James Curran wrote an article entitled The Future of Journalism in 2010. In it, he laid out various different viewpoints of where journalism stands today and where it is headed. The predictions outlined varied from an apparent growing ‘crisis of journalism’, online journalism improving old-media journalism, and ‘pro-am’ (professional-amateur) partnerships. In this post, I am going to explore these opinions in more detail.
In Curran’s ‘Crisis’ chapter, he lays out some depressing figures of cuts and job losses in traditional journalism, eg in newspapers and broadcasting. He says: “The rise of the Internet has also led to the haemorrhaging of paid jobs in journalism.” While this is true – I have read and detailed in my first blog post Francois Nel’s (2010) ‘Laid Off: What do UK journalists do next?‘ – Curran contradicts himself later in his article. When talking about the ‘renaissance’, he says:
“The crisis of the traditional economic model of journalism will give rise to a new social model based on a pro-am (that is, professional-amateur) partnership. This will take the form of ‘‘network journalism’’ in which members of the public draft, research or produce stories. In some cases, volunteer journalists will produce their own websites; in others, they will constitute a diverse feed chain, with professionals at the centre.”
So, in an industry which is declining and whose budgets are being forcibly cut, the ‘renaissance’ argument is that members of the public will take part in ‘journalistic activity’, a point which fails to stand on its feet. Many – or most – people blog for pleasure in their free time about topics that are of interest to them, whether it be sport, fashion or TV. These members of the public usually have their own jobs and lives to deal with the rest of the time. To think that the majority of them would be interested enough to work presumably for free to research and produce stories that are probably of no interest to them is absurd. If the industry cannot afford to keep the professionals working for them, why would it be able to pay for amateur journalists, who would have to work outside of normal working hours?
The ‘news media renaissance’ also suggests that the internet is enriching the quality of ‘old-media journalism’. The argument for this that is put forward by Curran is that there is more information online and more varied sources for journalists than ever before. As a result: “old news media are better able to verify stories, and to offer a wider range of views and insights.” While it is true that information is accessed more easily online, it is hard to say whether the internet is ‘enriching’ old-media journalism. Surely, at the most basic level, the business of old-media journalism is in decline because of the internet. If we take one example, The Watergate Scandal, an event which happened before the internet, it is hard to imagine that the internet would have enriched this story as it unfolded. The main source of information came from the anonymous ‘Deep Throat‘, who came forward to the journalists and only wanted to meet them in person to secure his safety and anonymity.
To come full circle to the title of this blog, it’s actually quite hard to predict the future of journalism. Other predictions, as outlined in James Curran’s (2010) ‘Technology Foretold’, have found themselves hyped up by media experts, politicians and the media, but then have flatlined for various reasons. While this probably won’t be the fate of the internet, the fate of journalism is still up in the air.