In the digital age journalism faces a crisis. The crisis is not audience, purpose, style, or even content. The crisis is journalism’s intent. In the past, journalism had intent to inform the public and help it decide on issues. The journalist and their news organisation (in the digital age we call that a platform) had their views and the organisation would take an editorial line. For the most part, this was transparent and understood. However, throughout the process the journalist would maintain their own independence even as they, and the organisation, tried to explain the event or issue as well as provide information for the public to decide.
People can tell their own stories through social media, now they need advocates
In the digital age, social media allows for niche journalism where particular issues or causes can be championed. We find single interest journalists or bloggers. However, the problem is more than niche journalism. Journalism’s nature is changed by social media. Individuals and organisations can tell their own stories and publish their own information. They do not need journalists or news organisations to tell their stories or to explain their issues. As a result, journalism adapts by doing what the individual cannot do on their own, they become advocacy or adversarial journalism. They will take up a cause rather than explain the issue. They will not explore an issue and weigh up whether the cause was justified. They will advocate for a cause as cause without concern for whether it was justified. It is for someone else to decide whether it was justified.
The words give way to deeds, the journalist becomes a political actor
The adversarial journalist understands that they will not change the world by telling stories or informing the public about the world. They want to change it by political acts. To do this they have to influence those who can act. The journalist will decide what needs to be changed and the journalist substitutes their audience, their constituency, for the public interest. They are not serving the public so much as serving their constituency. Instead, of serving the common good, like a politician, they serve their constituency, their audience. To change the world, the journalist has to become part of the political process. They stop reporting on politics and they start to make political statements to advocate a political position. The journalist becomes a political actor. They use their position to advocate for political parties, politicians or institutions that will further their cause. It is not enough to like someone or write a supportive article. The goal is to advocate for them and to challenge and refute their opponents.
If the journalist is a political actor, do they serve the common good?
In this process, the journalist loses their identity as they become an outgrowth of a political party. They start to become spokespersons or defenders of political position rather than taking a critical view. They no longer act to encourage a politician to explain the common good as they understand it. Instead, the journalist advocates their own view of the common good, which competes with the politician. Is this healthy for democracy or for journalism when those who shape public opinion claim to act in it?