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Is the media killing journalism?

There is the media, and there is journalism. The former can mean anything in this era of highly democratised flow of information.

But journalism means something very specific and critical. The explosion of the media landscape in the recent past, powered by the revolution in information and communications technology, is unprecedented in human history.

Today, any major news development at one end of the world instantly travels to utterly distant parts of the world. The speed is prodigious, and often the contagion can bring about a global wave either in celebration or disapproval of something.

The biggest force here has been social media. The world is a better place because of advances that have eased the flow of information, the unfettered availability of channels of communication and vast sources of knowledge.

But the world also faces grave dangers precisely because of unbridled circulation of anything and everything. Change is good. Creative destruction, as economist Joseph Schumpeter pointed out more than half a century ago, moves societies forward and for the most part leads to better conditions. This, of course, needs not be seen through a rigid teleological frame.

Human ingenuity thrives in environments of free flow of ideas and tinkering with new ways of thinking. The current explosion of the media landscape is itself a product of human tinkering, but also has provided part of the infrastructure for freer imagination and innovative thinking.

But a world of creative destruction without institutions guarding against human excesses could easily lead to a state of nature or at best worsen an already anarchical system – we have no world government and global governing systems that fully rule over everyone and every state or non-state actor.

The sprawling media landscape that includes all manner of unfiltered and unprofessional dissemination ironically presents easily the biggest danger to what used to be referred to as the ‘fourth estate’.

I say it used to because I am not sure we can still speak of a unified ‘fourth branch of government’ called the media that’s strictly independent and services a public good.

The disruptive effects of social media have left mainstream media gasping to survive and remain relevant even when, in fact, the latter can offer wholly different and extremely critical services that social media cannot. Instead, there is near race to the bottom here.

Media houses find themselves wanting to emulate social media platforms where everyone is an expert and everything in its raw form can pass for material worth putting out. Worse still, increasingly we get more punditry and less serious investigative reporting, much opinionated arguments but little sourced stories and a lot of salacious breaking news yet very limited deep insight.

The sum of the issue here as I see it is the gradual death of journalism, ironically at the behest of the media. A big paradox it is: the media is killing journalism.

Consider the recent trend of Uganda’s websites purporting to be news outlets. I have lost count. One of them is run by a fellow fully ensconced to State House, but it is seen by many Ugandans as a source of credible and worthy news!

Unlike in the past where starting a newspaper or a radio station required substantial financial and human resources, it’s now easier and a trifle inexpensive to lay claim to being a media organisation by starting a ‘news’ website.

In the West, the biggest damage to the credibility and standing of journalism has come from vicious assaults from website outlets.

And the sustained attack on journalism by President Donald Trump, perhaps the main reason majority of the Republic Party now considers the media ‘an enemy of the people,’ has succeeded mainly through sending out only a few words via Twitter.

Trump and his supporters seem unaware his Twitter handle and the myriad populist news-websites out to harangue ‘the media’ are in fact part of the media. The real target for denigration here is not the media, but journalism.

Real journalism bites. It is not music to politicians and the powerful. But it’s never a threat to society because it serves a common good for all, telling the true story and casting a spotlight on the issues affecting people’s lives.

In our times, this journalism has suffered a plunge. We have tabloid television in league with social media. Major television networks hire celebrity anchors who can attract viewership and ratings.

On social media, the craze is about following people on Facebook and Twitter and how many followers someone has. Some people now get news and information by following certain individuals.

In this media maze that includes everything and anything, the decline of journalism means we are inundated by disinformation as much as rushed breaking news supposedly in realtime.

We have individuals and organisations spewing toxic and salacious stuff that do little to inform and educate. More than ever before the profession of journalism, as the vanguard of the fourth estate, needs to be at the front of the information age, but it’s now in a marginal position.

The author is an assistant professor of political science at North Carolina State University

Comments

+5 #1 Lysol 2018-05-10 03:52
Journalism is dying not because of the social media alone, but because many so-called journalists(like you) these days write /report their personal opinions instead of reporting factual news.

There are very few investigative journalists who report facts. If they do they always quote anonymous/unnamed sources which always tend to be made up of false.

That is why the social media can always fact-check whatever nonsense they write. There are alot of false news out there especially from the leading liberal leaning world newspapers or media.

Maybe that is why Trump and others resort to twitter to get their massage across.

They say over 90% news about Trump is always negative from liberal media or journalists. A liberal like you should know better, and don't confuse us. We first want to deal with Uganda's main issues.
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0 #2 Ocaya pOcure 2018-05-10 10:54
Welcome back with your clear worded articles as usual Ndugu Khisa. The issue here is that things have changed and I think, it will always continue.

A society without change is bound to stagnate as we are seeing for 33 plus years and still counting in Uganda.

In both Kenya and Tanzania there are political changes and I think they will make progress for their political futures for their betterment.
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+1 #3 ejakait engoraton 2018-05-13 12:46
The solution is very simple, journalism like most aspects of life, needs to REINVENT itself.

We moved from the era where we communicated with drums, to fixed landline to mobile, analogue to digital, print newspapers are going out of fashion and you expect that journalism is going to stay the same.

As they say, the only CONSTANT in life is CHANGE.
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+1 #4 ejakait engoraton 2018-05-13 12:50
I remember that in one of your articles you intimated that you shunned social media.

I am not surprised about your article. A lot of people dread or do not want to accept change even when it is inevitable or necessary.

As they say, you can not stop an idea whose time has come , its like trying to stop a bursting dam with a finger
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+1 #5 Lysol 2018-05-15 00:52
Moses, it seems that not so many people missed you when you were on strike (and any yet to come).

Why don't you concentrate on your "real profession" instead of lamenting on something beyond your control.

Change is always good, whether for the best or for the worst, something good always comes out of chaos. Don't be afraid of change.
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0 #6 ejakait engoraton 2018-05-15 13:43
SOME people want to eat their cake and still have it.

A lot of what is happening today is because of changes that we have had over the course of time.

AT some point, people were afraid to take to the seas because they were afraid they would " fall off the edge of the earth". But some brave people came along and ventured out.

Today, MKHISA is able to sit in the comfort of his apartment in the US and pen an article and have it published within a few minutes of clicking a button.

And people from all corners of the world are able to read his article within seconds of it being published.

Previously, he would have had to type it, find a way to post it, or even the very fastest, fax it, have it printed and the only way to read it would have been to get a hard copy.

And even then very limited circulation.

ALL these are changes that have benefited "journalism" and yet someone is mourning/moaning the advent of MEDIA.
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0 #7 John Ngubiri 2018-05-15 15:42
Why are journalists called "Scribes"? This is because initially very few people knew how to write.

When we all learnt how to write, they have to start reporting. Now we all can report, they have to change.

They should no hide behind editors. The problem editors were addressing eg space is nolonger a problem. we have a lot of space in media.

Let them give us synthesis. If ABC happened, what is the implication? Journalists need to be that knowledgeable group. The journalism training in Uganda needs to change.

U cannot specialise in print, radio, tv ... An editor cannot send 6 people to cover the same story but one for radio, another for TV, another for print. We now need journalists who can handle politics, agriculture, religion, etc and the print, radio, etc are just outlets.

You advise us everyday in editorial, can you also take the advise this time?
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