Kolton's ideas, thoughts and opinions

15 May

The Internet is Changing Journalism as We Know It

For better or for worse the growth of the internet has drastically changed the landscape of journalism. The amount of different ways the internet has changed journalism is nearly countless and we’re still waiting to see the lasting effects of these changes. The internet has provided the tools so anyone can be a journalist, it has changed how people gather and put out their news and, maybe most importantly, it has changed what news outlets are covering.

The internet has provided nearly anyone and everyone the outlet to be a journalist. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have given anyone the ability to put their ideas and opinions out there amongst their friends and followers. Blogs have given basically anyone the ability to share their voice amongst anyone else in the world with an internet connection and video hosting sites like YouTube and Vimeo have given video editors and video creators the ability to put their videos out on the internet opening up the doors for millions upon millions of potential viewers. In today’s day and age if someone has either a phone or a computer along with an internet connection they have the tools to be a modern day journalist. This conversion of the consumers to the producers has also created news stories and local media that would not formally be possible.

One example of these online outlets creating a story that might not have been possible before the age of the internet happened at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on May 13th. On May 13 there was an accidental active threat alarm that went off at UW-Whitewater. Throughout the school alarms sounded off telling students to “Run, Hide or Fight” and a school-wide email was sent echoing the same notes. Ten minutes later another email was sent out to the students stating that this whole fiasco was just a error within the system at UW-Whitewater, with no other answer to follow. This incident received lots of backlash from students who were on campus on Twitter. Later on that day ABC WISN 12, a local news outlet out of Milwaukee, used these tweets from the students to cover the story on their own. This is just one example in the recent past of how online services, in this case Twitter, has helped create a story that might not have been possible before the age of the internet. Before the internet existed it would be very likely that a small story like this one would not get covered. It might not get covered because there was no initial reporting on the issue so none of the reporters would have heard about it. It also might not have been covered because it’s very likely that producers and editors would deem that a story like this one would not be relevant enough to throw in a full newspaper or TV newscast because of the limited space those forms allow, but on the internet there’s almost limitless amounts of space to store stories that is no longer a reason to not cover a story. And finally this story might not have been covered because WISN 12 might not have had access to any sources who were actually there at the University, but Twitter alleviates that problem. All of these problems are non-issues in the age of the internet and that has opened the door for so much more journalism in this age. This shift in consumption of the news has really changed how journalists decide what they’re going to cover for their outlets.

One way that journalists have now decided what they should cover on a daily basis is by looking at current trends on social media sites, Google and YouTube, but that might not be in the best interest of the consumer. Because according to Le T. P. Nghiem, Sarah K. Papworth, Felix K. S. Lim and Luis R. Carrasco’s article Analysis of the Capacity of Google Trends to Measure Interest in Conservation Topics and the Role of Online News they found that “Our results have shown that the trends of interest in conservation topics are sensitive to the benchmark chosen, therefore raw data from Google Trends should not be interpreted literally”. This goes to show that it might not be in the consumer’s or the journalists’ best interest to just follow these trends because just like the article points out just because consumers aren’t actively searching for some trends doesn’t mean they no longer care about the issue. The example that the article uses is climate change, and while public interest is at an all time high in climate change it is no longer an actively searched or trending topic on which has caused reduced coverage in the current news cycles. Another example of how trending doesn’t equal public interest is the ongoing American war in Iraq and Afghanistan. While Gallup polling has consistently found that a majority of American voters both think that the war in Iraq was the wrong decision and also think that America should get out of the war. The latest poll done by Gallup in February of 2018 found that 73 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of the war in Iraq. While this war is still active and ongoing 15 years later and Americans have been found to have a strong opinion against the war because this topic is no longer trending or actively searched by consumers it gets almost no news coverage compared to the active current topics of the day such as the latest news revolving around president Trump. This lack of attention, and maybe even more importantly the lack of the ability to continuously cover all these topics has opened up the door for niche media outlets to cover the topics that the larger outlets can no longer focus on.

One way journalists in both larger and smaller media outlets find out what their audiences want to have covered is not by searching what’s nationally trending on Google and Twitter, but instead by asking their own followers what they want to have covered. According to And Deliver Us to Segmentation: the growing appeal of the niche news audience written by Jacob Nelson he found that “that a stronger journalist/audience relationship is a goal that is being pursued not just by news non-profits, but by more traditional news brands as well.” Nelson looked at media outlets large and small, for profit and non-profit and he found that the current internet shifted trends in journalism affects all types of media outlets. Nelson’s study found that “Though The Chicago Tribune and City Bureau are drastically different in many key ways—including size, age, circulation, and mission—employees within both expressed a desire to communicate with audiences in order to improve both the quality of news each organization provides, as well as to benefit those for whom these news stories are provided. These findings suggest that the distinction between how innovative news nonprofits and more traditional news organizations pursue and consider the audience has begun to blur. Though the Tribune historically kept the audience at arm’s length, its reporters and editors described an increasing interest in using live events and digital technology to establish a more conversational relationship between news provider and consumer.” This is another example of how even the oldest media outlets in this country are realizing that they are needing to adapt to the newest trends in online journalism to survive and compete with their online counterparts.

