To meet that question head on, we have to start by asking once again what journalismactually is. Perfectly easy to recognise, you might say: a person equipped with anything froma spiral-bound notebook to a handycam reporting events to the rest of us. But anyone cannow do that if they choose. Can anyone relaying news to anyone call themselves a journalist? Journalism has now become a word wandering around in search of a definition.In the past decade and a half, the ability of very small computers to swop, replicate and linkvast quantities of data at high speed and at almost no cost have changed more than news.These technologies push slow transformative shifts in human communication, the publicsphere, privacy, politics, the division between work and play and the distribution of power.Distilling the effects on news, we can separate out three irreversible shifts:
First, in the quantity of information available. When journalism began, reliableinformation was scarce; despite the inaccuracy of much that you can find nowadays,news is in glut. Perhaps the most dramatic effects of this explosion of information arestill to be felt in regions like Africa and South Asia where the internet¶s riches arriveon a mobile phone, equipping the poor with information which they haven¶t hadbefore. Across the world the internet adoption rate is now eight times faster onmobile phones than it is on PCs. Here is one small example from villages in Uttar Pradesh, the beneficiaries of an experiment being conducted by the InternationalMedia Institute of India. The villages may or may not have access to radio or television, but if they do, little of that news is local enough to matter. But everyonehas a mobile phone. A couple of people in each village, chosen as reporters, gather the stories. They may be thefts, fires, holes in the road, floods, births, deaths, prayer meetings. They record the stories in the local dialect and send them to an editor, whocan filter and perhaps add in region-wide information on crop prices, weather forecasts or even advice on sanitation or childcare. A company in Hyderabad thensends the ³news´ back as a voice call. Thanks to speakers on phones, the twice-dailybulletins have become a social event.
Second big change: the instant alteration of information. Cable and satellite gave usrolling 24-hour news. The internet allows that to be updated, nuanced, correctedcontinuously from many different directions. Those who enjoy this say that news hasbecome a ³process´ or a ³conversation´. Those who do not enjoy this say that newsis losing at least some of its authority, clarity and coherence.
The third change is the most profound. I would call it the decentralisation of news.The production and consumption of news has been decoupled from advertising andits previous sources of income. First and foremost that causes an economic crisis.