Many people have argued what the future of journalism could be. Most agree that technology, especially digital, will impact it the most.
The obituary to print journalism has often been written, and it still continues being debated passionately if the prophesized doomsday is near or if these are mere cheap apocalypse mongering.
In this article, I plan to take that apocalypse mongering to the next level. I want to pose the question whether journalism – the art, the profession – will survive technology?
That might sound stupid and sensationalist right now, especially with “web journalism” and plethora of new news based websites coming up, but I think my sensationalist poser is not that off the mark.
First let me define journalism in a simple way – it’s an art (I wish it were science, but it is not) of gathering and analyzing information about current events.
Traditionally, people employed by media organizations would do this job. We will be willing to pay for this, for we need information about current events due to various reasons.
Information technology or IT, as we know it today, was not present when journalism was born, so we needed an institution to propagate pieces of information. Information travelled through rolls of paper. In today’s world, information travels through bits of data.
We could say that the entire process will just shift from paper to data, without affecting the institution of journalism or the role of journalists.
But is it the transition that smooth and natural?
When I think about “flow of information shifting from paper to data”, another institution comes to my mind – the postal system.
Information used to flow through letters – printed papers – now it flows through data – the email.
At one point of time, it was so important part of our lives. The postman was a local hero. In many villages, he was often one of the few guys who could read and write, and people would ask him to read out newspapers to them.
He was a respected man. He has been central characters in movies. Poets have written about him.
Then, the email technology arrived. And the rest is history.
Journalists might frown upon being compared to a postman, but well, there indeed are some professional similarities between a postman and a journalist, or rather between a postman and a reporter to be precise:
- Both enjoy the respect or the privilege because they control flow of information.
- Both enjoy that position essentially because of a regular employment.
- Both get to meet all kind of persons thanks to the nature of their job.
- Both can manipulate human emotions if they manipulate the information they are custodians of.
The postman virtually vanished from our lives because the job he was doing was easily replaced by the email technology. The postal system is trying to reinvent and survive.
Can the journalist vanish like the postman? Can technology replace the job that a journalist is doing?
10 years ago, a futuristic flash documentary called “EPIC 2014” was released. It predicted formation of a tech giant Googlezon – a company formed after merger of Google and Amazon – which would force big media companies like The New York Times to shut down.
It predicted that in year 2014, will see a product called EPIC (Evolving Personalized Information Construct) by Googlezon, which will pay users to contribute any information they know, and thus news will be created without journalists. You can watch that flash video here.
It is 2014, and nothing of that sort has happened, but can it be ruled out?
There is no Googlezon today, but what if Twitter starts doing that?
Currently there are journalists who show off their “verified” tag to “trolls”, what if Twitter starts a new category where verified people are reporting events as they see? And Twitter pays them, according to their reach, according to some rating by users, and the process is vetted through some other parameters?
Remember that the military operation to kill Osama was accidentally live tweeted by a guy much before any media organization could put that information in public.
And I can’t help myself but to point out that already many of those active on Twitter trust some “ordinary” users more than some star journalists.
Well, I don’t think Twitter will straightaway jump to this, especially in India, because they would be scaring off big media, and currently they need big media, but this can’t be ruled out.
So the journalist too can vanish, you see. Yes, it won’t be similar to the postman vanishing, for a postman’s job is currently being done entirely by the technology, but journalists and journalism as we know today can surely vanish.
And who knows, with future innovations in the technology, even news gathering could be done by robots. The Google street cameras can be the cameraman, you could be the passive reporter sharing information on social media, your smartphone could be the news desk, and so on. The entire process of gathering and ‘analyzing’ news can be automated in future.
If the news gathering and reporting can be automated, the reporter is gone, like the postman, and that will leave only the columnists and the op-ed writers. Well, no comments over their future.
Thoughts on this? I’m surely being sensationalist and an apocalypse monger, but it can happen, right?