Ever since the concept of journalism exists, its goal is to shed light on news, current events, politics and entertainment. But with the advent of technology, which emerged in the last thirty years, traditional journalism is now slowly changing and its definition reshaped. As a result of these changes and shifts, uncertainties about what journalism in the modern world is are surfacing. Indeed, the whole media industry has been completely modified when new formats were welcome into the business. With radio first, television later and finally digital media, journalism has been affected, and thus its techniques had to be revised.
The biggest change in journalism techniques started in the 40s when radio lost its importance and was no longer such a dominant medium. Television was born, and standard news format took over. The news of WWII was provided by live broadcast which was based in Europe, and breaking news stories were updated and fed to the public as it happened. The way Roosevelt’s death in 45 was announce was revolutionary. The news broke via broadcast, which meant people were aware of it when it happened. This was extraordinary for a society who was used to receiving information of that kind days after it had happened.
These changes made journalists responsible for providing faster yet just as accurate news. News used to be the idea of providing information to an audience but the advent of technology forced journalists and newsrooms to work in a much speeder environment, at the cost of compromising accuracy and ethical decisions. This is when it started to shift; the idea of working in a fast-paced environment in order to get the information out as soon as possible changed the whole mentality within the industry, as they were figuring out a new way of managing it.
But technology isn’t the only thing that forced journalism to update its techniques. Indeed, mentalities also changed throughout the years, demanding a different journalistic approach coming from reporters. Let’s use the example of Chester’s newspaper dispatches from the Richmond front in 1865. Indeed, like it would be expected from journalism in all eras, its content is valuable and well written. It also has important descriptions of life in the trenches and of the black soldiers, whom the author makes sure to praise. He basically portrays the battles he is witnessing as something glorious, something that American correspondents today probably wouldn’t do anymore.
Indeed, in the 18-19th century the concept of journalism is deeply invested in the idea of establishing a new social order. In this case, freedom. But in order to establish this freedom, it was essential to establish consciousness amongst people, funded upon individuality and autonomy (in other words, outside of higher power controls.) Nowadays, the concept of objectivity is one of the main principles of American journalism, something that barely survived back in Chester’s generation up until the late 60s, when this whole question started to become a dilemma amongst newsrooms.
It was only in the 20s that objectivity became a journalistic ideal. Some people believe this concept was always applied to the press throughout American history but in reality newspapers used to be very partisan. So when a wave of newspapers started closing, cities started fewer of them and therefore those who survived had the obligation to go with the public’s main opinion because at this point, partisanship in news would exclude a large part of the targeted readers.
However the problem with the beginnings of objectivity in the 40s and 50s was that journalists had a tendency to simply report on what powerful people said, in an effort to not let their subjectivity get in the way of their work. Which evidently, resulted in incomplete coverage.
Journalism techniques radically evolved once again in the 80s and 90s when cable television was welcomed in the United States. Before those days, viewers had a limited number of programs they could choose from, forcing them to receive the same news, same informations, and therefore think the same way. Until 1975, major networks had almost 95% of the total population viewing their programs, versus only 28% by 2004. Thanks to cable, viewers were provided with options, varieties, and most importantly, different viewpoints and opinions on a single matter.
The entertainment options were tailored specifically for each taste, giving the option for citizens to become their own person with their own interests as opposed to having everyone being fed the same entertainment, which made character building hard to achieve. Journalists now had more specific audiences to reach, and therefore had to become more creative and meticulous in their work. Indeed, people now had the option to disregard content produced by journalists, and opt for something that fit their interests more instead.
On the other hand, this variety if options provided to the viewers is also the reason why readers fall into echo-chambers, which is the idea of an enclosed space where one only hears about news that corresponds to one’s ideology. It can be dangerous in the sense that it can disconnect a reader from the real world or from outside opinions and perspectives, leading to a close mind. Journalists that create content also have to be careful not to fall in the trap of feeding these opinions to get a wider viewership, and fall into subjectivity and superficial journalism.
These evolutions within journalism techniques brings us to the role journalists have nowadays. Indeed, as more and more responsibilities fall on journalist’s shoulders, the main goal remains the same: make a difference in this world by spreading the truth. However, while all these additional tools can make the job easier by giving journalists more choices and more room for creativity, it also makes it much harder because it is no longer easy to reach audiences the way it used to be. While journalism techniques evolve and transform, it is important to always be reminded of the chore principles of the profession, principles that, despite all of the evolution, have remained the same.