The media knows how to both create and destroy reputations. Sensationalism and tabloidisation are additionally killing journalism. It has been forgotten that spoken and written words also carry responsibility
The media and journalism reached their peak in the 1970s and ’80s. However, the first three decades of the 21st century have confirmed that media companies are in the hands of those who hold economic and political power. The media scene and journalism face numerous challenges.
Commercialisation has led to the easing of journalism standards. In the struggle for market share, the crucial difference between what is in the “public interest” and what “interests the public” has been forgotten.
Commercial success is based on the cheap production of soft news. The media is increasingly superficial and destructive, led by the logic that “only bad news sells well”. The line between information and entertainment is being increasingly blurred. Media presentation inevitably strives to cater to the taste of a wider audience, utilising all tried and tested forms of entertainment – talk shows, celebrity status, amusement, infotainment – to make presentations more interesting and hold the attention. The gauge is circulation and people meters. Professional journalism opened the door to the huge industry of public relations, which could hardly wait to flood journalists with material about PR clients. The media not only reflects reality, but also constructs it. They don’t only report from events, but also create events. There is ever more “retroactive journalism”, in which the most important stories appear after the fact.
During this time of electronic media dominance, primarily television, but also the internet, visualisation has been reinforced and led to a visual culture. We are today preoccupied by an abundance of screens: televisions, computers, tablets and smart phones. The civilisation of the book has been replaced by the civilisation of the image. Newspapers are leafed through, print publications are leafed through on television, as are TV channels – by remote control. The emergence of the internet created new optimism over the revival of journalism, but those expectations proved unrealistic.
The old media represented a means of controlling the authorities, while the (new) social media have become an instrument for monitoring citizens
News is produced more easily, spread faster and distributed more cheaply. The internet is all surface and no depth. The internet snatched the economic base of journalism and became a competitor to advertising. The border between producers and end users of information has now become more fluid. Citizen journalism and the possibility for citizens and audiences to participate in the process of informing and reporting is leading to mass amateurisation.
The old media represented a means of controlling the authorities, while the (new) social media have become an instrument for monitoring citizens. Media outlets no longer aim to inform us, but rather strive to control us. Social media has led to a “surveillance paradigm” – with citizens monitored for economic, political and security purposes. With the help of microchips, processors, cameras and algorithms, data is processed to show what we’ve paid for and where (via payment cards), where we’ve travelled (Google maps), with whom we’ve communicated (Facebook, Viber, WhatsApp), who we’ve shot photos and videos with (Instagram, YouTube). Social media is the realisation of the dystopian future in which we’re living. Reputation is more important than ever. The more important reputation becomes, the more it is subject to attack. The media knows how to both create and destroy reputations. Sensationalism and tabloidisation are additionally killing journalism. It has been forgotten that spoken and written words also carry responsibility. New media have led to new occupations. We now have Twitter-politicians, blog-analysts, Facebook-activists, Google-journalists, Wikipedia-intellectuals, YouTubers and other influencers.
If something doesn’t appear in the media it’s as though it never happened. And that doesn’t mean that it happened in the way it is portrayed in the media. With the evolution of the media, information has become disinformation and news has become fake news, while the truth has become post-truth. Full freedom to be informed is “guaranteed only to media owners”. If we recognise and diagnose what’s happening, we are on the right road to deciding what to do.