Modern journalistic practice has gained immensely from technology, and efforts to globalize the world has made the gathering and circulation of information a lot less strenuous than it was in earlier times.
Ease of communication has put information sources at the tips of the journalist’s fingers, copy editing aids at a button-click distance, and the audience’s attention as available as though the journalist and his audience exist in the same newsroom.
With these ‘benefits’ of the new media, the ripple effect of propagation of the democratic participant agenda that seeks a pluralistic, decentralized press, and community journalism, becomes inevitable. Citizen journalism also earns a sit at the table as it addresses the issue of community journalism, thereby overpopulating the media.
Rather than the day-long process of information sourcing, editing, packaging and distribution of stories as is common with newspapers, there now exists the need to break stories immediately to meet a demanding audience, and compete for the greater market share in a profession where information is a valuable commodity, however, this further exposes the journalist to more scrutiny from the public, and punishes the copy editor who is burdened with fact-checking and gatekeeping.
While deadlines and citizen participation are obviously contextually different between 20th and 21st century journalism, the watchdog function of the press has remained a mainstay. The journalist is now not only snooping around society to uncover its ills but forced to sniff inwards for the sake of addressing pollution that stems from the free participation of ‘citizen journalists.’
Consider also, the narcotizing effect that a wealth of available information has on the audience. Max McCombs and Donald Shaw, had in 1968, theorized that the media has the enviable ability to influence audiences and determine news hierarchy by giving prevalence to certain stories. When the media space is overloaded with a wealth of platforms and actors, the audience is open to more editorial materials, agendas and a combination of true, untrue and sensational materials competing equally for their attentions, and further facilitating a potential narcotizing effect on them, as before one gets to react or formulate an opinion on a topic, one is hit with another material that calls attention.
It is therefore, sacrosanct for the media to not only drive its vehicle of societal change, but aid in the regulation of other actors whose actions create a risk for it and have a potential to distort this change.
Let us not forget the shift in economic, political and cultural contexts. While technological changes are more easily noticed, the environment the modern-day journalist finds himself in, is a lot different from what it was some decades back; more understanding and better enabling environment for journalism in larger parts of the world, increases the pressure for optimum performance, and proves that change is possible with extra effort.
It now becomes easier to impress on the average journalist to not wallow in the waters of mediocrity, but strive for excellence, not for personal gains, but for service that turns the oppressed to the defended.