The Metamorphosis of Journalism: Surviving the Digital Age

Emma Burnett

In the digitised age, information lies at our fingertips. Through modern technological developments, the journalism industry has experienced a profound evolution; we can discover any thing, at any time, in any place. Yet, despite the benefit of information immediacy the digitised age has brought,  it has also catalysed the spread of a multitude of epistemic and moral dilemmas, namely misinformation and disinformation. Impact’s Emma Burnett explores the problems the journalism industry faces in this new and ‘everchanging digital landscape’. 

We are currently living in ‘the digital age’; a period in which most information is available in digital form. As a period of constant and inevitable change, the digital age has had and continues to have a profound impact on journalism. The journalism industry has always had to adapt to cycles of change – however, the invention of the internet and the consequential ‘digital age’, has severely increased the pressure to do so. Some branches of the journalism industry have in fact cracked under this pressure – with many local and regional newspapers in the US closing their doors or at least reducing their operations. This prompts the question: can the journalism industry adapt to successfully navigate the everchanging digital landscape?

Having access to accurate, truthful, and unbiased information is crucial

The role of journalism is undoubtedly vital within the digital age, as access to free information is becoming increasingly essential to navigating contemporary society. Having access to accurate, truthful, and unbiased information is crucial to democracy, education and freedom of speech. Without the service of journalism, the public cannot access the information they need to operate as functioning members of modern society. 

In some ways, the growth of digital media has accelerated the spreading of information. The digital presence of modern journalism means that information can be accessed regardless of location. For countries with limited access to accessible and unbiased information (Russia, China and Iran, for example) online sources of journalism are essential in shedding light on global and political affairs. In Russia, virtual private networks (VPNs) have allowed Russians to access blocked information technologies for the purpose of consuming and sharing news, particularly about the country’s ongoing conflict in Ukraine, despite Putin’s attempts to control and limit internet access in Russia.

With a distinct lack of effective regulation on social media, there is little to no way of determining its credibility. 

Although the digital age improves access to information, it also accelerates the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Through online outlets, social media in particular, anyone can share information. And with a distinct lack of effective regulation on social media, there is little to no way of determining its credibility. What’s more, is that the shareability of social media facilitates the fast spreading of mis/disinformation and is able to spread up to 10 times more rapidly than true reporting, according to research at MIT. An example of a fast-spreading piece of misinformation would be the fake Jeremy Corbyn tweet that circulated following the 2019 London Bridge terror attacks (see image). This tweet spread ‘like wildfire’, and was responded to a number of times by Twitter users who had seen and believed the message.  

With the harmful presence of misinformation and disinformation within the digital landscape, it is imperative that the journalism industry continues its vital work in the face of digitalisation. As many smaller news outlets fail to ‘keep up with the times’, it has become increasingly common for larger media conglomerates to buy up smaller companies. In the UK media landscape, 71% of local news outlets are owned by six companies(Gannett, JPI Media, Reach, Tindle, Archant and Iliffe). It is no secret that an incredibly large proportion of the UK media is owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch. His company, News UK, along with The Daily Mail Group and Reach PLC own 90% of UK national newspaper circulation, as of 2023. The conglomeration of news outlets in the UK means that the news we consume is, in effect, controlled by a small group of billionaire-owned companies. This level of control threatens the core principle of journalism as a device of objective, truthful and impartial information.

It is incredibly important that the journalism industry adapts to survive digitisation

This being the case, it is incredibly important that the journalism industry adapts to survive digitisation and the digital age. News outlets must move with the times and use the ever-changing digital landscape to their own advantage. There is also a discussion around journalists becoming ‘licensed’, in the same way that those who practice law are, to share information. This way, information shared online can be verified as a legitimate source, and any mis/disinformation will be traceable.

Within the digital age, the only constant is change. Journalism cannot fight this change; it can only adapt to it. The metamorphic quality of the journalism industry has been proved before, and is key to its survival in this tumultuous period of change.

Emma Burnett

Featured image courtesy of AbsolutVision via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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