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The Changing Conversation


Focus of the media is shifting to the publication of public opinion rather than individual editorial material

The changing face of news media

Via Mike Licht, flickr

By: Arina Kharlamova, Staff Writer

As soon as newspapers went wireless, the whole conversation around news-consumption changed. Where before we had Firewire pages and ICQ accounts, now we have Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. While this may not seem like such a far jump, it is. The world of online news transmission has grown up to be its own creature, one that hasn’t necessarily turned out to be McLuhan’s worst nightmare.

“The medium is the message” is what young journalists and writers hear in incubation. It is what dominates the headspace of theorists and English professors worldwide, and its what makes this conversation – the one I, the author, am having with you, the reader – so dynamic, because it is online as opposed to through a page of a newspaper or book.

When The Sun, The Post, and The Times were still black and white and re(a)d all over, this transmission was a one-way street: writer writes, reader reads. But now, this is a back-and-forth conversation; it is a debate, a dialogue, an exchange of ideas. The path to such a democratic media was arduous, but it was also natural with the development of online communication tools (chat rooms, blogs, forums) that eventually led to the development of social networking sites.

On the Internet, where one can watch millions of hours of fetish pornography and then learn how to knit a blanket for their pet bunny, everything is fair game. Morality is no longer a binary, but a sliding scale of strangeness on which you inevitably fall. It is a space that many people are surprised and disgusted by, but ultimately it is a tool for communication, whether that is to transmit sex positions or local news.

When I think of people who have never used the computer, using the internet for the first time, I think of one word: overexposure. Bombarded by information and colours and motion. Everything is “SPECIAL” or “FREE” or “VIAGRA,” and it is all very timely; it is all happening now, closing soon, and ending often. The “need” to choose mounts within milliseconds, and we start thinking about what we want, instead.

Readers these days are becoming pickier about wants. And it is not because they are reading more – it is because they know how the Internet is designed to work, and they know that they need to dig deeper to find things they want.

However, publishers are finally cluing in to the fact that people are bored of the FRONT PAGE NEWS in lieu of personalized interests like sports, recipes, or art critiques. When ad numbers are down and nobody is paying attention to your best-paid stories, the stories that do generate reader interest – through comments, hits, Likes or +1s – manage to perk up publishers’ eyebrows. It is what has been happening all through the web-sphere since comments became commonplace. People are forcing publishers to change the conversation, to focus not only on their own editorial ideas, but also on public opinion, and they are largely accomplishing this through social media – the great equalizer.

In this way, readers are slowly reversing the journalistic process by telling writers what they want to read about. Readers are slowly democratizing the online media space.

OLD SCHOOL

Journalism schools like Ryerson still teach the basics, says David Silverberg, managing editor of DigitalJournal: how to ask the 5 W’s, how to find proper sources and attribute them correctly, how to write eye-catching headlines, how to include appropriate and impactful photos. These are still important tenets of honest journalism, and the social media speedway is not changing that anytime soon, even if social media sometimes makes the message more garbled.

The tenets of journalism, however, are also no longer only respected and applied by accredited journalists, adds Chantal Braganza, Toronto editor of OpenFile, “Even if this person doesn’t have the same level of experience, they can still potentially do as good of a job.”

Increasingly, people are relying more on trusted personalities than trusted companies, because the idea of a “trusted company” has become a joke. Before the Internet (B.I.), readers relied on a certain company or news source to get their information, like the Star, the Globe and Mail, or the National Post.

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People are forcing publishers to change the conversation to…public opinion, and they are largely accomplishing this through social media – the great equalizer.

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In fact, these companies are still a main source for news for people all over the country, and it is because they are mature institutions with cultivated opinions. They give you what you expect – national coverage, heavily sedated opinions, and “insight”. They are accredited massive conglomerates that pump out news, even if it’s trite, spoon-fed uselessness.

The bureaucracy involved in these media companies prevents reporters from having real opinions on important topics, which is a shame to our journalistic history and to journalistic integrity as a whole. Kai Nagata, a bureau chief for the CBC, quit in the summer, claiming on his blog that he did not feel like he had enough of a voice to be able to say anything in his reports.

“I feel like I’ve been holding my breath. Every question I asked, every tweet I posted, and even what I said to other journalists and friends had to go through a filter, where my own opinions and values were carefully strained out,” Nagata wrote. He mentions that broadcasting companies assume that “the target viewer… is also supposed to like easy stories that reinforce beliefs they already hold.” This is not clear and explorative news. This is not open media.


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