Top Ten Changes in Journalism Over the Years
- Competition for Clicks
- Rush to Publish
- Social Media
- Donation-Based Payments
- GIFs, Memes, and Tweets
- Fake News
- Bubble Bursting and Layoffs
The journalistic profession has changed dramatically over the years, and journalism jobs are much different today than they were a few decades ago. The Internet has been the biggest disrupter of the media environment, with newspaper circulations declining and major outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times finding themselves in competition with political blogs and popular social media accounts. The profession of journalism will continue to provide opportunities for people who want to enter the field, but the overt politicization and treadmill-like nature of the 24-hour news cycle will be inescapable for future generations of reporters.
Over the last two decades, the changes in journalism have reached new extremes. In fact, a lot of reporting these days now covers the changes in journalism that have occurred as high-speed Internet has become widely available. It would be hard to argue that all of these changes have been for the best. Trust in the media has declined, and political journalism has become intensely polarized. Journalists on either side of the divide hold to mutually exclusive ideas of truth and integrity. Economic pressures contribute to rushed reporting and embarrassing mistakes. Even the seemingly beneficial technology of the Internet has become a threat to journalistic standards. Continue reading to learn more about the top five changes in journalism as well as a few additional points to explain these changes.
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1. Competition for Clicks
The advertiser-based payment model of online journalism has created a sensationalized media environment in which well-respected news outlets compete for clicks with independent content providers who are often less scrupulous in their analysis and commentary. Major newspapers and TV networks have been beset by embarrassing mistakes and retractions as they respond to the pressure to publish ever more incredible stories about politicians and public figures. Hyperlinked headlines are designed to bait readers into clicking on stories that often contain underdeveloped or inaccurate content.
In recent years, the competition for clicks has created a frenzy of salacious news articles from a wide range of outlets. Some of the top organizations in news media have published information that either turned out to be false or contained little more than damaging personal information about a public figure. Oftentimes, these stories are retracted under circumstances that are embarrassing for the news outlets that published them.
The competition for clicks has contributed to the waning influence of the news media and the public’s reduced trust in journalistic integrity and editorial judgment. Most people who follow news media are well aware that media outlets have become highly partisan in recent years, and the competition for clicks has hurt news outlets on both sides of the aisle.
2. Rush to Publish
When a news outlet is the first source to publish an important story, it gets credit and recognition for breaking the news. In the online 24-hour news cycle, journalists are under considerable pressure to break major stories before anyone else can get to them. In one high-profile case, three journalists were fired from CNN after failing to adequately fact-check a story before publication, according to the Washington Post. The story was related to the Justice Department’s investigation of the Trump campaign, and it damaged CNN’s credibility at a time when the network struggled to restore public trust in its reporting.
The rush to publish news stories is a symptom of the broadband Internet era and the dominance of social media in the online information ecosystem. It is a large factor in the problem of major news outlets publishing stories that later turn out not to be true.
These false news stories get published for several reasons. Sometimes the reason is a news room’s desire to be the first to break a story about a sensational event. Other times the reason is that journalists covering a story are carried away by a social media controversy and lose control of their better judgment. When a story has to be retracted for either of these reasons, it’s always embarrassing for the news outlet. Occasionally, it can be the cause of a high-profile lawsuit.
3. Social Media
Journalists can choose to cover many topics that aren’t related to politics, but major news outlets mix political advocacy with their coverage of every topic. From sports and music to business and technology, subjects without any direct connection to politics become politicized as social media becomes more polarized and acrimonious. Journalists rely on social networks, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, to reach their audiences and cultivate their professional reputations.
The preferred social media website for journalists is Twitter. It’s the platform that journalists use to reach their personal audiences and share their opinions about stories in the news. Political figures also understand this, and they use Twitter to make statements and share thoughts that haven’t been published anywhere else before. Presidents and presidential candidates rely on Twitter to make announcements about their intentions and activities.
Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama each have tens of millions of Twitter followers, and so do former candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Everyone in the political and journalistic worlds spends hours every day following news stories on Twitter and posting their opinions for their followers to read. The dominance of social media, and especially of Twitter, has turned the 24-hour news cycle into a daily melodrama with countless twists and turns that aren’t very meaningful in the big picture.
4. Donation-Based Payments
Today’s journalists are dependent on social media and obliged to participate in online political polarization if they want to reach an audience. Journalists with large online followings are not dependent on newspapers, networks or media outlets for employment, however, Direct support from readers, via payment channels such as PayPal, Patreon or Bitcoin, enable journalists to work independently and build trust with their readership.
While news outlets rely on money from sponsors and advertisers to fund their operations, independent journalists earn money from personal donations. This phenomenon is a major feature in the young industry of YouTube journalism.
Video-sharing platforms such as YouTube and Twitter, as well as other more highly partisan platforms, have seen a proliferation of amateur journalism and political commentary in recent years as broadband Internet has become commonplace across the country. These platforms often support viewer donations through a payment system embedded in the video player window.
