Trends in today’s media landscape
The digital revolution has created a new ecosystem in journalism, one that many traditional media houses are having difficulty adapting to. The roles of journalists are changing, as are the newsrooms in which they work. Some of the trends present in today’s media landscape include job cuts, media company buyouts, increased reliance on computers, and the rise of “hacker” journalists.
In January 2016, Rogers Media and Postmedia announced new rounds of staff reductions; newspapers in Guelph and Nanaimo, B.C., were shut down, and Torstar revealed plans to close its printing plant (Shattered Mirror 2017). Strong competition for advertising revenue from tech companies such as Google and Facebook, who together account for 82.4 per cent of the Canadian digital ad market, leave media organizations struggling to keep up. In Canada, Canadian publications account for only 11.5 per cent of the market according to comScore. With fewer resources, news companies have had to reduce the number of journalists in the field, and struggle even to test digital innovation that could help them reach new audiences (Shattered Mirror 2017).
As a result of this, different solutions to improve journalism’s business model have been practiced. One solution involves government intervention through public policy, such as subsidies and tax breaks for news outlets. This solution is something that has been present for a long time now; a classic example is the CBC, which is an instrument of public policy (Shattered Mirror 2017). What we’re starting to see happen now is the “salvation [of media outlets] via a wealthy white knight”. Founder of Amazon Jeff Bezos bought over the Washington Post, and in 2016 they claimed that they were making profits after the takeover. Similar instances have been reported in Mexico with Carlos Slim helping to “bankroll” the New York Times, and Red Sox owner John Henry taking control of the Boston Globe. Yet this in itself can be dangerous—having the press dependent on the whims of the rich. In Nevada, gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson bought over the state’s largest newspaper and used it to “hound his enemies” (Shattered Mirror 2017).
The onset of the 21st century has given rise to increased presence of computers in the newsroom. The use of computers to write articles, formerly known as computer assisted reporting (CAR), has evolved into computational journalism (Coddington 2015), which deals with algorithms to aid in the journalistic process such as gathering and disseminating information. Another type of journalism that has been deemed a descendent of CAR is data journalism, which refers to any sort of journalism involving structured information, and according to Coddington (2015), based on data analysis and the presentation of such analysis. Stray (2011) defines it as “obtaining, reporting on, curating and publishing data in the public interest.” However what confused me is that Coddington says that both data and computational journalism stemmed from CAR, which dates back to around 1952 when CBS used a computer to predict an elections; yet the earliest record of data journalism was with the Manchester Guardian (now the Guardian) in 1890. Is it that data journalism existed before CAR, but that computers have revolutionised the data journalism process?
Computers in the newsroom have birthed a new type of journalist, an evolution of the traditional journalist into what the Knight Foundation refers to as “Journalist 2.0” or the “hacker journalist”. These journalists have a background in computer science and programming, bringing their skills and work ethics to the newsroom. Usher (2016) describes hacker journalists as “experimenting and innovating”, bringing a new kind of thinking into the field: “They look at journalism as information and journalism as a problem that can be solved.” As code becomes more integral to the news process, coders too become more a part of the newsroom. According to Usher (2016), we have come to the point that without hacker journalists, journalism today would not be possible.
Coddington, Mark (2015). Clarifying Journalism’s Quantitative Turn, Digital Journalism. 3:3, 331-348. CA: Routledge.
Public Policy Forum (2017). The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age. Ottawa: Public Policy Forum.
Stray, Jonathan (2011). “A Computational Journalism Reading List.” January 31. http://jonathanstray.com/a-computational-journalism-reading-list.
Usher, Nikki (2016). Interactive Journalism: Hackers, Data, and Code. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.