The Digital Blender

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
20 March, 2018
Editorial: 185
Fecha de publicación original: 19 octubre, 1999

A new tree bends in the wind; big, old ones break

In the same way as mega-fusions amongst the big communications corporations to a large extent explain the global scope of the type of journalism belonging to the traditional media (see previous editorial “The Big Crush”), the proliferation of new media on the Internet is beginning to outline the nature of the kind of journalism emerging on the Net and how it is breaking with the traditional media’s communications model (see previous editorial “Daddy, where does the news come from?”). Although we need not make explicit reference to it now, I think it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the communications model of the Industrial Society entered a period of crisis as a result of a series of world-shaking events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration of the USSR, the end of a bipolar world and the appearance of the Internet, an open network of computers, accessible to all its users simultaneously from anywhere on the net, where individuals, institutions, companies, organisations and/or administrations can relate to each other directly –create networks– and store, process, publish and distribute information and knowledge in a relatively cheap and simple way.

By constantly multiplying the number of emitters and receptors of information, the Internet has called into question the monopoly held by the traditional media as developers and transmitters of an image of society. This image corresponds more and more not only to that carried by the traditional media (radio, TV, the printed press), but also to one which the activity of a multiplicity of social sectors is unfolding on the Net. Sectors, which until very recently were fundamentally information consumers, have, almost overnight, become broadcasters, important broadcasters, of information and knowledge themselves — and what is more important — on a global scale.

This change is made evident by the multiplicity of new media and new information emission points on the Net. The traditional media have joined this flood, but they do so in a context of relative equality and competition with the new media. In just a few years, the Net (the Internet and its growing integration with new and pre-existing services in parallel networks) has become the framework from which a new communications model has emerged, a much more complex one than that which characterises the Industrial Society. On the one hand, redundant information of the generalised kind produced by the traditional communications media grows and globalises. On the other, much more specific information systems built to satisfy particular needs for information and knowledge, are beginning to mature.

The most visible landmarks denoting this change (we always risk being too schematic due to lack of space) could be listed as follows:

Breaking the monopoly of the traditional communications media as developers and transmitters of the image of society means breaking with the historical form of news production for society’s consumption. The traditional media are no longer the only ones to possess human resources, the technical skills, tools and the experience for accessing and dealing with information. The Net has changed this situation by making it possible for users of all kinds to obtain, and even generate and publish, this information.

The traditional journalistic model, as we said in last week’s editorial, is based on an activity exercised by journalists, individuals trained to extract information from events happening around them, and to prepare, analyse, process and develop this information in a recognisable language to an audience who are prepared to pay for it. Neither the media, and even less so journalists are responsible for these events. They tell us “what is going on”. The Internet, on the other hand, changes this type of information production. It is a fact that the bulk of the information that the traditional media offer on the Net is merely a transposed version of that which they distribute in the normal (analogue) format, although it comes empowered, in many cases, by new tools such as hyperlinks, electronic distribution lists or other new digital services. However, there are, at least two other ways of producing information:

1) Media of the Net. They also distribute news of a general kind over which they exercise no control, but they do so along with information generated on the Net, information they have partly generated themselves through their own activity. In the case of the latter, responsibility for the information they offer is greater because they are closer and have relationships with the sources of this information.

2) Media in the Net. Information and knowledge production is their own, based on the activity of their audiences. They are based on the idea of a communication flow in which users are the source of events and from which content is generated. The news no longer lies “somewhere out there”, but pertains to the area of activity that brings about the media itself. They act as meeting points between supply and demand, the objective being to produce their own information. The elaboration of this material and its evolution into new information products, implies a new kind of responsibility between journalists and the information producers. In the case of this kind of media, we are witnessing the development of a code of ethics which is quite different to that operating in the traditional media, a different way of building the reliability of information and the way it is dealt with. Instead of being based on voluntary adhesion to an ethical code, which is what happens in the Industrial Society model, this code is the result of pacts made among all the actors involved in the information production.

Multiplication of newsrooms. Over the last few years, the Net has experienced the growth of newsrooms devoted to very different tasks. From portals and the traditional media, whose “online newsrooms” are in charge of transposing the content to differentiate it from the “analogue”, to the new media of/in the Net, as well as companies and institutions who have taken over the task of offering an image of themselves (manufacturers of cars, sports goods, food and financial means, public administrations, organisations of all kinds, educational bodies, etc.). All these “information generators” have discovered that to maintain the up-to-date flow of information the Internet demands, they need to rely on a trained and permanent staff.

The most notable result of these changes is that, where before we had just one communications model, standardised the world over, divided into three basic formats (radio, TV and the printed press), and based on a hierarchically structured form of production (the few decided what to tell the rest about the society they live in), today we have much more complex and diversified communications models which fulfil a wide range of needs, from the most generalised to the most specific, and which are satisfied via a de-heirarchified and decentralised production process.

To sum up then, today we have many types of media and, consequently, many types of journalism coexisting with them. We are living with diverse kinds of information and knowledge production systems and different types of professionals to do the job. Audiences, however varied and voluble they may be, find they have a number of channels open to them for influencing the editorial policies of the new media. Depending on how they are designed, interactivity becomes the means by which the audiences’ voices can be incorporated into editorial policy.

The upsurge of these new communications models poses enormous problems when it comes to the training and job-profiling of those who work within this communication process. Because, in the end, it is this process which is the key factor in the Net: communication mediated by computers, communication in an environment of human design. And we will be discussing just this in following articles.

Translation: Bridget King