But what’s happening 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?
The diminution of authoritative publishing intermediaries has seen a shift in power roles, platforms of publishing and reception of information in the world of journalism. Publishing is defined by Wikipedia as the process of production and dissemination of literature, music and information — the activity of making information available to the general public. In the journalism industry the role of publishing has undergone somewhat of a revolution. For traditional journalists, the rise of social networks and the invention of multimedia-based platforms has seen a significant increase in the power and influence they have. As Alan Rusbridger writes in his article ‘The Splintering of the Fourth Estate’, published in the Guardian, “the social web is not really about the end of what came before, but the starting point for what comes next: richer and more complex societies. I am sometimes giddy with the possibilities new technologies offer us for being better journalists: for reaching even larger audiences; for having more influence; for being embedded in the most astonishing network of information the world has ever seen or could ever have imagined.”
It is not only traditional journalists that have seen an increase in power due to the diminution of traditional intermediaries. Citizens of the public now also have the power to publish on the same multi-media based platforms. Almost any one with access to a computer may publish news and information on a variety of platforms such as blogs, Youtube and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. This social revolution has seen the invention of the blogosphere and more importantly the rise of the citizen journalist. Citizens of the public are increasingly taking on traditional journalists fourth estate role. When you consider the inherent political and economic bias of the traditional media intermediaries, the rise of the citizen journalist is of the upmost importance.
Furthermore, with this shift comes a new responsibility on citizens of the public. The power we have to publish and share on our networks has seen a dramatic change in the reception of news and information. In the past our news flow was disseminated from the hierarchical media companies. Citizens were given little choice in the information they received and were basically told what to think by journalists of these media companies. How things have changed. Citizens now have the ability to collate and aggregate their own news flows. We may personalize what material we receive. A perfect example of this comes by way of the social network; Twitter. The user ‘follows’ only the people he, she or what they want to receive the information from and excludes those with little relevance to their life. In short, their Twitter news feed is filled with information completely custom to their preference. Imperatively, the citizen has a choice and perhaps even more significantly the citizen has a voice. We now live in a ‘prosumer society.’ We critically analyze information and most importantly we respond to it via our own newly established modes of publishing.
2.0 – Changing power roles in Journalism
The diminution of hierarchical intermediaries has altered publishing’s power roles in journalism. Publishing is no longer a luxury or an exclusive practice reserved for media companies with power and influence. Rather, the public now has the power to publish. Throughout history publishing was used as a powerful tool to communicate to the masses and therefore was imperative in swaying the opinions of society. Although unethical and in some aspects illegal, this power could be used to further certain political and economic agendas. Australia being a Liberal Democratic state fully supports the notion of the ‘free press’. Essentially the ‘free press’ dictates that all forms of media output, should be free of government intervention such as political bias and economic motives, however, it has been noted that there is in fact, an intrinsic nexus between media, politics and power. The word to describe this relationship is ‘Partisan Patronage’. As Errington and Miragliotta state in their book ‘Media and Politics – An Introduction’;
“Politics is all about power, its effects and its distribution […] and media outlets have power: the power to project images of politicians, set the political agenda, debate important issues and influence the outcome of elections.”(Errington, W. & Miragliotta, N. 2007, p.142, edit mine)
An example of Partisan Patronage was evident in the 1990’s under the Hawke Keating Government. New media legislation was introduced resulting in an Oligopoly of just three media providers in Australia, of which, Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd. owned 60%.
Australia’s media landscape is dominated by News Ltd and Fairfax Media, of which both control major newspapers such as The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald. When you consider that these huge Multinational Enterprises (MNE’s) are responsible for the ‘diverse’ range of media and opinion we are to be presented with, the inherent hypocrisy of our so-called ‘Liberal Democratic’ government is exposed. This also presents further ethical dilemmas that throw into question the validity of the medias ‘Watch-Dog’ function; Has the traditional ‘Fourth Estate’ role of the media been sub-ordinated by a lust for power and economic greed? (Schultz, J. 1998. Pg 49).
All too often the hierarchical media companies and journalists have failed in their ‘Fourth Estate’ role (Carlyle, T. 1840) and instead have taken on ‘Muzzled Watch Dog Function’ (Tiffen, R. 1999, Pg. 214). This problem is exacerbated when you consider the power and tools that journalists have at their exposure today (Rusbridger, A. 2010) – the multi-media tools for publishing, the vast amounts of data and meta-data that are stored in easily accessible archives and the social networks they interact with. In contemporary society it is often up to the citizen journalist to ‘un-muzzle’ this function, so to speak and respond critically to economic and political bias in journalism. “Prudent citizens are suspicious of the necessarily complicated and close relationship between politicians and the media, and so this relationship has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years.” (Savage, S. 2004)
Thankfully, the diminution of the authoritative intermediaries has seen a shift towards a prosumer society where citizens are able to actively engage with the information journalists put forward to them. If necessary, they can respond and criticize through a variety of multi-media platforms or simply choose to exclude information they see as bias. This is because of the vast amounts of news and information that is now afforded to us through the vast majority of modern networks such as the Internet.
