Across the world, journalists and traditional news media organizations have come to realize that new media—blogs, social networking sites, cell phone messaging, and other relatively new technology applications—are having a profound impact on their work. In a recent survey of U.S. journalists, the majority of respondents said that new media have made a significant impact on the speed, tone, and editorial direction of their reporting.
Digital media is clearly here to stay, but its permanent impact on the news media is still unclear. There are a number of ways in which digital media is changing the rules of the media game:
- The emergence of citizen journalism. Web sites, cell phones with cameras, text messaging, and e-mail all are helping to transform ordinary citizens into news gatherers and writers. The public-at-large is increasingly contributing to local and international news coverage, with broadcast news outlets often relying on photos and video submitted by event eyewitnesses. Citizen journalists are also filing their own stories, such as on OhmyNews, a highly popular Web site in South Korea.
- Blogging as news media. Blogs have become much more than just personal observations. News-oriented bloggers are creating their own news brands, hiring their own staff, breaking stories, and pushing their own point of view. Social networking sites can also be used as disseminators of information and mobilizing tools. With some 113 million blogs worldwide (and only 36 percent in English), their potential is enormous.
- Bypassing the traditional gatekeeper. Citizens and groups are able to communicate directly with each other, bypassing the traditional gatekeepers of the “official” media. At the same time, blog aggregators and other ways of filtering online information have begun to fulfill the role of gatekeeper in the online community.
- New methods of censorship. New technologies also enable new censorship and surveillance mechanisms. Online and cell phone news services allow providers and governments to better understand—and track—user patterns, as well as to selectively block information or subtly shape information consumption patterns.
- Convergence. Convergence means that the media—radio, television, print, telephones, the Internet—are merging and expanding together in ways that are still being explored. As more people consume information through cell phones and other mobile devices, media companies and other information providers will be forced to consider the implications of merging telecommunications, cable, broadcast, and other media-related regulation, which can lead to opportunities as well as conflicts.
- New business models. Business models for traditional media outlets have changed, with print publications in particular facing increased pressure on profit margins and competition from online sources. This has forced them to cut back on foreign reporting and longer, more cost-intensive pieces, while simultaneously exploring new side ventures in television, newsletters, and related businesses.
- Cell phones as information producing and consuming devices. Cell phones have revolutionized the world’s communication systems in ways never before imagined. Today a farmer in rural Africa can check the price of goods on the open market as easily as someone in a major city; a volunteer with minimal training can take part in a far-reaching election monitoring program organized with a small amount of capital; and a traveler in a foreign country can find a restaurant, bank, or other essential services with the push of a button. There seems to be no limit to how cell phones can transform societies around the world, and we are only beginning to see the potential it has for development.
- Social networking revolutions. New media technologies played a major role in the events leading up to and following the 2009 Iranian elections and are likely to continue to have a tremendous impact. Social networking tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogging have changed the way Iranian citizens communicate with each other as well as with the outside world. From cell phone cameras capturing scenes of violence that otherwise would go unreported to Twitter feeds used to organize massive protests, new media have forever changed the nature of citizen participation, not just in Iran, but throughout the world.