SharQ makes some excellent points, but here's some ideas from a different perspective.

Technology has broadly done three things in the field of publishing.

  • Reduced the delay between an event occurring, and the dissemination of a report of that event
  • Allowed dissemination to more people
  • Reduced the cost of that process

From the very earliest days of publishing, when artists drew on cave walls, to the latest web-based systems, the objective, whether explicit or not, of each new technical innovation has been faster, cheaper and more widely spread. As each technology has been introduced, it has affected one or more of these aspects.

Drawings on cave walls evolved into pictograms on paper. Pictograms evolved into words. Handwritten pages changed into woodcuts. Woodcuts evolved into movable type. Manual presses changed to shuttle presses, and then power was added and mechanisms and we invented offset litho systems. Word processors made it easier to change the text, and then Quark and the Mac allowed more freedom with fonts and images and typesetting. Nowadays we make PDFs and send them to the printer who creates plates directly from the PDF file, before running off a couple of hundred thousand copies, and trimming and binding and distributing.

Or we don't bother with PDFs at all, and go straight for a web page.

Either way, the interval between an event occurring and readers seeing some kind of report on the event, has now shrunk to seconds and minutes, rather than hours and days, or years.

I want to examine this from three perspectives: that of the reader, the journalist and the publisher, before looking at some of the implications for the media, and the consumers of news and information

The journalist's perspective

As a working journalist, I make no distinction between those who have received formal training in journalism, and those who just get on and do it. The difference for me is those who have an audience who trust them or their writings, and those who do not. I'll deal with this later.

For the journalist, the immediacy offered by modern technology carries tremendous thrills and tremendous risks. There is nothing more satisfying for the journalist than to be first with a good story. You find a story, research it, write your piece, get it out. If you are good enough, and fast enough and lucky enough, then the web allows you to beat Reuters, CNN and the BBC combined. Quite apart from the potential for career advancement, there is nothing quite like the job satisfaction and ego-boost of knowing you are the first in the world on a story.

Of course there is no point beating CNN to the cut if you get your facts wrong, or miss the most important aspect of the story. For the journalist, then, the risk of getting something wrong has to be balanced against the thrill and kudos that comes from being first. Established news publishers are very concerned about this issue.

The pace of modern news reporting means the traditional distinction between the hard news reporter and the more reflective feature writer is moving. As the process speeds up, the hard news team is much more concerned about simply getting the stories out as quickly as possible—ideally within minutes—and they only have time to cover the straightforward details such as what, where, when, leaving out the more analytical questions like how and why. Even for the feature team, the process is speeding, up, with readers wanting instant analysis of all the issues, and that allows very little time to get alternative opinions, and tease out the intricacies and subtleties of the story.

Thus, the 'features' team is now working on deadlines of a few hours or maybe a day. These are the timescales that the news reporters were working on just five or ten years ago. The critical aspect of this is that, in their efforts to be first with the news, journalists are adding less and less value to the stories they put out. It has become easier and easier for an intelligent and web-savvy reader to do more than the journalist can. If that reader starts with a good knowledge base, then it is very likely that she can go to the web and within a very few minutes, she can discover more and make more use of it, than most reporters. Hence the rise of unfiltered websites like the Drudge Report. These can highlight the rumours, leaving those who know, or are interested to do their own fact-checking and deeper research

The publisher's perspective

The publisher's job is to make money from his publication. Beyond that, it is also the publisher's responsibility to deal with issues of copyright, damages, libel, and all the rest of the legal issues. Most publications in the past have made their money from advertising. Typically the cover price generates well under half the total revenues of any publication. The theory is that you make a good publication through good editorial. This attracts readers, and a good readership attract advertising. Historically, this has been an excellent business model.

While traditional publishers understand how to build audiences, sell advertising, and present material, they are used to an environment where the cost of entry is relatively high, and it takes time to build the credibility and reputation of a title and its journalists.

The view in the publishing business is that publishers have to promote their brands as reliable sources of information in an environment of factoids and quasi-news. Whether we deliver our products on paper, on a website or through a daily news e-mail, we have to preserve that credibility so that our readers come first to us when they want to find out what is going on.

The assumptions behind this are that there are limited sources of information out there,and that people will tend to rely on a limited number of known and trusted information providers.

The reader's perspective

First thing, readers are individuals and have individual needs Second There are many sources of news and information out there, and people are getting increasingly smart about finding them and assessing their worth. Third, people are taking information from multiple sources, and combining that information to reach their own conclusions on issues which matter to them

The multiplicity of sites allows people to look at conflicting views. The 'official' journalist is in a slightly privileged position in that she can gain access to corporate empires and political corridors, but increasingly companies and politicians are making their general statements available on the web. They are starting to give interviews only to limited numbers of trusted or otherwise favoured specialists who are capable of going beyond the basic generalised statements. As publishers have understood the web better, they have chosen to hide these added-value reports behind paid-for screens, rather than giving them away for free, as was common in the early days of publishers' experiments with the web.

As the mass media speeds up its news gathering, they are adding less value to the stories they cover. As the people who generate news—-politicians and corporations—have seen the benefits, they have made their statements, press conferences and financial presentations available to all-comers on the web.

Large publishers are still anchored in the old economy business model, they have refused to believe that small websites can deliver something worthwhile to a large number of people at low cost.

So in summary, the impact of new technology on journalism is to turn all of us into journalists at one level or another. The availability of information on the web makes it easier for individuals to build stories to suit their own agenda and needs. Instead of relying on journalists who might have a political agenda, or fail to check facts or fail to understand the intricacies of a subject, readers are now able to do their own research, identifying the key aspects of a story and distilling the essence of it,