"The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow."
- Bill Gates
On the first page of this textbook, Ms. Scott said we cub reporters—or "cubbies," as she likes to call us—were born just 15 minutes ago. Well, with that scale, the social Internet was born maybe 10 minutes ago. In 2006, Time magazine recognized the growing traction of the user-contributed Web and named you—the Internet citizen—the Person of the Year. But in those 10 minutes, we've seen unprecedented change, especially from the media production and consumption standpoint.
Compared to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, which were launched in 2004 and 2006, respectively, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are dinosaurs. The Wall Street Journal was first published in 1889. The New York Times? 1851. Yet, now the majority of people our age find out about what's going on in the world through social media sites—not the newspaper. Of course, people have been shouting about the decline of newspapers since the advent of television, but it's the Internet, now, that's shaking up the media landscape.
In recent years, the newspaper industry has struggled to adapt. The potent forces of the Internet and the 2008 recession contributed to a huge decline in printed newspapers.
In fact, it's doubtful we'll ever reach previous print readership levels again. Take a look at the data from the Newspaper Association of America on revenue for print advertisement. A newspaper is a business; it needs money to run, but advertisers just aren't looking to advertise in print anymore—fewer and fewer people are using the newspaper to stay informed.
That being said, the data also shows that even the online revenue isn't making up for the loss in print advertisement revenue.
The online world presents huge challenges for media companies. The biggest challenge, of course, is that it's a lot harder to make people pay for online subscriptions when so much information is available for free, though often at the cost of reliability. But generally, reliability isn't even on the radar of most people online. It's an issue the huge newspaper organizations continue to grapple with.
While our channels to consume news have transformed, what hasn't changed is our intrinsic need and—as some might say—duty to stay informed about what's around us. But being informed online isn't exactly a straightforward task. If you want to find out about something, it's probably online. The difficult part? Turning all that information out there into useful knowledge by figuring out what's relevant and accurate. I like to characterize the Internet as a swamp of information. As digital citizens, we must know how to wade through the digital waters and filter out all the muck that's in it. As Lev Grossman writes in Time's 2006 Person of the Year article, "Web 2.0 harnesses the stupidity of crowds as well as its wisdom."
In addition to finding out what's reliable, it's crucial that we continue to gather knowledge from a vast array of sources and topics—and that's what we're doing every time we pick up the newspaper and keep a log of what we read. The physical newspaper exposes us to stories and information we might otherwise not run into. In some senses, newspaper websites attempt to recreate this experience. However, most of us are much more likely to go to Facebook, Twitter, or our favorite blogs, where we readily get content we care about. Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, wrote about this experience online—a phenomenon MIT's Nicholas Negroponte calls "The Daily Me." Kristof writes, "When we go online, each of us is our own editor, our own gatekeeper. We select the kind of news and opinions that we care most about." We, as digital citizens, need to be conscious of the bubble of comfortable news and opinions that we tend to isolate ourselves in, and we need to actively seek to expand it.
As you've learned over the course of the term, we still need quality journalists to be reliable conduits and synthesizers of all that goes on around us. What's changed is that, now, you don't need to be a newspaper writer to contribute to the dialogue. With just an Internet connection and a blog, a Twitter account, or a personal website, anyone can write and publish a post for the entire "connected world" to see—on the Internet, everyone has a voice, and everyone's voice can be heard. This kind of publishing provides an important virtual platform and an exciting opportunity, but it needs to be taken seriously, exactly because it is so readily available. Plagiarism, libel, privacy, and ethical dilemmas continue to exist online and, in fact, are amplified by the speed of the Internet. The Web is a powerful tool for the journalist—but one that needs to be wielded carefully.
Think about what the Internet did for the Arab Spring or the Occupy movement. As citizens we need to be aware of the world around us and to speak up when we take issue with what's going on. With the Internet and its enormous reach, there is no excuse not to be a responsible citizen.
In this chapter, we—a few students who took Ms. Scott's journalism class at Andover—try to address a component largely missing in Journalism 101: the brave new world of the Internet. What does this change mean for media institutions? What does it mean for the reporter or columnist? What does it mean for society at large? How can you take advantage of the Internet to stay informed as well as generate dialogue about issues you care about?
Don't think of us as experts in online journalism. Growing up with the Internet, we're all familiar with the questions and problems it poses. The goal of these sections is to spark in you—the student journalist—a sense of cautious awe for the online world. It's truly a vast and rich landscape that will continue to quickly evolve in the coming years. Buckle up and let's go!