Widespread use of personal computers with access to the Internet together with the availability of increasingly cheaper and more powerful portable audio and video recording devices, have brought about a revolution in the ability of governments, corporations, groups and individuals to communicate. The explosive global growth of the Internet and access at greatly increased bandwidth, have confirmed the Internet as the primary global communications network. Media everywhere has become digital.
The impact of this ongoing technological revolution has been especially severe on broadcast and print media. Television, formerly broadcast over the air or carried on cable networks, is quickly becoming another form of Internet streaming video. Newspaper and magazine readerships have declined as a proportion of the population, while radio and television audiences have become fractured, reducing the ability of newspapers and networks to attract sufficient advertising revenue to maintain profitability.
Media corporations have been forced to adopt Internet technologies both to remain relevant to modern audiences, but mainly as a way of downsizing in an attempt to maintain profits. This downsizing has adversely impacted professional journalism. Newsrooms have been hollowed out; specialised beats eliminated; and resource-intensive investigative reporting cut back or eliminated. Journalists are becoming multi-media electronic news gatherers required to produce content suited for repurposing into video, audio, print, and the web.
Vancouver newsrooms hit hard
The result was a loss of morale among many Canadian working journalists. In his 2005 presentation to the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, Tyee founder and editor David Beers stated that:
“Vancouver is a heartbreaking place to be a dedicated news reporter, news editor, or news reader, because a single company owns the big papers, the big TV news station, and so many other media properties. There is simply not enough competition to keep that owner honest.”
The situation at the Vancouver Sun has not improved since Beers reported to the Senate Committee. In May, 2010, Beers reproduced in The Tyee a memo from his former boss, Vancouver Sun editor Patricia Graham, in which she confessed that:
“For many years now, as we met significant challenges including a reduction in the number of newsroom staff… we let go of some of our beats. We have also lost depth and expertise in some areas, which has hindered our ability to put news in context for our readers.… Our staff is smaller yet we have dramatically increased the amount of content we put online….
Applications for the (new) beat positions should include ideas for multiplatform journalism, including how to build a digital community and engage it through mechanisms such as blogs, podcasting, video and audio, as well as across social networks like Twitter and Facebook.“1
Beers noted that newsroom staff at the Vancouver Sun and its sister newspaper The Province have been reduced by more than half since he worked there. These are not good days for professional journalists who are not prepared to adopt an uncritical attitude towards corporate business practices and economic growth, and be prepared to work hard for their corporate masters. The effect of these newsroom culls has not been not indiscriminate: they have resulted in a generally more right-wing professional media corps.
Fractured media market
Besides affecting the political bias of Canadian journalism, the digital media convergence also undermined the traditional hegemony of major newspapers and national broadcast networks in favour of a more fractured and competitive media marketplace. In general, younger generations have moved from being just passive consumers of traditional media, as were their parents, towards self-directed use of personal computers and mobile digital devices such as ‘smart’ cell phones, digital and video cameras, and the newly emerging media tablets.
More important, they are using these increasingly-powerful mobile devices for personal creativity and for spontaneous or even planned grassroots news-gathering. Anyone who wants to now can become a digital media reporter. Grassroots journalism has now become the Fifth Estate.2
See Creating Counterweights to Big Media http://thetyee.ca/Mediacheck/2005/02/02/CreatingCounterweightsBigMedia/ for a description of the impact of corporate downsizing on newsroom journalism. ↩
The Fifth Estate is anything other than the other four estates, which historically have been defined as the Clergy, the Nobility, the Commoners, and the Press. See Wikipedia The Fifth Estate http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FifthEstate. Perhaps these now should be modernised as governments, corporations, the public, and the media? ↩