Technology has made the modern press and it will determine its fate. The printing press unleashed the power of the modern press and the web has taken that to the next stage. The web magnifies the modern press’s ability to provide information rapidly across the globe. However, the power of the web has cost the press a high price. People can personalise the news they receive, the mediums and even the way it is reported. Even TV, which has always found more profits in entertainment than in news, has not rivalled the power of the press in this way.
These issues reflect the technological challenges and are known. There is a deeper issue at work. The web, like an an abyss, calls out to journalism’s soul. The global public opinion creates a new pressure beyond content. In the past, journalism achieved its exclusivity, its power, its purpose, from its self-professed duty to inform the public. The media defended, promoted, and relied on the public interest which created that the duty to inform. Without the press, the public would have been uninformed and democracy would be barely more than mob rule. However, the power and responsibility to inform is now in doubt.
The citizen can inform themselves more than ever before in a variety of ways without the need for the media to mediate the content or the context. The government and the celebrity can speak directly to the public and the public can ask them questions. Celebrities can go directly to their audience without having to subject themselves to the process of the print “celebrity interview”. (See Stephen Fry’s blog here for the change. He has 6.9 million followers while The Telegraph has 400,000)
The technological changes mean the media’s claim on the public interest is challenged in others ways. Computers can write articles. Programmes can scrape information and report content. Technology or a platform and not a person become the intermediary. The reporter is replaced. What remains is a need for context, but many readers will provide or select their own context. Without reporting and the duty to inform, journalism’s soul is imperilled.
Will a new public interest model be enough to resurrect journalism’s soul? The new model is not public interest journalism but a journalism that stakes out and defends a political position. Journalists write their articles to deliver political change. This is a different approach and one that changes and challenges the soul of journalism. When a journalist stakes out a political position then accuracy, objectivity, and proportion must be sacrificed to politics. Journalism may reinvent itself, but will it still be journalism?