Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the worldwide web, initially intended his invention to be a haven of collaboration where people could share their knowledge (Gauntlett 2009:39). Although the prospect of such public journalism corresponded with democratic and egalitarian principles, journalists took this idea with a pinch of salt. This was almost 20 years ago, before the information highway had, for better or for worse, stretched its limbs across the globe. Today, the new media has redefined both journalism and self expression in conflicting ways that leave an individual wondering at the veracity of digital information.
In the last decade, internet has gone through an explosive growth and diversification. No one could have foreseen how the internet would pervade our lives and transform the very notion of being part of a society. It has provided the ultimate freedom of the new age: a single blogger can speak to the entire world, a concept virtually impossible two decades ago. However, with this flourishing and unbound growth, the internet brings a unique set of predicaments and dilemmas.
The most profound and relevant of such problems is the age-old clash of a person’s right of self-expression with the hazards of misinformation of the whole society. Whether this deceit comes about due to ignorance or design is irrelevant; in a society that promotes freedom of speech, misinformation is bound to occur on both grounds. While conferring infinite freedom to the common person, this means of self-expression comes with the acrid realization that words from a layman, presented as the predominating views of his community, are not necessarily a blessing.
The news on the new media of today is more about gossip and entertainment then first-rate journalism. Since when did journalism begin to cater to the ever-growing need of the populace to be entertained? In an interview to BBC World News America, Ted Koppel, former Nightline presenter, criticized the digital journalist of today for being a mere supplier for consumers (Whitlock 2010). The commercial expansion of new media and ever-growing competition in the free market means that journalists have to write what sells; or rather, gets the most “hits” on a website.
How did we come to a situation where the populace demands not to be informed, but to be perpetually entertained? Discussing news on the television, Daya Kishan Thussu (2007: 9) states: “There is a concern that too much news is creating an information overload, contributing to a structural erosion of the public sphere in the Habermasian sense, where the viewer, bombarded with visuals, is unable to differentiate between public information and corporate propaganda. ” If that is true regarding television news, it most definitely holds water concerning internet news.
The gargantuan flow of information, most of which lacks in credibility, is bombarded on any user who wades through the mire of pop up advertisements, banners, and mass e-mailing. Although, these devices are some of the tools used in the race to get more traffic on ones website, the capitalist agenda is far from being the most unfavorable feature of journalism. It is the ubiquitous use of new media, especially by the youth that yields the most detrimental effects. The frivolous writing that is spilt across the new media today may be the first literature some of us encounter, and draw heavily from.
However, there have been examples of the internet doing its job where other media have failed. Earlier this year, on January 12th, an earthquake hit the Caribbean island of Haiti. All landlines and mobile connections were suspended. The production team of the news program Sunrise at Sky News, London, was finding it difficult to channel in the first reports from the disaster-struck area. It was to be a young member of their team, Emily Purser, who used Twitter and instant messaging via Google and Skype, to secure the first reports of the incident (Elward 2010).
Another, much publicized affair was the use of Twitter by the political opposition in Iran to protest the presidential elections. The protestants took to all sorts of media, but the loudest dissent was voiced, surprisingly, through microblogging. This medium proved to be fast, portable, and most importantly very difficult to contain. Ironically, this very accessibility makes the medium too erratic, unreliable, and mundane to be of any journalistic value (Grossman 2009). An obvious embodiment of the debate between free speech and quality journalism is Wikipedia.
This resource epitomizes the “by the people, for the people” ideology, but this trait alone does not give it any credibility whatsoever, at least not in academic circles. A former editor-in-chief of Encyclopedia Britannica compared Wikipedia to a “public toilet”, accusing it of delivering information that has no authenticity (Shirky 2006). On the other hand, notions that anything that appears in print media will always be more accurate than digital information are absurd.
What Wikipedia envisions is the process through which one can witness the knowledge of its users evolving and perfecting itself through countless revisions (Shirky 2006). The trump card in the argument for Wikipedia comes from a comparison of veracity of data between itself and Britannica; the scientific journal Nature declares them to be of similar accuracy (Giles 2005:900). This collaboration is a sign for those who think people are becoming ever more antisocial and misanthropic, for this is a global effort in creating something for the benefit of all and no monetary gain (Gauntlett 2009:42) .
Patricia Wallace, in her book, The Psychology of the Internet writes about how free flow of information can be used to cultivate critical and analytical thinking amongst students who access it (1999:245). Nevertheless, the fact remains that the new media is losing credibility day by day. Although, the global sharing of information and its revision by collaboration is a noble idea, public journalism makes it exceedingly difficult to acquire accurate information; and to accept the new media as a genuine journalistic medium. BIBLIOGRAPHY Gauntlet, David.
(2009). Case Study: Wikipedia. Eds. Creeber, G & Martin, R. Digital Cultures. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill. Thussu, Daya Kishan. (2007). News as Entertainment: The Rise of Global Infotainment. London: SAGE Publications. Wallace, Patricia. (1999). The Psychology of The Internet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Shirky, Clay. Interviewed on Imagine, BBC1, UK (aired 5th December 2006) Giles, Jim. (2005). Internet encyclopedias go head to head, Nature, 438:900. www. nature. com/nature/journal/v438/n7070/full/438900a. html (5th May, 2010) Grossman, Lev. (2009).
Iran Protests: Twitter, the Medium of the Movement. Time. http://www. time. com/time/world/article/0,8599,1905125,00. html (5th May, 2010) Whitlock, Scott. (2010). Ted Koppel Slams Undisciplined Internet Journalism. NewsBusters. http://newsbusters. org/blogs/scott-whitlock/2010/04/13/ted-koppel-slams-undisciplined-internet-journalism-longs-good-old-da (5th May, 2010) Elward, David. (2010) Work of a trainee newspaper journalist. (5th May, 2010) http://davidelward. com/2010/03/09/the-digital-revolution-need-not-sound-the-death-knell-for-good-journalism/