It hasn’t been made clear if that is a good or a bad trend for journalism. This shift to covering what the people want to hear might be attributing to the quote on quote softening of the news coverage. According to Pablo J. Boczkowski and Limor Peer’s article The Choice Gap: The Divergent Online News Preferences of Journalists and Consumers found that their “Analysis has shown that journalists’ choices on these (that more closely listen to their consumers) sites are substantively ‘soft’ in terms of what the stories are about, but not in terms of how they are told.”  So while the stories are still seemingly being reported on fairly more and more it seems like the amount of “soft” news that consumers will get might directly be linked to the amount of back-and-forth the outlets have with their consumers.

This can put these media outlets in really tough spots because people no longer need to just read the stories that their local newspapers cover. They no longer need to sit through an entire hour of SportsCenter to see the highlights of the game they want to see. So if you’re not covering what your consumer wants they’ll go somewhere else, but what the consumer wants might not be exactly the news that needs to be reported on at that time. This has opened the door for smaller more individualized media outlets to compete with the larger outlets.

This shift in what news outlets are covering is real interesting, because some outlets are trying to cover anything and everything to please all possible readers, while other outlets are trying to cover more and more niche markets because of the global reach any outlet can have thanks to the internet. In the article And Deliver Us to Segmentation: the growing appeal of the niche news audience Jacob Nelson says “pursuing a more collaborative relationship with the news audience is ill-suited with a mass audience approach to news production.” It’s unrealistic for a completely new person to enter the current media landscape with the goal to cover all news and draw a mass audience. Today’s market, with the growth of the internet and its’ journalistic forums like blogs, social media sites and YouTube have created even bigger niche markets than ever possible. Consumers now have access to read, watch and consume the exact stories that they want to. Instead of having to wait through an entire TV show, or rift through an entire newspaper consumers can simply Google what they’re looking for and find exactly that. This has put large scale media outlets in a tough spot.

More than ever before outlets are dependent on finding out what their consumers would like to see because, on the internet, if an outlet is not covering what their readers want to see then those readers won’t stick around. Without the clicks and the readership then the outlets are unable to continue going. This has created more specific forms of media. Instead of the generic sports networks, like ESPN and FOX, that cover all sports people are turning to more individualized outlets that cover specific sports like soccer, hockey, basketball etc. This birth of the individualized sports markets has caused problems for those larger outlets like ESPN who, according to Kevin Draper’s New York Times article ESPN Is Laying Off 150 More Employees, was forced to fire 300 staff members back in 2015 and 150 more in 2017. ESPN fired the majority of their NHL reporters because target niche markets had done a better job at covering that specific sport. The majority of the other individuals who were fired at ESPN were online content producers and online managers because the ESPN online was struggling to compete with the smaller niche markets that the internet created.

In the traditional forms of media consumers would get into a news consumption rhythm. Consumers typically had a specific news channel they watched, newspaper they picked up and it wouldn’t matter that much if a news outlet chose to not cover the stories their audience wanted all the time because it would typically take multiple times before a consumer would stop picking up that paper or before they would start watching a different news channel, but now consumers will typically go to google, facebook, twitter or any other number of online outlets and search for what they want to know. In regards to social media sites, even if a news outlet can get a consumer to follow them on a social media site that outlet still has to cover what their consumers want otherwise they will simply scroll past generating zero advertising revenue for the media outlets. The expansion of the niche internet media market versus the larger mainstream general media market is one of the more interesting trends in current media and is constantly changing the kind of news consumers are receiving. This battle for viewership has been made even more interesting over the past couple years with the larger media outlets continuously embracing the new forms of media more and more. News organizations like CNN, Fox News, ESPN and more are starting to plunge into YouTube and have thrown more focus into their social media and online presence in recent years.

The internet has completely changed the present and the future state of journalism. By making news coverage more interactive it has changed how consumers search, receive and share news. This shift has in turn impacted what kind of news journalists are covering and created larger niche markets than were ever possible before. As the internet continues to evolve the state of journalism will continue to evolve with it.



Works Cited

Boczkowski, P. J., & Peer, L. (2011). The Choice Gap: The Divergent Online News Preferences of Journalists and Consumers. Journal of Communication,61(5), 857-876.

Draper, K. (2017, November 29). ESPN Is Laying Off 150 More Employees. New York Times.

Nelson, J. L. (2017). And Deliver Us to Segmentation. Journalism Practice,12(2), 204-219.

Nghiem, L. T., Papworth, S. K., Lim, F. K., & Carrasco, L. R. (2016). Analysis of the Capacity of Google Trends to Measure Interest in Conservation Topics and the Role of Online News. Plos One,11(3).

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