Gone are the days when we received the majority of our news and information from the local newspaper(s) published every morning. Accessing the latest news has become a lot easier for us today due to it going beyond just the newspaper.
With the boom in Information and Communications Technology over the last two decades, we no longer have to wait an entire day for our news anymore — we wait mere seconds. We even get live broadcast of the news instead of waiting to get a recap of it the following day.
This goes to show that we live in a different world. A world where we have abundance of news sources directly at our fingertips. We do not need to go to a newsstand to buy a newspaper anymore because we now have instant access to news. All thanks to the Internet! The Internet — the treasure trove of information — has created a vast new marketplace for information: a new marketplace that offers exponentially more choices than the world of print. As a result, there is information everywhere that we consume anytime we want.
The impact of the Internet, however, not only lies in the wealth of information it provides; it has also played a huge role in the growth of news that is produced by non-professional journalists. With the advent of blogging and social media, we see that more and more consumers of news are becoming contributors to and, most especially, creators of news. In what seems to be an ironic and paradoxical twist, the public, who was more or less a passive recipient of news, is now equipped to create and share news; possibly even better than professional journalists.
Since anyone with a smartphone and social media account is tantamount to being a reporter, news now spread like wild harmattan fire and is delivered almost at the speed of lightning. Hence, it wouldn’t be wrong to state that the Internet and social media have given journalism a whole new edge. Thus, at a time when we consume news more than ever before, from more sources than ever before, fueled by the advent of the Internet and its ancillary technologies, I can surmise that the Internet has led journalism into the digital age, thereby demystifying traditional media’s long age claim to being gatekeepers.
Given this new media environment, it is not surprising that journalists now have a whole host of descriptors for their profession and practice: citizen journalism, participatory journalism, digital journalism, among others. This brand of journalism, whatever name you choose to call it, entails citizens (the public) playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information. While some commentators have spoken so glowingly about the benefits of this brand of journalism,the downside of it, however, is that it offers professional and non-professional journalists alike opportunities to be active participants in news content creation. The implication being that journalism is no longer the monopoly of a few institutions or individuals.
With digital journalism lowering the barriers to creating news contents, people have become essentially free to publish whatever news story they want even when what they publish isn’t true. In other words, because the content of this brand of journalism is what we make it, fake news is certain to thrive and misinformation run rampant. And this is the reason many are critical of digital journalism.
However, though the prevalence of fake news might have eclipsed the importance of the digital reformation of journalism, digital revolution has offered far more benefits than traditional journalism nevertheless. Now, news travels with lightning speed unlike those days when access to the hardcopy was the only way one could be informed on the latest happenings.
Therefore, while I agree with so many who decry the problem of ‘fake news’ brought about by new digital technologies and the growth of online news consumption, I fear that we might be throwing away the baby with the bathwater by advocating for a return to traditional journalism.