Why conventional journalists are facing extinction

May 2, 2014

World Press Freedom Day, was first celebrated 21 years ago tomorrow 3rd May and according to the history of journalism, the day was established not only to acknowledge the importance of free, independent media, but also to highlight the struggles and dangers journalists face to inform and empower us. Throughout the world, journalists and media workers suffer physical threats, social ostracism, detention and deionization, imprisonment and legal harassment. Indeed, not only journalists, bloggers and writers, but even their defenders like lawyers and human rights advocates who are often arrested and harassed. From United States of America to Russia, China to Africa, national security laws ranging from anti- terror, internal security acts, official secrets acts and among other myriad of laws continues to hang above the heads of journalists and media practitioners. In most African countries, defamation remains a criminal offense whose punishments are severe. At present the relationship between the conventional and social media has so far been beneficial. As I had written few months back,a reporter can glean breaking news from the source, but under most circumstances user(s) in the social media normally points out how important the news is, sparking interest instantly.

It’s time for journalists to reflect once again as the world marks Press Freedom Day tomorrow about how new technologies and laws are likely to make them irrelevant in future. For example, Contador Harrison is a good writer but under traditional media employment benchmarks, he cannot even get a correspondent job. But thanks to social media, I am among those empowered users who think and analyze a story and publish it without any control that exists in media companies.  The traditionalists at New York Times to The Times of London always like to remind us that online networks are full of gossips, hearsay, distortions and blatant lies and because of bloggers like me, old fashioned journalists’ duty of protecting the facts has become more relevant than ever before. However, what such traditional journalists forget is that social media and blogging is full of well-educated and knowledgeable writers and users who can within a second expose misinformation and fabrications to millions across the world. Who needs traditional journalists when the rise in the use of the social media across the world has highlighted their importance and enabled Ukrainians, Egyptians, Tunisians among others to take a more active role in politics and destiny of their countries. Significantly, the social media platforms have provided access to information that has enabled citizens to think on themselves. Gone are the days when citizens listened to radio, read newspapers or even watched TV to passively receive the news.

As journalism, media and access to information are revolutionized in the digital era, so, too, are government efforts to control information frantically redoubling. To make matters worse, the threats to the fourth estate come not only from states machinery, but also from religious, ethnic, cultural and political intolerance, as well as a general breakdown and weakness of the rule of law.  A general lack of media literacy has also been cited as the reason journalists are vulnerable to public misunderstanding, making them targets of public officials and politicians as well.  On World Press Freedom Day tomorrow journalists must take time to acknowledge that without press freedom, free expression and access to information, guarantees of rights and efforts for development and good governance will be stunted and potentially destined to fail. But the question remains: How exactly should journalism evolve in an era when, for instance, an unpaid blogger like Contador Harrison can authoritatively and instantly cover a research story? For now, traditionalists will rubbish it given that the bloggers receives no advertising revenue or incentives. However, that state of affairs will not last for long and conventional journalists will either have to evolve or face extinction. In developed world, major newspapers are folding because consumers are getting smarter and that is why New York Times earns more revenue from digital subscription compared to hard copies sales. Advertising money is key to mainstream journalism’s survival and even in United States where $78 billion was spent last year, it is becoming more unpredictable. The advertisers are shifting online. Without revenues, media companies will close business and conventional journalism will be a thing of the past.

Contador Harrison