Sunday, January 10, 2016

Mass media on the path to extinction

Gone are the days when only a few large mass media institutions dominated (and controlled) the information flow to the general population. Keeping certain facts hidden, blatantly coloring events or presenting them heavily opinionated was pretty easy. The morning paper and evening news was all you got, and if it was not mentioned there, it simply did not happen.

This set up gave some stakeholders (large corporations, the government, powerful lobbyist groups) an unhealthy level of control and a way to direct the opinion of the public. The arrival of The Internet did not change this immediately, but it was the beginning of the end for traditional mass media as an undisputed monopolist in news gathering and information distribution. Some tried to introduce clumsy on-line services, often behind a pay wall. Most of these initiatives failed miserably.

Of course the Internet still had a long way to go before it could replace the mainstream mass media as a day-to-day information source. It had to become cheaper, it needed to be a common utility like electricity, water and gas, something that someone takes for granted. Better software and publishing tools gave the final push. Today newspapers are basically on the path to extinction. The same can be said for the traditional journalist.

There are 2 billion smartphone users worldwide, and anyone can report news, illustrated with photos or videos, on YouTube or a blog. Of course the quality will vary greatly and some channels are just as opinionated as the mass media (or even more so). Most importantly though, the earlier mentioned stakeholders have lost their tight grip on information, their control over opinion and their power to keep things secret. Events are documented while they happen or widely scrutinized after the fact, reducing the chance of keeping things from the public. Older stories that were once covered up, resurface. For the average citizen it is much easier to get an unbiased report, or at least two sides of the story, and form an opionion on the basis of that, instead of being told what to think or steered in the desired direction. And with the genie out of the bottle, I do not see this changing anytime soon.

No comments: