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article imageOp-Ed: How Political is Technology in a Newspaper Context?

By Angelique van Engelen     Nov 30, 2007 in Internet
Newspapers are suspected of being in danger of evaporating into thin air. Whenever an established newspaper includes hyper-modern tools, we tend to think of that change as technology gaining ground. But can technology replace a paper's identity?
A newspaper's inclusion of technological gimmicks to interact with readers doesn’t necessarily mean the end of its identity. To think that, would be as silly as to assume that a music ceases to be music when you purchased a CD instead of an LP. Technology facilitates ideas, it doesn’t replace ideologies or identities. It merges ideas and forms, at the most. But it never changes the ideas.
If any qualifying comment can be made about the real impact of technological development on society, it is that the chicken and egg question applies. To assign prevalence to either chicken or egg is to give in to the part that makes the whole cease to be logically correct. Technology has become today’s semiotic medium, and even though this in itself is an irreversible process, it is politics (encompassed by technology’s matrix-like tentacles) that should be watched more intently than ever before for its ability to manipulate facts and benefit from so called ‘technological’ reasons.
This is what we should keep in mind, assessing new trends in society and the future role of newspapers. Citizen power has proven capable of propelling vast stretches of high-quality, peer-reviewed, knowledge. Its being free of charge is itself seen as a new currency, in the absence of a direct monetary exchange. It is interesting that it’s ‘freebies´ making people reassess what actually motivates humans. I think that the very fact that we’re not really sure how to interpret the free lunch anymore is evidence of hope; we are collectively ready for a re-think of business driven 'misgivings' such as financial gain as natural motivating factors for humans.
The freebie trend has repercussions for the way newspapers are modeling their business structures. But the high quality exchange of ideas at the core of a paper´s identity will have to remain intact or there’ll be no point in being a news organization.
The structures surrounding the news have gotten more complicated because we have greater insights in operational contexts than ever before. This means that journalists, who are meant to collectively mirror society, these days are very much the prophets of ideas distilled skillfully from fragmented realities.
They stand between the strangest evolution society has known thus far, the ´fragmented masses´, and institutions. High quality tools help journalists perform their role as qualitative information mediums amid a quantitative free supply of ideas. The directions in which journalists are receiving and conveying messages from/to have become dizzying if you regard them on the whole. This, bizarrely, connects the journalist more closely to the world at large, because the ´fragmented masses´ are faced with the same. Journalists and individuals in society both are empowered to make the news 'wholesome'.
To wonder whether there is a role for journalists in this process at all, is of course a valid exercise. In my opinion, this is a similar issue to whether a newspaper changes its identity when embracing new technology. There´s no way that technology can replace human judgement either. We´re still living in a world determined by a survival of the fittest and need professionals to alert others when foul play is happening. The process has become more open, but it takes trained individuals in this specialty to function as front runners in setting authoritative standards.
Take RSS feeds as an example. In compiling personal RSS feeds, everybody is relying on his or her own sense of judgement of what is reality. Amid the current pace of change, we might be collectively at risk from confusing formats with actual content if we are sifting through sources that don't distinguish themselves in a recognisable identity by means of promoting ideas and ideologies. That is, for starters, why there will never come an end to our need for a 'permanent whistle blowing service'. Even if formerly known as the press.
Angelique van Engelen is a reporter involved with reportwitters, a group of Twittering journalists. You can visit the group's Facebook page here if you are signed into this network.
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