The internet is going to cause a paradigm shift in journalism is now a banal statement; however, the statement is not out of fashion yet. In fact, I think, this proposition is worthy of a degree of credibility, but not as simple as it sounds. The internet has by far emerged as an excellent medium to share free information first and to build brands second. Whenever one thinks in terms of brands, it becomes difficult to separate the brand from its worth measured in the terms of financial goodwill it generates to the underlying business/activity. However, the fact remains that brands are all about trust and can’t really be quanitified in the terms of money. So, I won’t enter into the exercise of profitability quotient of journalism on the internet while talking of brands. Rather, I am making a far-fetched presumption that one day journalism as a full-time career will ceast to exist, and all journalism will be part-time vocations.
As a layman, I can easily recognize two significant divisons in the present day journalism: News and Opinions. News is generated on the ground, collected by the reporters, transferred to the central agency, processed therein and published or broadcasted in one form or the other. The well recognized news agencies in India are PTI, ANI, IANS, UNI, PIB, etc. Most of the times, a layman doesn’t consume news directly from these news agencies but through some better known intermediaries like NDTV, The Hindu, HT, IBN, India Today, Times, IE, etc.; and, of course, these intermediaries also have armies of reporters, who collect news directly, but, I think, the real news is reported through any of the afore-mentioned news agencies only, and the focus of these intermediaries seems more to be that of publishers and broadcasters. These intermediaries are definitely profit centres and have come to be recognized as corporate media. Another focus of these profit centres is to generate opinions, whether through their own ilk or through guests or, for that matter, through their audience and readers. Both individual and group brands have been established in this corporate media.
In reference to journalism, at present, the internet is restricted to promotion of offline brands on the internet especially through SEO promotion. I don’t recognize the present social media as any kind of journalism. The present form of news collection through social media is suspicious and even dangerous, and the opinion makers have not yet gained the desired credibility: they are either associated with offline brands or else they are, at the best, amateurs. I am damn sure that the internet can’t be used for B2C ecommerce in the case of journalism: nobody will ever pay for consuming news and opinions, though it is quite possible that opinion makers might pay for promoting their opinions, but that would be B2B ecommerce, and, given the ethical resistance to paid news, I don’t think B2B commerce/ecommerce can ever become a legitimate business activity in journalism. So, for me, journalism on the internet can prosper only if the individual brands associated with opinion making but without any significant permanent address even on the internet, emerge as credible alternatives to the offline brands promoting themselves online with permanent web addresses, whether individually or collectively. The news collection can’t and will never become an internet activity; the off line news agencies and the corporate media will exercise considerable control over news collection and reporting, and the onilne journalists/opinion makers will have to rely upon these sources, which will always keep the offline journalists at an advantage over the purely online journalists/opinion makers.
However, even after drawing such a sad picture of online journalism, I am sanguine that the new age journalism will be more ethical and professional. The counter from the purely online journalists/opinion makers would be extremely forceful as they will exist and survive only if they are able to built a very high degree of credibility, which will automatically expose the fradulent character of the corporate media and thus make it a non-profitable proposition. Of course, the ramification could be extensive so far as to make full-time journalism a non-viable vocation, but how soon or how late it will happen is anybody’s guess.
Note: The above is subject to an assumption that the state controlled media will cease to exist sooner or later, so I have not even discussed it.
©2014 Ankur Mutreja