In search of the digital journalist

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
17 October, 2016
Editorial: 39
Fecha de publicación original: 1 octubre, 1996

Date of publication: 01/10/1996. Editorial 039.

* First article in a series on digital journalism.

The road takes shape as one walks

Will newspapers succumb to the digital weight of the Internet? Is this medium condemned to death by the increasing expansion of the virtual meta-medium? Will we end up reading the news electronically–in some form or other–while today we can comfortably carry it wherever we like–for some reason the toilet is always used as an example–thanks to its packaging as pieces of tree transformed into coloured sheets? Over the last few years, these questions have been insistently asked in debates about the future of the Net, sometimes plainly and openly, sometimes “sotto voce” as though it were some dark threat hanging over our heads. In the next few months, these questions will again fill the air –real and digital– in Barcelona thanks to two events: the Inet-Cat-96 Conference, organized by the Internet Society of Catalonia, and the Third Congress of Catalan Journalists, organised by the Col-legi de Periodistes de Catalunya. In both cases, digital journalism (whatever we might understand by this brand-new concept) will take up a large part of the sessions.

And the same will occur in as, in this, and the following editions, I will try to put forward some ideas on what is happening (to us) in the field which Internet has split wide open as no other media has since the Industrial Revolution: namely, communication. To this end, and in the hopes of a clarity which, I am sure, I will not always be able to achieve, I have decided to divide my reflections into various sections:

a) the history of the digitalisation of newspapers;

b) the end of the Cold War and the crisis in models of communication;

c) the role of journalists in this period of change;

d) the challenges facing the media industry.

And I add a long etcetera as I am sure that you will point out other aspects, deficiencies, gaps, arguments, that will permit me to complete the picture under discussion.

Naturally, I will not be able to delve too deeply into the subject: after all, these are only editorials, with all the advantages and limitations of this journalistic technique. Some of the above-mentioned points will have to be sub-divided, such as, for example, the role of the journalist, because of the importance of the debate on new professions in this transitional phase.

By way of introduction, as I have already said on another occasion (Faith is not a good digital adviser: 9/4/96), the question as to whether the printed media will disappear seems to me to be a rather sterile way to start the debate, very much in accordance with the present state of affairs that tends to lean towards to just one way of thinking: black or white, either you’re with us or you’re not, either you live in cyberspace to the death or you are a traitor if you print just one page of the web. This stupid way of viewing things is dictated, to a large extent, by the powerful ignorance of the digitally illiterate. It is one way people have, just like any other, of diverting to another time and space questions that they are not ready to confront even half seriously today because they have no idea what is really going on on the Internet.

They think that a couple of sightseeing visits a day (or week) to cyberspace are enough to keep them in touch with events. Which is a bit like going to Madagascar on holiday and returning with a “White Paper for the economic social and political development” of the island under your arm. Like drafting all the possible solutions under a coconut palm and lubricating it with rum. Whereas in fact, although tourism is an undeniably forceful and promising industry, it is still very different to living and having to make a living in Madagascar. The same could be said of Internet.

Whether the printed press disappears or not may interest the professional prognosticians, who are more distinguished by their misses than their hits. But, it would be more interesting to discuss what is happening and what is going to happen in the short term within the media specifically, and within communication in general. To what extent will they be affected by the increasing capacity of the Internet to gather, classify, process, transfer and display to an interconnected audience information about complex processes which are taking place in different geographical areas (physical, economic, political, cultural, spiritual)? This phenomenon is turning the information about what is happening into the chief commodity of international relations, independently of whether they occur globally or locally. Though, thanks to the Internet, this distinction does not make much sense, or rather, not as much as it does outside the Net.

It seems to me that to examine communication and the future of the media from this standpoint is a fascinating task. Above all, because this era of “surplus information” brings us face to face with a phenomenon that is unique (and involving as yet unknown opportunities) since the Industrial Revolution, namely having to understand, disseminate and process information for ourselves rather than having our decisions necessarily determined by the interpretations, opinions, and agendas of other people.

Will the printed press disappear at the end of the day? To search for an answer to this question is more boring than sucking a nail on a desert island. Its mere formulation implies that we are ALL the same and, that, therefore, ALL of us will come to the same conclusions based on the same criteria for building the same, single future. May I remind you that not even Hitler backed by his powerful industrial and war machine was able to achieve anything of the kind, even at the height of his power. Even then, he was forced to give another turn of the screw to eliminate the difference (or those that were different). While he did take a lot of people down with him, he did not achieve his aim. We have accumulated enough historical experience to blithely overlook these discussions about “tabula rasa” and, instead, entertain ourselves with the cultural tools that permit us to express individual and group differences. In other words that which, for the moment, we call the Internet.

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