Advancements in media technologies have given society new ways to analyze and share information quickly across the globe. But changes in technology, business and governments have made funding the gathering, analysis and sharing of the information problematic.
The problem is analogous to issues in health care: scientists and researchers have developed new tools to fight disease and diagnose health problems, but the costs of paying for and distributing those developments have put their use out of the reach of the average person across the world.
Similarly, changes in the business model for many traditional news-gathering organizations have made analysis and delivery of quality information difficult. Consumers of that information expect it to be free, and they want to be entertained at the same time.
Consumers don’t have to rely solely on traditional media anymore for information, and that’s a good development. But new alternative voices bubbling up from “citizen journalists” lack traditional journalism training and also face the same funding questions that traditional media face.
New funding sources and methods have to be found to get the technology and massive amounts of data into the hands of average citizens in a way that can be useful. At the same time, the valuable, traditional journalism ethics need to be spread to a wider range of voices to ensure quality journalism in the future.
I’m part of the “traditional media,” on the young side of the Baby Boom generation, a group of people who never thought they’d be considered “traditional.” As a group, we’re slowly beginning to adopt the new ideas that entrepreneurs have developed. But years of habit and corporate ownership slow us down. We fear our jobs won’t last until we can retire, and we fear that the future of journalism is threatened, and thus one foundation of democracy could crumble ( Bill Moyers). Some journalists of my generation are moving into new media, but funding remains an issue ( David Boraks).
Here are some major factors to consider:
1. Many traditional media have been slow to adopt new technologies that allow increased engagement from readers and the integration of visual storytelling online. Corporate culture makes it difficult to adapt quickly.
2. Demographics contribute to change — or the lack of change — in the industry. Many newsrooms in the United States are dominated by Baby Boomers, a unique generation of journalists inspired by Watergate o enter an industry they hoped would change the world ( American Journalism Review.) Money was not their prime motivator, but many counted on the industry to provide a living to support families. These boomers are nearing retirement. The values, skills and approaches of new workers will be different.
3. Education of journalists across the world is evolving at an uneven pace, depending on technology access, the institutions’ ability to embrace change and often, the awareness of individual teachers. Technology’s rapid change makes it hard to keep up.
4. Heavy consumption of infotainment skews coverage across the world. Internet users surfing at lunch hit sites with celebrity and sports news, or bizarre stories with little lasting impact. U.S. media dependent on increasing traffic to increase revenue change their mix to satisfy consumers’ cravings, and international consumers of Western media get a distorted picture of a country that seems obsessed with teen idols and celebrity sports stars.
Amid despair and fear, hope sometimes emerges. The 2008 presidential elections in the United States promise increased creativity and increased attention on civic affairs from a new generation. The Baby Boom echo, which grew up with technology, is coming of age and will change our institutions in surprising ways. Foundations and colleges are finding ways to fund new media experiments ( Idea Lab). Technology leaders, new and old, are showing an increased interest in the importance of journalism to society ( Craig Newmark).