American Press Institute: https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/publications/reports/survey-research/trust-news/single-page/

Davies, N. (2009). Flat Earth News. London : Vintage Books .

Finn, C. (2016, November 16). Kenny says there won’t be an inquiry into media ownership in Ireland. Retrieved March 12, 2017, from The Journal.ie: http://www.thejournal.ie/media-ownership-denis-obrien-3084412-Nov2016/

Horgan, J. (2017, January 27). Falling trust in Irish media needs to be addressed. Retrieved March 11, 2017, from The Irish Times: http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/falling-trust-in-irish-media-needs-to-be-addressed-1.2951070

Kolodzy, J. (2006). Convergence Journalism: Writing and Reporting Across the News Media. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield.

Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T. (2003). The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Krishnamurthy, G. C. (2008, June 2). Key Differences Between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. 3(6). Retrieved March 1, 2017, from http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2125/1972

Leahy, P. (2017, October 23). Denis O’Brien’s media power must be addressed, report says. Retrieved March 9, 2017, from The Irish Times: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/denis-o-brien-s-media-power-must-be-addressed-report-says-1.2840470

Pisani, F. (2006). Journalism and Web 2.0. Nieman Reports(Winter ). Retrieved February 27, 2017, from http://niemanreports.org/articles/journalism-and-web-2-0/

Reisman, S. (2016, July 12). Drudge Report Ranks #3 For All Media Publishers For Month of June. Retrieved March 3, 2017, from Mediaite: http://www.mediaite.com/online/drudge-report-ranks-in-3-for-all-media-publishers-for-the-month-of-june/

Steve Hill, P. L. (2014). Online Journalism, The Essential Guide. London: Sage.

Strickland, J. (2007, December 28 ). How Web 2.0 Works. Retrieved from How Stuff Works: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/web-20.htm

Sykes, C. (2016, November 25). Donald Trump and the Rise of Alt-Reality Media. Retrieved March 1, 2017, from Politico: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/11/donald-trump-conservative-media-charlie-sykes-214483

[1] Journalism’s first obligation is to tell the truth. 2) Journalism’s first loyalty is to its citizens. 3) The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification. 4) Journalists must maintain an independence from those they cover. 5) Journalists must serve as an independent monitor of power. 6) Journalism must provide a forum for public criticism and comment. 7) Journalists must make the significant interesting and relevant. 8) Journalists should keep the news in proportion and make it comprehensive. 9) Journalists have an obligation to personal conscience.

[2] Nearly 40% of people search only on a smartphone in an average day as they look to meet immediate needs. As a result of this shift, more Google searches are happening on smartphones than computers, thus making the news cycle almost instantaneous (How People Use Their Devices, n.d.)

[3] In the United States a report from the American Press Institute (A new understanding) (2016) says that trust in the media has dipped to dramatically low levels as 41% of Americans said they have “hardly any confidence” in the media.

[4] O ‘Briens Independent News and Media (INM) controls five national newspapers and 28 regional papers around Ireland (Finn, 2016)

[5] (Sykes, 2016) argues that it was these alternative news outlets along with Breitbart that carried Donald Trump to the White House.

[6] In 2014, there were 1,331 dailies on the US market, down from 1,676 in 1985. Probably more alarming is that investment in newspaper advertising is also dwindling and will amount to $16.1 billion in 2017, over $4 billion less than it did in 2011 (Romero, n.d.). In Ireland last year print media revenue was down by an estimated 9.4% and this trend is set to continue in 2017, with further decreases of 9.5% being forecast (McHugh, 2017).

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