Many amateur journalists and pundits ask for donations through payment platforms such as Patreon and PayPal. As journalism and political commentary have become more polarized and acrimonious, the methods and platforms used to solicit donations have themselves been dragged into the conflict. The rapid acceleration of journalism’s politicization shows no signs of slowing down.
Perhaps the most obvious recent change in journalism is the politicization of reporting on virtually every topic. Political polarization is simply one part of the evolution of journalism into a postmodern industry of relativity and subjective truth. Politics will be inescapable for journalists in the years to come whether they are reporting on Wimbledon or the Oscars or the presidential election.
In recent years, the top of every front page of every news website has been dominated by political news. The only exception to this rule is in the aftermath of a major disaster or mass shooting, but these events tend to be politicized, as well.
For the last half-century, political news has been increasingly polarized and combative, culminating in the open warfare taking place between liberal and conservative media today. The reasons for these developments run deep, and they can’t be fully explained by material, economic or cultural changes in recent decades. However, they are clearly reflected in these changes. For example, the self-sorting of Americans into ideologically uniform regions of the country has occurred while liberal and conservative media narratives have grown farther apart.
Politicization of the media is very complex, and it can’t be discussed without mentioning social class. Journalists of the national media outlets, including Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post, have, for the most part, been educated at the country’s top Ivy League journalism schools. They are quite wealthy by anyone’s standards, and the rising tide of political populism on the left and right has contributed to the waning credibility of these cultural elites.
With the rise of populism and the advent of amateur online journalism, fact-checking has become a fixture of modern reporting. Politicians have always lied about their actions and intentions, and media outlets such as PolitiFact and the Washington Post have tried to set the record straight.
As polarization has created extreme divisions in the culture and incentives for partisans to seize any advantage, so-called fake news has become a major source of online misinformation. Fact-checking outlets such as Snopes and USA Today attempt to shed light on Internet rumors and outright falsehoods spread by unscrupulous politicians. The problem they face is that fact-checking itself has become politicized, and current cultural divisions are so great that even the concept of truth has shifted under the feet of the fact-checkers.
The United States has a two-party political system, so politicians running for national office have to put together winning coalitions of various factions. Sometimes, these coalitions can be tenuous, such as the alliance between elite Republicans and the grassroots support of Donald Trump. Other times, coalitions can be robust, such as the coalition of liberals, progressives and people of color—many of whom are conservative—supporting Barack Obama.
Factionalism has become very pronounced in the era of broadband Internet. As tech companies such as Facebook and Google have collected data from their users to personalize the ads they see, users on these platforms have become locked in ideological echo chambers. The trend has been for like-minded users to join together in passionate activism for their pet causes, and each faction has its own set of journalists. From the far right to the far left, political journalism has become fragmented and radicalized.
8. GIFs, Memes, and Tweets
Some changes in journalism are less serious. Since broadband Internet became widely available in the 2000s, news stories have included embedded video, animated GIFs, and Twitter posts. A cottage industry devoted to covering the daily drama of Twitter consists entirely of news articles and blog posts commenting on celebrity tweets about stories in the news. This recursive style of journalism begins with a news story and then moves to Twitter in search of celebrity tweets about the story. The final result is a meta-article commenting on the tweets about the original news story. These types of articles are usually about minor controversies and melodramas on Twitter.
9. Fake News
Fake news became a problem during the 2016 presidential election when platforms such as Facebook and YouTube discovered deliberately false news stories spreading among political partisans. Social media platforms have tried to counter fake news with factual information and reporting from major media outlets, but the effort is largely ineffective because the people who share fake news want to believe stories that are flattering to their in-group. When YouTube or Facebook force their users to view headlines from the Washington Post or NBC News, those users tend to become even more entrenched in their beliefs. The result is an intensification of factionalism and angry populism.
10. Bubble Bursting and Layoffs
During the presidency of Barack Obama, high-speed Internet was just starting to become widespread. At the same time, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were becoming the dominant social media platforms, especially among millennials, who were young adults in their teens and twenties at the time. News outlets tried to take advantage of this scenario by generating Web traffic to their websites via social media clicks. For about five years, news outlets such as BuzzFeed, Gawker and Mic grew rapidly from this online traffic, and it looked as if they would conquer the world of journalism.
In the mid-2010s, however, the online media bubble burst, and thousands of journalists were laid off. In the current forecast, journalism jobs are expected to decline by 11 percent over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Media websites such as the Daily Beast and the Huffington Post have been forced to scale back while an army of unemployed journalists have had to change careers or go back to college. Some outlets, such as Gawker and Mic, have had to shut down, and others have been forced to phase out their news reporting divisions altogether.
The Internet has completely changed the way many jobs are done in the modern world, and few professions have changed more than journalism. Anyone interested in journalism jobs should learn how to promote themselves on social media and build trust with an online audience.
Although recent changes in journalism have created serious problems for news outlets, people will continue to read the news for information about current events. Jobs in journalism will be very hard to find for most people, and major media outlets will continue to undergo liquidation and consolidation under new ownership. These changes in journalism are a necessary part of cultural and economic growth.
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