Thursday, October 27, 2016

Thoughts on a Thesis

A thesis as to why this is necessary:

More than print or television, digital media is the future platform for the news. However, digital culture is more than just a platform. It is changing the way journalism takes shape, inviting masses of people who've never considered journalistic ethics or the consequences of distributing information to thousands of people, to become a part of the formerly small pool of gatekeeping journalists who bring the "news" to the rest of the world. The result is that the pool of those that can be counted among the "media" or "journalists" has grown dramatically. The amount of information out there has exploded. And yet, at the end of the day, people want to be able to trust that what is being purported to be news, whether it comes so-called "traditional" journalists or "citizen journalists" who are distributing their information online or through social media. Multiple cultural and technological changes have made that increasingly difficult. The rise of right wing and left wing media as well as polarizing politics has cast doubt on all forms of "mainstream media". That doubt is compounded by the ability for people to bypass any kind of "mainstream" media and go right to sources online that support their views, regardless of whether the news being distributed by that source meets even the most basic thresholds for fact. In some cases, the manipulation is subtle (like news "spin). In other cases, it is dramatic (manipulating or omitting facts to deliberately support a political or cultural agenda). Either way, it puts the onus on the journalists to fact-check their own work. For traditional journalists, the burden is heavier and more complicated. The speed of the news cycle and the sheer amount of information available to inform your reporting can overwhelm someone trying to verify the truth of the matter. It is increasingly difficult to find those who don't spin their side of the story. On the other side of the coin, many so-called "citizen journalists" may not even realize their level of responsibility to the discourse happening around the country, They can bypass traditional media and potentially reach thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people. What's more, many enjoy the ability to remain anonymous no matter what they post and thereby often avoid any kind of legal or ethical consequence for their information. As people who put information into cyberspace, we must reassess our responsibilities in doing so and as news consumers we must approach all information like this with eyes open. We, as journalists, can not pretend that the dramatic cultural and technological changes are happening outside of the sphere of what we do. The news is no longer confined to the traditional gatekeepers. The digital media has torn those gates down. Access once enjoyed by media conglomerates is now open to anyone with a twitter handle and online access. So how do we as journalists adapt to the new landscape? How do we retain our integrity? How do we use the information out there to aid in our efforts to inform our audience instead of confuse them? And how do we uphold traditional ethical and journalistic goals when they are openly flaunted by others who share our medium and threaten to denigrate what we do?

As a secondary point, we need to look at the implications of digital media when it comes to how news is distributed. This is particularly important now because even leading journalism programs tend to treat digital media as a sidebar to journalism, focusing on reporting and fact-checking and discussing blogging only in passing. All too often, the news is treated as a TV or print enterprise with a digital component. It must be re-imagined as a digital entity with text, audio and visual components. That is true both for the way we create news and how it is distributed. Educators say that the technology is changing so quickly, in fact, that they can barely keep up - that lessons developed one year may be outdated a year later. A recent study found that more than a quarter of 18 to 24 year old's use social media as their primary source for news - more than television for the first time. We must meet these viewers where they live in terms of how to deliver them accurate information quickly and in the medium they prefer. This has implications for "traditional media" because it requires us to rethink how to provide facts and contexts in a different medium than has been traditionally used, as well as how to meet ethical and legal requirements for distributing information when the speed of the news cycle and the sheer amount of information available means it may not be possible to accurately check facts or verify sources.

All of this will provide the backdrop for a comprehensive college-level course that looks at the changing landscape of "traditional journalism". It will also look at how journalism itself is transitioning to a new age in which digital media is transforming both the content and the medium by which it is provided, As it does, we must also reassess the responsibilities that lay with traditional journalists, citizen journalists and the audience they are trying to reach. Areas of interest include traditional journalistic pedagogy, evolving pedagogy, the clash between traditional & citizen journalists (including sometimes competing goals and motivations) and how the two entities can work together (including how information is co-opted through phenomena like crowdsourcing), as well as assessing ethical and legal responsibilities moving forward.

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