…..to the rebellion of the masses

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
24 October, 2016
Editorial: 41
Fecha de publicación original: 15 octubre, 1996

Date of publication: 15/10/1996. Editorial 041.

*Third article in a series on digital journalism.

Every grain has its bran

The search engine Altavista claims to consult 30 million pages. 30 million pages is a lot of pages. One can only ask oneself, albeit out of sheer professional habit, who the hell is writing all that material and how many journalists it would take to write those 30 million pages, above all if one takes into account that the maelstrom which is the WWW only began in 1994? A big newspaper, with a circulation of over 200.000 copies a day, requires, at present, an investment in infrastructure of all kinds (from buildings to technology) worth thousands of millions of pesetas, a staff of nearly 200 journalists, a strong administrative and management team, an advertising department that leaves no stone unturned, a complex and widespread distribution network and very often the support of a large publishing group. All of this adds up to 40.000 printed pages, on average, a year. Far, very far from the 30.000 million pages that make up the Internet.

Even if we devoted ourselves to sorting the wheat from the chaff, and left out all the repetition which some call “junk information” (an adjective which we should only use when we have the means to deal with the junk objectively and not subjectively) we are still left with a figure in the many millions of pages. Enough to saturate the market of professional communicators on the digital planet. So who is doing this writing? Who is undertaking this gigantic information task, either in individual snippets or collectively? The best way of finding out would be to ask those who are publishing pages in Internet directly, whether corporations, local community groups, universities, public administration or individuals. When one does, with the scarce means at hand, almost inevitably one comes up with the same answer: it is only very rarely that journalists are involved in the process of putting together and publishing the information that finally gets onto the Net.

Neither in the multitude of pages put there by corporations, nor the few pages published by the thousands of people who have initiated their own ventures in the world of communications, are journalists present. It is curious, but the largest medium of communication that we have ever known, the main stream of what will become the seminal artery of the Information Society, is not populated by journalists but by people who have launched themselves into the business of communication with a frenzy which any author with writer’s block would die for.

This phenomenon is all the more significant when we take into account what is happening to journalists, especially those who are working in media companies (to a lesser extent in the USA than in Europe but, above all, Spain): with very few exceptions, Internet still does not form part of the arsenal of essential tools they use daily at work (such as the telephone, computer or fax), not even just e-mail, which should already be as fundamental to them as the ballpoint pen. In addition, of course, it doesn’t occur to them that their work could be digitally translated into cyberspace, thereby making them participants in the first palpitations of the Information Society. This, of course, has a lot to do with the way that the media corporations themselves approach the Internet (we will deal with this aspect in a future article), but information professionals should not lose sight of one of the most spectacular pieces of news brewing right under their very noses: the Information Society is being constructed without journalists, or to be more precise, they are not playing a determinant role in shaping it. In this revolution, in fact, they constitute the perplexed masses.

The new communicators make space for interacting with their readers and they, in turn, become communicators themselves creating a new dynamic which is printing its genetic code on the nascent medium. We are at the stage where it is just beginning to babble its first words as interactivity has hardly started to stand up and take its first few steps yet. But despite this, the system works. Its viability no longer depends on the success or death of the Internet at the hands of big operators, corporations, states or interested parties of all kinds that converge on its development. The fundamental fact is that what is being created is a digital system for gathering, classifying, processing, synthesising and distributing information in an interactive, participative, open atmosphere which is within reach of the man in the street, both as far as cost and management is concerned. Within this definition lies the Internet, or whatever system (or systems) substitutes or complements it in the future, be it digital television or the “old” or new multi-media systems and a long list of etceteras, whose defining characteristic will be interconnection.

Interconnection and interaction. Both elements depend on content. Who will produce it? Will the communication professionals as we know them continue to do so? For the present, in just two years of the existence of the Web (the most democratic and multitudinous of the automated and interactive systems for the distribution of information presently in operation), things have taken such a turn that journalists have almost disappeared off the map. Which leads us to the most ironic question which these new systems pose: namely, will there be journalists in the Information Society? Or to put it another way, what role will journalists play in a society whose backbone is the dissemination of information, communication and knowledge in an interactive environment? Will the principle that information is power still apply or, on the contrary, as the philosopher Javier Echevarría maintains, will power be born of interaction, bringing with it all that that supposes in a medium which is based on such a high degree of participation?

We don’t need to answer these questions now, but with what we already know it is obvious that the Information Society will require a very different type of communication professional –and business– to that which we have known up to now. The question is, therefore, what kind of professionals are needed, to do what, and where are they learning the skills which will enable them to perform in the new medium? The Internet in itself did not bring up these questions. Internet, as we know it now, is merely the consequence of the end of the Cold War and the crisis in the communication model that we had then. The fall of the Berlin Wall meant the fall of the wall that separated the two sides of the information equation, the informer and the “informee”, both in its most everyday aspect (reader and journalist) as well as its most strategic one (power and society). The resulting scenario is radically different. And so is the role which information and knowledge play in it.

Translation: Bridget King.


* Other articles dedicated to digital journalism

1.- In search of the digital journalist
2.- From the dictatorship of the technicians…
3.- …to the rebellion of the masses
4.- The birth of “soft power”
5.- The postman knocks a thousand times
6.- How to escape from the newsagent and survive the attempt
7.- The floating university
8.- The knowledge correspondent
9.- Hard disc journalism