The Future of Journalism
March 14, 2017
Filed under Showcase
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“Kellyanne Conway Kneels on Oval Office Couch, Twitter Freaks Out”
“Huge Wikileaks Hacking Controversy”
“Read This Before You Say Anything About Trump”
Admit it — you are guilty of clicking on articles like these. They pop up irresistibly in Facebook and Twitter feeds, begging for our interest and provoking our opinions. The new trend in journalism is to generate articles with exaggerated information to accumulate the most viewership possible. Sensationalist reporting like this seems to have become a standard for the mainstream journalism industry — a fact that is extremely troubling.
The issue arises out of developments in digital media, which have caused a revolution in how consumers absorb information. Newspapers have experienced a steep decline in readership as physical mediums become obsolete. In 2005, print advertising and circulation made up 93 percent of The New York Times’ profits; only 15 years later, it accounted for 70 percent. Readers now receive most information from social media and television. Thus, the world’s publications have experienced growing pains in the process of adapting to online reporting.
Every website article matters in its own right, and the sheer size and accessibility of the online publication industry has intensified competition to a drastic degree. These realities of the digital age mean writers are obligated to make content that draws in the most “clicks.” Inflammatory topics and the art of cherry-picking information have become the best tools for an author who has to reach not only a word quota, but a view quota. Rather than writing from genuine perspective, writers must make articles that conform to the readers’ opinions, regardless of how trivial or misleading the topics may be. The result is inaccurate, unsophisticated and often rushed reporting.
Take, for example, The Wall Street Journal’s coverage of YouTube’s most popular channel, “Pewdiepie.” On Feb. 13, Wall Street Journal published a scathing article about Felix Kjellberg (a.k.a. Pewdiepie) claiming that he was an anti-semite, complete with supposed video evidence and incriminating quotes. The accusations were based on several off-color jokes Kjellberg had made more than a month earlier in his videos, which the Wall Street Journal intentionally took out of context and hyperbolized. To escalate the issue, Wall Street Journal contacted Disney (whom Pewdiepie is affiliated with) and used the anti-semite claim to pressure the company into distancing itself from Kjellberg. And thus, the newspaper crafted the perfect headline to accompany a scandalous article:
The Wall Street Journal leveraged Kjellberg’s fame and misled readers for a profit, costing him the loss of a show deal and his removal from Google’s preferred content list. Meanwhile, Forbes, Washington Post, New York Times, Buzzfeed and countless other publications were quick to exploit the topic in mirroring articles. Yellow journalism resides in even the most mainstream publications and unfortunately receives no repercussions.
Another example of deception in the press was observed on Jan. 29, shortly after the Quebec Mosque shooting. Fox News tweeted and reported that a suspect of the terrorist attack was of Moroccan origin; at the time it was published, this information was correct. However, this suspect was almost immediately proven innocent, leaving only one convicted suspect who happened to be a white man. While Fox News released a second article clarifying the mistake, it refrained from updating the original article for hours afterwards, and the tweet remained unchanged until the next day, when Canada’s Prime Minister demanded they delete it. In the meantime, the report was shared and viewed by thousands, promoting a false, sensationalist narrative that muslims were responsible for the attack. Besides the political motive, Fox News had the clear intent to milk all the possible viewership (and therefore advertising revenue) on the erroneous article. This avaricious reporting style has spread to all corners of the press industry.
The culminating question is how this unethical journalism will be resolved. Consumers are, for the moment, content with absorbing biased or exaggerated information. The New York Times believes the answer lies in digital subscription based revenue. WIRED Magazine published an enlightening article about the preeminent publisher, which plans to transform its business model into one resembling Netflix. It will provide a multimedia subscription-based service with quality reporting. The aspiration is that this will provide the New York Times with sufficient revenue to sustain a large network of resources and staff.
The idea of subscription-based newspapers is a beacon of hope for the industry, and its viability in the future is yet to be seen. Another lifeboat for journalism is nonprofit news outlets, which rely on donations to remain afloat. However, current examples such as Voice of San Diego have struggled to acquire enough funding or presence in the industry. For either case to become viable, it will eventually be necessary for the public and judicial confidence in traditional media to collapse (as it did a century ago in New York). With a public demand for quality reporting, the industry will reconstruct itself to suit the modern world.