Tuesday, July 1, 2008

What is the state of Journalism today?

The future role of the rapidly transforming world of modern journalism has become a major topic of discussion both within the professional academy of mass media as well as in business, politics, and academia. The dissemination of information and new opportunities created by novice bloggers and news aggregators has significantly reduced the clout of traditional media. The erosion of power and hegemony by major newspapers and broadcast stations is quite startling. And then there’s the growth of cable news like CNN, Fox, and MSNBC which has capitalized in a niche market with “qualified” pundits churning out commentary news that have re-defined the meaning of news. Names like Anderson Cooper, Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olberman have become branded as household celebrities.

Comparing American Media

I friends and relatives who have lived in Europe and the Middle East who complain that American news, referring to TV broadcasting, is way too commercialized for entertainment. That it lacks nuance and substance as well of depth of coverage, especially compared to counterparts like BBC and Aljazeera. European media outlets traditionally resistant to this method, have noticed a creep of American-style entertainment creep into their local news with news anchors joking with each other and showing off their colorful personalities and straying from the line-up a bit. After hearing enough complaints, I decided to make the comparison test. What I noticed was American newscasts, especially the cable news don’t debate an issue, but coerce the viewer to take a stance by using frightful tactics by evoking fear and provoke you in any way they can. Whereas in Europe, when they have a debate on an issue, they bring a round-table discussion, kind of like Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) and the system stimulates a more learned and high-minded conversation than artificially orchestrated drama.

Outgrowth of Civil Society

However, there are things I do like about American cable news. First of all, society is changing and this generations so accustomed to be inundated with access to lots of information, demand quick sound-bites and be part of the news making whereas their predecessors consumed news passively reading the daily paper or couching on the sofa watching television. This generation is actively involved in the news, downloading on the net or on cell phones, sending emails to news anchors that get read, polling on news websites on topics of the day, etc. In other words, the new technologies are creative civic activism and facilitating the flourishing of democratic institutions. A brilliant example of this was the CNN-You Tube primary election debates when American citizens send videos asking tough questions to the candidates.

Economic Challenges

I guess the question really is how the traditional mass media can afford to stay business in business considering all the economic challenges they face with loss of target audience and advertising revenue. Obviously, newspapers and broadcast television need to be up-to-date with the latest technology and increate market share and marketing revenue on their websites. They also need to understand the increasing diversity within American borders but also understand that with billions around the globe joining the information society that there is huge potential for growth. So it would not be a bad idea to offer translated version of news in some of the major world languages to attract viewers to their base. A great example of this is Voice of America, which broadcasts via satellite feed, and caters to news to citizens of those nationals within the homeland and their hyphenated counterparts in America. But the news can also be seemingly interesting to the Diaspora community elsewhere. For example, the Voice of America in Dari and Pashto, two of Afghanistan’s main languages covers news about Afghanistan, glosses over some Afghan-American news, American politics, and briefly covers global news. So in essence, it attempts to cater their interests and offer broad-based news coverage.

Thanks for readings,


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