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Saturday, 19 February 2011

What effect has the internet had on journalism?

Ever stopped to think about how the internet has completely revolutionised the art of news gathering?

In the days before the world wide web, the older generation of trained journalists would type up their story and probably dictate it to an editor in London, New York, or Berlin. Nowadays, most journalists have integrated new technologies into their news-gathering techniques as they've emerged. For many seasoned pros, covering the events during the Middle East protests like those that flashed across your screen in Cairo during the internet blackout in Egypt was like taking a step back in time. Peter Beaumont, a foreign affairs editor for The Guardian says,

"We went back to what we used to do: write up the story on the computer, go to the business centre, print it out and dictate it over the phone," he says. "We didn't have to worry about what was on the internet; we just had to worry about what we were seeing. It was absolutely liberating."

The effect on news reporting from these new and emerging technologies like the web and other integradted software platform along with social media websites like Twitter, Facebook and You Tube is considered the most clear evidence that this is a revolutionary technology: news editors – the traditional Guardian of the Fourth Estate, and in some cases, the governments that they observe – are no longer the gatekeepers to information because costs of distribution have almost completely disappeared. If knowledge is power, the web is the greatest tool in the history of the world.

Paul Mason, economics editor on BBC2's Newsnight, agrees.He uses these tools to get an angle on what's happening and what's important. "If you are following 10 key economists on Twitter and some very intelligent blogs," he says, "you can quickly get to where you need to be: the stomach-churning question, 'OK, what do I do to move this story on?'"

Of course as with everything that at first glance appears like manna from heaven, a word of caution needs to be observed, a caveat emptor needs to be understood. The danger is that you can all too easily accept an initial story found on Facebook or the web and, in an effort to get the story out, certain journalistic rules are not observed. Indeed, in 2009, American TV networks found themselves in a very public mess when they reported the "Twitter line" on the story of a killing spree by Major Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood US army base – that the killer had terrorist links. The details turned out to be false.

Nevertheless, it is unquestionably true that technology has changed forever not only the way journalists gather news, but also the way they publish and report it. Just as wars changed forever when journalists began to hunker down with the troops in the first and second Gulf Wars, so too reporting on things as diverse as domestic strife between spouses and what underwear Kim Jong of North Korea wears will never be the same.

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