From Johannes Gutenberg to the dawn of the Internet, the press (or the media as we now call it) has been characterized by two things: It has been one-way, and it has flowed from the few to the many. Comes now the Internet, where everyone’s a publisher/broadcaster, and all that has changed.
As we’re seeing already, tomorrow’s media will be two-way and many to the many. (And a generation from now, when Virtual Reality is prevalent, many to the few as well.)
A change so fundamental poses real challenges to professional journalists, because in the age of user-generated content — whether in the form of blogs, or social networking sites, or YouTubian video creations, or who knows what — many of the “stars” are likely to be what we used to think of as the audience.
In this tumultuous new world, professional journalists will not only have to share the stage with amateurs, they will have to put up with their slings and arrows, and even to defer to them in those instances, which will be legion, where some amateur’s expertise or diligence on a given subject is greater than that of the professional journalist.
And there is one other thing. As we see even now, all of the amateurs will have opinions, and some will be able to express them very well.
Given all of this, one might ask who will want to be a professional journalist, and what, exactly, will be the role of one? Though no one knows for sure, the answer to that last question may lie in the advantages available to the professionals.
Because they have financial resources, whole departments of reporters, vast networks of contacts, and the best equipment, professional journalists have now, and will continue to have, something the amateurs don’t — the ability to engage in the practice of gathering and reporting the news.
It follows from this that the media of the future may put a greater emphasis on thoroughness and objectivity, not necessarily out of high-mindedness or J-schoolish exhortations, but because this kind of reportage, unlike opinion and analysis, is something only they can do.
If this is in fact the future of journalism, it will mark a return to a journalistic standard that’s lately been honored more in the breach than the observance, and it will be another example of how great societal benefits often derive from the pursuit of self-interest.