Journalism: Today and Tomorrow


Swapno Chanda


Turning back years of time, Rakin was excited to see something antique. Something he only came to know about from his grandfather: Newspapers. “People actually waited for a whole day just to know what happened the day before? Fascinating.”

Would a time traveler from the 2050s feel the same about our life now? About today’s “digital” journalism? Journalism which to us is breaking all sorts of barriers and whatnot?

I often wonder.

Journalism is in uncharted waters. In a transitional period, if you will. When was it not?

Electronic media was the first to challenge the well-established print media. Why would someone buy a newspaper anymore? Newspapers had to adapt. But just when they had caught up to speed, the biggest change arrived: The internet.

If television started the act of putting the print media out of business, then the internet will most likely hammer the last nail in the coffin (if that’s not already the case). Television itself is in crisis. Years have gone by since the introduction of the internet, but journalism of today is still suffering from an identity crisis.

Everything’s easy now. Everything’s free. Just a few clicks will do. You can get all the news in the world on your way to the office. What’s not to like?

“Web-first publishing” or “Reverse Publishing” has since taken over. Journalism has entered a new phase, where journalists don’t have the luxury to get all fancy with their pieces till deadlines. Deadlines have lost all their meaning. Now, every minute counts.

Facts are now bent. Fake news and clickbait have become the media’s easy way of getting ahead in the competition. It’s all about the views and reactions. It’s all about who breaks the news first. Even news that has no existence in the first place.

Publicity is key. Had to use false and misleading titles to get that? Who cares! Any publicity is good publicity, isn’t it?

And speaking of easier ways to get reach, social media is now a major news source. The most prominent one, you say? Maybe. Credible? Not as much. The fact that Facebook, Twitter, and co. are synonymous with fake news can be nothing but alarming. News spreads like wildfire these days. Disseminating information is easier than ever. This raises the question — Has today’s journalism diverted from its ethics?

When the majority of news organisations lack authenticity and trust, credibility comes into question. Topics of high interest are exploited by publishing something which often turns out to be shamelessly far away from the truth. So far that calling this a betrayal to the readers doesn’t seem like an exaggeration. The future might seem dismal from here, but the good news is this is not new anymore. People now know that not all news is to be taken as gospel. And media outlets like BBC and CNN save the day here.

Enough about now. How will the journalism of tomorrow shape up to be?

One thing we surely will see more of is “Brand Journalism”. Organisations that focus on specific events which are likely to highlight a company’s value. This results in obligation in their works. Obligation to their owners. Obligation to anything they are associated with. And biased journalism can never maintain the main purpose of journalism: Projecting unconditional truth.

AI will obviously be a notable character in this story. But it is quite safe to assume that being a side character is as high as it can get. Human reporting can never be replaced. What it can do is crosscheck and assist in content creation. Reuters was reported in March 2018 to be building a tool, “Lynx Insight”, that would analyse data and suggest story ideas. It’s just the start.

However, AI can never get the subjective side of it that we humans do. From in-depth analyses to insightful stories, or determining if the news is noteworthy or not — these are all scenarios where AI can simply never be as good as humans. That’s just plain fact.

Although I said that online media is free to all, the number of organisations charging subscription fees for their content is only rising. This is fair enough, but what this does is create information inequality. But that’s a topic for another day. 

Long story short, massive change awaits. We can predict all we want but we can never know, not until we see it. 

Will journalism ever go out of existence though? Highly unlikely. It’s not just a profession. It’s a part of life. It will always be about “facts, facts, and facts”. Projecting facts and opinions to people is journalism. But the journalism of the future will be faster, edgier, and perhaps, better.

The human mind does tend to struggle to become accustomed to change. Who knows, we might end up missing the age of print newspapers, when life was not so fast, not so mechanical. After all, news feeds your brain. Not your heart. Will that turn out to be the case?

I often wonder.

 

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