The knowledge correspondent

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
8 November, 2016
Editorial: 46
Fecha de publicación original: 19 noviembre, 1996

Date of publication: 19/11/1996. Editorial 46.

* Eighth article in a series on digital journalism.

 He that hath time, and looketh for more, loseth time

Distribution lists which reflect on the world of communication and the new media (some of which are more than five years old on the Internet and in Compuserve) are full of the existential doubts which persistently blossom and grow within this profuse debate: what will the journalists of the future be like? (not in the morphological sense, of course), what will their task in the digital systems of communications be? what place will they occupy in the Information Society? Without any doubt, these are among the most fascinating questions that the Internet poses because they are directed at the nucleus of the system as a communications medium. The Net has transformed –has turned upside down– the prevailing communications model which was consolidated, above all, after the Second World War. And the first to be affected by these convulsions are (and will continue to be more and more) those who are involved in the business of communication: the media companies and the journalists, both those that work within the companies and those who freelance as well as those who are presently unemployed. The new model forces them to pass through the toll gate of a “digital update”. The interesting question is what kind of orientation and content this update will have.

Internet has generated, amongst other things, two phenomena of crucial importance, and their interaction, at the same time, has fed a vertiginous process of social and technological change. While, on the one hand, it has broadened the world of communication extraordinarily, on the other, it has broken this world up into a heterogeneous community, whose most outstanding feature is the breakdown of the barrier between communicator and receptor by offering each of them the opportunity to become the other. The first consequence has been that there are more communicators, there is more communication and this has, as a result, increased the need for further communication. The new landscape is not a peaceful valley on a pretty postcard, in fact it is more like an endless precipice and just a peep over the edge is enough to give one the typical symptoms of the vertigo produced by information saturation or “knowledge stress”. How can we keep up not just with what is happening, but simply with what we are interested in, when whatever this might be is becoming more and more complex, multi-faceted, dense and interactive?

Let’s take the world of contemporary music for example. In the “pre-Net” world, this universe was reduced, in fact, to a small geographical and imaginary area of the planet, so closed and complete in itself as to satisfy the tastes, information needs and updating of a consumer market of a fairly clear profile. However, information technology and the associated phenomenon of globalization which it brings with it, has shifted its frontiers –both geographical and imaginary– into elastic substances, impossible to pin down. These days, music is an extremely complex phenomenon which is becoming more and more interwoven thanks fundamentally to communication. Just a superficial journey through the world of music in cyberspace turns what should be a pleasant stroll into a hectic race through a seemingly endless, dense thicket. Information is fragmented into all its basic components –text, sound, static or moving images– and its respective associations are regulated by the comunicator-internaut. The result is a multitude of products that turn the acquisition of knowledge into a mercurial process and inevitably it just slips between our fingers. If we apply this analysis to the world of politics, economics, science, sport, the environment, associations, etc., the sensation of navigating in an ocean constantly agitated by tidal waves is even greater.

Alone on their digital rafts, internauts cannot avoid the pathetic sensation of being castaways in search of the key that will rescue them from drowning in a sea of bits: Where can they find the archipelago where rivers run not with milk and honey, but with the quality information that will “save” them? What reliable route transforms information into knowledge? These are some of the questions that media companies and journalists will have to resolve in the future (and let me make it clear the digital future is happening now).

Let’s examine, however superficially, some of the answers to these questions that are coming up on the Net. I will not attempt an exhaustive enumeration, nor even an in-depth analysis. I will leave that for other issues of Let me just highlight three things that indicate the direction things are moving in.

  • The value of a piece of information, within the framework of the changing communication model, will lie, initially, not so much in the way events are presented at the moment (which in the telematic meta-media makes no more sense than initiating a search for a second reading), but rather in the capacity for interpreting, analysing, and integrating them into richer and more diverse contexts. Doing this would already be news at the moment (in the real and virtual world). But the proliferation of analytical and interpretative journalism will be one of the facets which will give meaning to that frequently-used phrase “putting content on the Net”. The possibility of new scenarios and alternative explanations, the digesting and regurgitating of events based on interaction with their protagonists or the consumers themselves, will be the primordial task. This is what we could call “secondary digital information”, as opposed to “primary digital information”, the latter being that which is carried by the “pre-Net” communications media –newspapers, radios, televisions– which, when offered on the Net, rapidly turns into mere background noise because it is repetitive and it only becomes distinguishable by the anecdotal value of the broadcasters. From this we can deduce that the role of columnists on the Net will increase in importance, but that the nature of this individual will be radically different from the person who bears this name in the real world.
  • Anticipating the behaviour of internauts in their search for information and knowledge will be the cornerstone of digital communication. Along with this goes the task of facilitating navigation in all its aspects as part of the process of news gathering (from design to local communication band types), as well as the development of innovative ways of presenting information dynamically. In other words, amongst other things, it will be necessary to reinvent the web because, as we know it today, is not a tool that sufficiently anticipates the needs of the users. The solution which we can just get a glimpse of at the moment is the integration of a panoply of digital systems capable of manipulating and transferring information into the internauts’ “pockets” before they know it exists or even start to look for it.
  • Local communication, in the context of the process of globalization, will be another cornerstone of the changing model. Nevertheless, the focus on the local will only make sense within the framework of the constant “universalisation” of the process of information and knowledge gathering and transformation.

These three points alone –which are obviously just the tip of the iceberg– make it clear just how profoundly the job of the journalists of today is going to change. Some companies –pharmaceutical, sportswear, auditing — are creating new posts for people who will work in the Net called Knowledge Officers. These people will be in charge of the process of finding, distributing and efficiently using information within the organisation and orientating its external dissemination. Perhaps this already points to some of the features of the digital journalism of the future, a journalism that, based on its new foundations, could be exercised either through the present communications media if they evolve into real electronic publications, or through new companies or organisations which arise to satisfy specific needs in the Net. What we are looking at here is a new kind of journalism which is not tied to the objectives of existing big corporations or to a previous history. It is forged within digital systems and it is there that it will find its “raison d’être”. Professional journalists set off on this journey with the advantage of their experience. Nevertheless, there is nothing to indicate that this will be sufficient for them to fulfil the demands which the information society will inevitably make on them.

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