Critcal Reading

The chapter asks the question:

Are the institutional constraints for journalists lessened in the digital environment?

As Clay Shirky states in ‘Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organising without Organizations’, the way around institutional constraints for journalists is to get rid of the concept of institution completely. You remove the packaging and all you are left with is the product. However by taking away the institution, you are taking away the brand association that goes with it, a concept that some critics feel wouldn’t work.

For Paul Graham consumers of news are still first and foremost consumers and should be viewed as such, just as newspapers should be seen as a marketable commodity. “Consumers never really were paying for content, and publishers weren’t really selling it either….Almost every form of publishing has been organized as if the medium was what they were selling, and the content was irrelevant”.

The Relationship between Institution, the Journalist, and the Consumer.

In trying to assess the need for institution John Vernon Pavlik addresses the issue well when he stated in 2000:

We need to ask ourselves: What are the most effective roles for journalism in an age where citizens can increasingly go directly to the source? Journalists should embrace new media because“They can build new communities based on shared interests and concerns; and since [they have] the almost unlimited space to offer levels of reportorial depth, texture, and context that are impossible in any other medium….new media can transform journalism.”As we saw in the chapter this new “unlimited amounts of space” the internet provides- has increased institutional constraints for journalism as- formal institutions now must compete with all this internet space for advertising, effecting funding.

For Dominc Boyer however, it is not simply a matter of re-evaluating the relationship between journalist, institution and consumer.

In an online article ‘Digital Expertise in Online Journalism and Anthropology’ (Project Muse) Boyer maintains that the institution of the newspaper is weakening as the digital environment strengthens. “In an era in which most western news organization are shedding staff to meet investors’ demands for profitability in the face of falling advertising revenues, online news departments are experiencing growth”.

Irish Newspaper’s struggle to align themselves within this changing world of journalism is apparent from the recent controversy over Irish newspapers and their attempts to charge organisations such as Woman’s Aid a fee for linking to their article.

  The Problem of the Citizen Journalist:

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“By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community”. Oscar Wilde.

In terms of the institutional constraints faced by journalists….the digital environment means they must deal with the shear amount of information out there and fight against what he refers to as “informational noise”.The problem is: People will or maybe have become over-saturated with the amount of news sources out there.Journalists must figure out how we can cut through the clutter and provide some clarity to people as to what’s important.

In the past it was more the role of the journalist to publish something that without hisresearch would not have existed- but today the role is increasingly to evaluate the material that others are generating. And to organize it.

For Dominic Boyer: “The consumer is still the way he always was, with limited time and with limited competence”. However surely the average consumer of news has been changed by the internet age as much as newspapers. They are now saturated with more information and surely this would mean they have a different spectrum of aptitude.

If the consumer is different and the journalist’s role is different the task of journalism can be defined as separating the news from the internet noise.

An Irish example of this:

RTE contains a library on its premises which would have been a central focus point of journalistic research 50 years ago.Recently RTE invested in iphones for a considerable amount of its reporters in an effort to make them more self-sufficient. This is a reflection on the need to cut down on resources, and merge departments but also a reflection on the means by which journalists gather information. While a library would have been crucial to journalistic investigation and the verification of facts 50 years ago, now not only is most of journalism conducted online, it is increasingly taking place on the field as opposed to an office.

Boyer articulates: The task of the journalist has been redefined: as “a special capacity to identify significance within informational clutter” but acknowledges that “thematic selection and news filtering have long been aspects of news journalism” but that now they are elevated to a “new jurisdictional importance at the core of the identity  of online journalism”.

So to come back to the question that the chapter presents us with:

Are the institutional constraints for journalists lessened in the digital environment.

Yes, it seems. But only because journalists must make the transition to the digital environment, accept their formal death and accept their rebirth as informational mediators.

“We need journalism probably more than we’ve ever needed it.” Jon Jatz

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