The opacity of the new media

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
5 September, 2017
Editorial: 130
Fecha de publicación original: 28 julio, 1998

The cuckold may have known a lot, but the one who cuckolded him knew even more

Recent surveys dealing with increasing lack of confidence in the traditional media have seen some cases in which they and the Internet have come face to face. The most notorious of these was the report on CNN and in Time magazine on “Operation Tailwind“. Both claimed that in 1970 the US government used the lethal gas sarin to kill deserters from the American army during the Vietnam War. CNN’s military adviser, Perry Smith, an ex-major from the US army, resigned from his post on the TV network because he disagreed with the report, and turned his journalist skills to the Internet to demonstrate the fallaciousness of the “exclusive”. According to Smith, he got hold of more and better information about the case in three days than the author of the report, April Oliver, had managed to get in 8 months. At present, all the details of the operation are available to any internaut on the web page of the Green Berets, the corps involved in military manoeuvres there at the time. The case sheds much light, on the one hand, on the way large media corporations operate as regards the publication of “scoops”, and on the other, the manner in which information is organised on the Net through a highly diffuse and effective newsroom. There are, nevertheless, still certain questions left unanswered which will, undoubtedly, gain in importance as the segmented information on the Internet becomes capable of competing on a daily basis with that of the generalised media in the real world. Viewed from this perspective, there are, at least, two important problems raising their heads, namely, who provides the information on the Net and who has the right to use the archives that are being built up in cyberspace.

In the case of Operation Tailwind the most important data and information came from the Green Berets themselves, Vietnam vets., retired officers and media related to their cause, many of which have been created over the last three years on the Internet. What will the fate of media of such specific interest, as well as others like it, be, when it becomes clear that the information in them is of greater interest to internauts? Will they keep a clear degree of ownership or will it become more and more difficult to know who the real suppliers of content are? These are not irrelevant, banal questions in the light of the recent rash of purchasing new media and successful search engines by big corporations which, nevertheless, are not mentioned in these places. The buying spree of many of these companies is often backed up by a mixture of traditional media and new media that make up an intricate information network with apparently no relationship to the mother company.

While in many places, both inside and outside of the Net, there is talk of a “content crisis”, recent economic upheavals would seem to point to the beginning of a kind of “impasse” before a new wave of initiatives based around the portals. These gateways, built around a good search engine, offer a wide range of services in which the new media plays a fundamental role in attracting visitors. In June, Disney got its teeth into 43% of the company Infoseek, owner of the search engine of the same name, while NBC made off with 5% of CNET and 19% of the CNT’s search engine Snap. One of the most active companies in this banquet of new media, is the Japanese company Softbank, ending up with most of the giant Ziff-Davis company, which apart from a series of interesting electronic publications, also owns 80 magazines including PC Magazine, Macworld and Yahoo Internet Life.

The companies behind these purchases often compete in other spheres, not necessarily media-based, but where it is fundamental to be able to count on the solid support of the large media because of the size of their investment commitments and their ephemeral nature, such as with organising conferences and exhibitions. This is the case, for example, with International Data Group and Miller Freeman, both owners of newspaper, magazine and electronic publication chains, many of which do not specify this relationship. And that’s not to mention other big players in this league whose fame precedes them, such as Intel, Microsoft or Vulcan, all of them very active in the field of new media.

Just to complicate this panorama a little more, over the last few months another set of players have made their appearance in cyberspace, namely content intermediaries who appropriate the work of journalists without paying the corresponding rights for doing so. Not only this, but they also charge for the sale of material which they haven’t acquired or asked permission to sell. This is the case of Northern Light, an English company that doesn’t reveal the group it belongs to either. Its archive has stored away at the moment more than 4 million articles, most of them signed by well-known names in the Anglo Saxon world. In addition to reports from prestigious newspapers (The Guardian, The Independent, The Economist), their material also includes articles from scientific and technical magazines of all kinds and subjects. The list of media on its data base is quite spectacular, as is its search engine, which never ceases to surprise unsuspecting journalists when they suddenly find their articles for sale without any warning or permission given.

Internet is starting for the first time to operate as a gigantic journalistic archive capable of competing with the large traditional media, which was something many experts said would be impossible without the decisive contribution of the material stored by these media. However, at the same time, behind this substantial change in the nature of the content of the Net, one can make out other serious problems on the horizon which up until now have been dealt with fundamentally on a theoretical level. Who is behind information on the Net? What type of tools will be developed to ensure the necessary degree of transparency regarding ownership of new media, and how will information attached to specific names and surnames be dealt with judicially? These will be some of the questions that will define the degree of credibility and influence the world of electronic publications will have. And the solutions, as with everything related to the Internet, will not be simple ones because remedies presently in use will not do the trick.

Translation: Bridget King.