As we look to the future of journalism, we at SPJ thought it would be insightful to hear from the future of journalism. The Future of Journalism essay contest asked student journalists to submit essays on the subject with a prize of $500, registration at SPJ’s Excellence in Journalism conference in San Antonio, and publication here. We were flooded with entries, increasing our optimism about the future of the field when these talented writers enter the workforce. After much deliberation, we selected this thoughtful piece from Alexa Tironi, a New Jersey resident currently a sophomore at George Mason University.
A few days ago, I was watching a Netflix special from CNN titled “The Nineties” that detailed some of the decade’s most iconic and newsworthy moments. The episode mentioned paramount moments such as Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, the death of Kurt Cobain, the bombing of Baghdad and the Clinton scandal. Upon completion of the episode, I began to consider major moments of my life. Events such as: the Boston Marathon bombing, the Sandy Hook school shooting, the 2016 election, the Parkland school shooting, and the Kavanaugh hearings came to mind. All these events changed the course of the American conversation, and as I thought of these moments in my life’s history, I realized a commonality among them. When I recall how I gained information on all these newsworthy events, I noticed that it was never from a newspaper, rarely from television, but almost always from an online source, and, more specifically, from social media.
A platform that was popularized on the sharing of vacation photos and connecting with friends and family in faraway places has now become the fastest information venue. In seconds a person can notify their hundreds of followers of the events unfolding around them. This form of instantaneous news has become the choice of the younger generation. According to a Pew Research Center poll, 50% of adults aged 18-29 consume their news from an online source.
This information rings true for myself and for many of my peers. As I think back to the 2016 election or the day of the Parkland shooting, I remember avidly refreshing my Twitter feed to get hour-by-hour and minute-by-minute information. As a college student with no access to a television, I watched the entirety of the Kavanaugh hearing through a Facebook livestream. Through the platform of social media, I was able to carry constant and changing news in my back pocket.
Online and instantaneous news has become the present and future of journalism. This form of news and media, however, comes with a catch. Due to the rapid speed of which information is gathered and sent out onto the internet, it can feel impossible to filter out what news is accurate. On account of the fact that anyone with a WIFI connection can access social media and add to the public conversation, some of the truth and facts can get jumbled. With the invention of information-and-opinion-sharing websites such as blogs and social media, these days it feels as though anyone can be a journalist. In fact, according to that same study, only 4% of US adults truly trust the information they glean from social media sources.
Lately, trying to figure out the details of a recent current event is like playing a game of telephone, as the story spreads, it seems to morph and change with every clickbait headline and trending hashtag. In this extremely polarized political and social climate it can feels as though opinions and agendas are added to almost every informative source. Take, for example, the way people pledge their loyalties to specific news sources and publications, not because of their reporting skills, but because of which side of the story they lean toward. The rivalry between FOX News and MSNBC does not exist merely because of ratings and viewers, but because they tell the same story very differently. News and the media have begun to take sides, and that is the very thing that could be its downfall. Journalism is meant to be society’s watchdog and the gatekeeper to the truth. Journalism and news writing are meant to tell the people what to think about, not how to think about it. So, as a new generation of journalists emerges into the field, it will be up to them to cut through the opinionated noise to give the public an unequivocally honest and unbiased story.
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Ellen Goodman, writes that “in journalism there has always been a tension between getting it first and getting it right.” In a world where news updates are 24/7 and information sharing has become instantaneous, Goodman’s words have never been more relevant. As the race to print the story becomes more competitive than ever in this high-speed internet environment, it is not only the facts that can be lost in translation, but the art and tactfulness as well. Journalists hurry to churn out stories, and in that haste, aspects of the story suffer. In my opinion, there is a difference between simply telling a story, and telling it well. A good piece of journalism must contain all the facts; that part is nonnegotiable. But if the story can be told with intelligence, purpose, and impartiality, it is even more impactful.
The future of journalism will change along with technology, that is undeniable. However, if the accuracy and skill behind the writing can remain credible and without a biased agenda, then that is the future we should strive for. No matter how the profession changes and develops, if the next generation of journalists can move forward with integrity, good sense and — most of all — the truth, then I have no doubt the future of the field will be in good hands.