The Internet: Journalism’s greatest threat and asset

Big picture blog: 1/27/14
By Kathleen Anderson

Through most of history, the power to produce and filter news has been in the hands of a select number of professionals.  Revolutionary developments like the printing press, radio and television have shifted the power toward and away from the general public, but never surrendered it completely.

The Internet revolution has put more power in the hands of everyday people than any previous media shift.  Formerly clear-cut lines between professional journalists and citizen journalists have become incredibly blurred.  A public that once relied on news media as its gate-keeper is stepping out on its own.

People have always had things to say.  But until now, they were never able to make those ideas available to large groups of people who may be interested.  Now they can.  And not only can they communicate their ideas to other people, they can also share ideas in an instant.  This has huge implications for professional journalism.

The news media relies a lot on access to information to produce good content.  In the past, if a certain outlet had exclusive access to something newsworthy, everyone would have to come to them for that information.  The Internet has shattered this concept of exclusivity.  If something is posted online once, most likely it will be there forever and anyone will be able to see it.

So is access to information really the only thing setting professional journalists apart from normal citizens?  If this is true, it begs the question posed by Clay Shirky in “Here Comes Everybody.”  That is, “What happens when there’s nothing unique about publishing anymore, because users can do it for themselves?”

This hardly seems possible.  Although this total replacement of news media by citizen journalism isn’t anything close to a reality now, professional journalism is being forced to fight harder for readers and revenue.  News outlets are faced with a decision: Embrace the revolution or be left behind.

The Internet revolution comes with danger for traditional news media, but it also has incredible potential to transform journalism and make it better.  This is already happening.  Those people that always have things to say are actually saying some pretty valuable things.  And they are more than willing to share their knowledge if someone is willing to listen and give credence to their ideas.

If access is professional journalism’s greatest asset, news makers have the potential to capitalize on access to the greatest pool of resources ever available.  In essence, anyone who knows anything about anything can become a source of valuable information.  And unlike in the past, these non-traditional sources are incredibly easy to find.

Although journalism has to change dramatically to adapt to this new information-sharing environment, this is a change that can benefit both professionals and consumers.  It will simply involve a radical change in thinking.

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