There have been many technologies in the history of mankind that radically changed the world such as wheel, paper, and printing press, thus, internet is not an anomaly in this regard. But it may not be an exaggeration to claim that never before has any technology changed the world so much in such a short time because technology is now disseminated at a much faster pace than older times. The invention of internet was heralded as the beginning of fair and equitable access to information for everyone and it is difficult to think of a profession or an industry which has been left untouched by the internet. It is especially true of the journalism profession which is by nature in the business of providing news and information. Easy access as well as expectations of free news and information among the general public have threatened the entire business model which has historically supported the newspaper industry. Andrew Rossi’s documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times (IMDB) reminds us that internet and globalization have forced even the industry titans such as the New York Times (NYT) to respond to the evolution of the news and information sector.
NYT’s reporter David Carr spends a great deal of effort and time in defending the traditional journalism and does come across as convincing. He argues that traditional form of journalism will continue to dominate and dismisses the new wave of journalists for having low professional standards. NYT continues to be a popular newspaper and is doing much better than other rivals including The Tribune but Carr’s arguments are weakened by the very events that have actually happened at NYT. First of all, NYT’s Jayson Blair was caught after engaging in plagiarism. Second, NYT’s Judith Miller supported government’s account of events prior to beginning of Iraq War. Similarly, NYT has even hired a blogger Brian Stelter and Stelter is not alone. Other famous bloggers for NYT include Nobel Prize winner and economist Paul Krugman (Krugman) and statistician Nate Silver (Silver) who first gained popularity for predicting the outcome of 2008 Presidential Elections quite accurately. Even in journalism, results now matter more than the processes involved and free internet news and information sources have emerged as credible alternatives as evident by the popularity of Vice, Pro Publica, and The Huffington Post. The continuous survival of NYT as well as its profitability is an exception rather than a norm in the industry. NYT might have been able to gain considerable paid subscribers for its online edition but this model has not been successfully replicated by many. Even NYT’s online model seems to be primarily being supported by its greatest fans who quite likely constitute a very small proportion of the overall U.S. population that access news.
The documentary also shows that NYT itself has been able to lay off people to cut costs and often relies on independent sources, many of them private citizens, for information. This certainly reflects the rise of citizen journalism which will only grow over time because of the ability of internet to give everyone a voice as well as turn them into a news source. In fact, some of the most sensitive political events in recent memory such as Arab Uprising have been covered more by citizen journalists than professional journalists. In fact, CBS Laura Logan had to be escorted out of Egypt due to sexual assault (Guthrie) yet the incident didn’t stop coverage of Egyptian events that continued to be reported by private citizens through social media such as Twitter. Thus, internet has helped reduce the monopoly of few entities on news content and is resulting in quicker dissemination of news, even from parts of the world not safe from professional journalists.
This reduction in the monopoly of few news companies has been a major contributor towards better-informed citizens around the world. In economics, there is a negative relationship between price and consumption and by making the news a free commodity, internet has increased its consumption by the average citizen, resulting in more informed global population. In addition, the global community has not only become more informed but also better informed. This is because news companies used to dictate the information that would go to the public and the decisions would be affected by their own bias but the democracy of information means all point of views are exposed on the internet, helping an average citizen expand his/her thinking horizon. This is why WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange is seen as a hero by many people because his efforts have resulted in the democratization of information even if it may be damaging to the state and national governments around the world.
U.S. and other western media companies have usually dominated news coverage of global events and as such, western ideals usually received preferential treatment in news media. But internet has led to the promotion of local perspectives from other parts of the countries as well and this may be resulting in lower prevalence of extremist ideas. Studies have found that when people are exposed to ideas that mirror their own, they tend to become extreme but when they are exposed to views different from their own, they gain diverse perspectives and are encouraged to challenge their own worldviews. As a result, both the individuals and the society benefits (Nagano). Internet makes it easier to access multiple news channels quickly and often freely which results in more balanced worldview for citizens around the world and promotes understanding among them. Another way the internet has been giving shaping the behavior of global citizens is by encouraging them to become more involved in local and global affairs. Internet makes it possible for citizens to connect with like-minded individuals and make their voices heard. Many politicians around the world, especially in developed countries have presence on the social media and often respond to popular petitions by their constituents.
But like most technologies, this democratization of news and information has come at a cost. Citizen journalists as well as internet-only media companies often do not follow the same professional rules and ethical codes as traditional media companies. While news does spread fast on the internet, the probability of it being inaccurate has also risen. But traditional media companies are also misled by such news in pursuit of speed since they do not want to be seen as slow. Not surprisingly, many American TV Networks reported a false piece of information related to 2009 incident at Fort Hood US Army Base that the shooter Major Hasan had been killed which originated on Twitter. The claim turned out to be false as Major Hasan was captured alive (Carr).
It is apparent that internet has truly led to equitable access to information and news and has challenged the traditional business models of news companies that had survived for over a century at least. As a result, global citizens are more informed and are also gaining balanced perspectives because news companies are no more the gate keepers of news and information like they used to be. Similarly, citizen journalism has been gaining traction because internet has made it possible for anyone to post information and this has been especially true in case of local journalism. But this democratization of news has come at a cost since internet news channels and citizen journalists do not follow the same professional and ethical standards. As a result, the price of quicker and cheaper access to news and information has been a decline in the accuracy of news material.
Carr, Paul. NSFW: After Fort Hood, another example of how ‘citizen journalists’ can’t handle the truth. 7 November 2009. 1 April 2013 <http://techcrunch.com/2009/11/07/nsfw-after-fort-hood-another-example-of-how-citizen-journalists-cant-handle-the-truth/>.
Guthrie, Marisa. Lara Logan: ‘I Was Dying in That Square’. 12 January 2013. 1 April 2013 <http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/lara-logan-i-was-dying-411756>.
IMDB. Page One: Inside the New York Times. 29 September 2011. 1 April 2013 <Page One: Inside the New York Times>.
Krugman, Paul. The Conscience of a Liberal. 1 April 2013 <http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/>.
Nagano, Fumiko. Pluralism and Diversity for An Informed Citizenry. 21 July 2009. 1 April 2013 <http://blogs.worldbank.org/publicsphere/pluralism-and-diversity-informed-citizenry>.
Silver, Nate. FiveThirtyEights. 1 April 2013 <http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/author/nate-silver/>.