It is no secret that newspapers, magazines, and other publications of traditional journalism are badly hemorrhaging readership. Many people familiar with the industry put the blame on mobile broadband and other Internet technologies, which has led to the Internet rapidly replacing these publications as people’s primary source of news. What impact does this have on the profession of journalism, and on the quality of news that people receive?
Years ago, traditional forms of journalism – i.e. print journalism and television journalism – were largely considered authoritative, independent sources of information. For example, television anchor Walter Cronkite is perceived as turning the public in the United States against the Vietnam War through his efforts to hold the government accountable for its prosecution of the war. Newspaper and television reporting is still largely cited as a reliable source of information in academic publications, similar to the results of formal, scientific studies in disciplines such as biology or chemistry.
However, many people fear that modern Internet journalism has undermined both the independence as well as factual accuracy of journalism. Since the beginning of 24-hour news television, many experts in the field have argued that this journalism has been less about truth, and more about entertaining viewers and getting the “scoop” before one’s competitors. Traditional publications were shamed by the fact that President Bill Clinton’s affair in the Oval Office of the White House was largely uncovered by Internet journalists. Since that event approximately fifteen years ago, Internet journalism, using tools such as 4G internet service and WiMax, has only grown in prominence.
Some have noted that established journalistic institutions instill a code of ethics in their reporters, emphasizing above all to them the twin pillars of accuracy and independence in their pursuit of the truth. By contrast, according to certain people, Internet journalism follows no code of ethics. Therefore, one can never really be sure that personal biases are not distorting Internet reporting. Internet journalism can devolve into an exercise in ferreting out “spin,” or the ways in which these journalists attempt to influence current events as well as simply report on them.
However, one only has to think back to the “yellow journalism” of William Randolph Hearst and others at the turn of the 20th century to rebut this argument. Hearst clearly used his newspapers, as trusted as they were by many people at the time, to promote his particular political agenda and causes. Rather than promoting and serving an educated citizenry, “yellow journalism” was a form of political speech, rather than an attempt to shed light on the events of the day. Thus, it can be said that the debate over whether journalism is a tool to influence or to inform citizens is not necessarily a product of the Internet age.