3.0 Changing platforms in Journalism
The diminution of traditional and often hierarchical intermediaries along with the prevalence of modern technology today has been the catalyst for numerous changes in the platforms upon which journalists publish. A platform is essentially a means by which something can be represented such as a book or webpage. Traditionally authoritative media companies and their journalists were publishing on print platforms. Print media dominated news flows and information and the media landscape consisted solely of newspapers and magazines. Obviously print media still exists however in contemporary society journalism is not confined to the boarders of a newsroom and publishing on a desktop computer. Journalism is defined as the investigation, and reporting of events, issues and trends to a broad audience. According to former times editor Harold Evans a journalistic story “is about necessary information and unusual events, should be based on observable facts, should be an unbiased account, should be free from the reporters opinion” (Evans, H. 1972). However, journalism nowadays is an umbrella term and with in it is a range of practices. These include news journalism, broadcast journalism, photo-journalism, documentary making and alike.
Anyone, professional journalist or not, may participate in the practice of journalism as the platforms laid down by traditional media companies have become peripheral to news flow and information. The catalyst of this change is of course technology and all the new multi-media platforms it has afforded society. Therefore, news journalism can be likened to a citizen journalist publishing news on their blog. Broadcast journalism is much the same as a member of the public posting a Youtube video about a current issue, or making a podcast about new trend. Photojournalism can even be someone taking photos and posting them on their tumblr. As the definition of journalism states; “the reporting of events, issues and trends to a broad audience.” What broader audience than the Internet.
Perhaps the most powerful form of Journalism today does not come from the traditional media companies rather it comes through the revolution of social networks. Wikipedia defines a network as a supportive system of sharing information among individuals and groups that have a common interest. Twitter is an example of a social network, which provides a powerful platform on which to publish and also receive information. Referring back to Alan Rusbridger’s article he summarises the power of Twitter in 15 steps. Among the most notable for journalism; “a highly effective way for spreading ideas [and] it’s where things happen first.” As he writes many reporters find Twitter and excellent tool for finding and aggregating information “You set Twitter to search out information on any subject you want and it will often bring you the best information there is. It becomes your personalised news feed.” Twitter is also a huge archive (Derrida, J.) “As a search engine, it rivals Google … harnessing the mass capabilities of human intelligence to the power of millions in order to find information that is new, valuable, relevant or entertaining.” Most importantly he states “Instead of waiting to receive the “expert” opinions of others – mostly us journalists – Twitter shifts the balance to so-called “peer to peer” authority. It’s not that Twitterers ignore what we say – on the contrary they are becoming our most effective transmitters and responders.” Twitter demonstrates that the diminution of traditional media practices has opened society to far more powerful publishing platforms. Both journalists and citizens are harnessing the power of these new platforms as a way to communicate ideas and information.
4.0 Changes in the reception of journalism
The diminution of traditional authoritative intermediaries has altered the way in which the public receives journalism. Traditionally all facets of life and the economy were dominated by production. During the industrial revolution and periods after, the focus of was to produce. For media companies and the reception of information by citizens, this was much the same. Citizens were told what to think and had limited choice in choosing information sources because of the scarcity of resources and the power in which companies held. Hierarchical institutions dominated news and information in these times because they had the ability to publish or produce. In modern times we have seen a shift towards prosumption where we there is not only intermediaries producing and people consuming, rather it is a mix of both. Journalism is not the only source of news anymore because citizens both consume information and produce it. We respond critically to the information we are given by publishing responses on a wide variety of platforms.
Alvin Toffler first coined the term prosumer in 1980 (Ritzer, G. 2009). In Tofﬂer’s view, contemporary society has shifted from a clear distinction between production and consumption to a pastiche of the two – prosumption. The diminution of traditional intermediaries has led to ‘the rise of the prosumer’ (Ritzer G, Jurnegson, N.). The invention of the social network presents a prime example in which to view Toffler’s ideology. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are users generated networks and are apart of what is known as Web 2.0 (Ritzer, G., Jurgenson, N. 2009). As Ritzer and Jurgension write “It can be argued that Web 2.0 should be seen as crucial in the development of the ‘means of prosumption.’” Facebook for example is a social network where users create profiles consisting of photos and videos of themselves and also their thoughts. These are then shared with the rest of the network.
As Clay Shirky writes “It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.” Citizens are increasingly becoming the publishers and generators of content and this is what the diminution of traditional media companies has led to. Citizens have become journalists in their own right through the rise of prosumption. The information we now have access to is often self published, user-generated material with little interference or influence from traditional intermediaries. The diminution of authoritative intermediaries has led to the rise of the prosumer and changed the way in which society receives information.
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