This essay argues that new media technologies have impacted on the structure of international news. As development of new media technologies is not a linear progression (Logan, 2010), what constitutes ‘new media technology’ changes from time to time. The exact definition of new media is arbitrary as television back in the 1950s is considered the new media but at this present moment, it no longer is. Recognising the transitory of the term ‘new media technologies’, I agree with Logan (2010)’s definition of new media technologies as digital, two-way interactive media with ‘the ability to combine text, audio, digital video, the Web, email, chat and a cell phone’ (ibid, 2010: 5), which is different from electric mass media such as TV or Radio posit by McLuhan in 1964 (ibid, 2010). As Shapiro (1999) articulates, “the emergence of new, digital technologies signal a radical shift of who is in control of information, experience and resources” (cited in Croteau & William, 2003: 322) reinforces my support on the statement that new media technologies have impacted the structure of international news. Therefore, in order to illustrate my stance, I will discuss how the functionality of new media technologies, specifically mobile devices and the social media platform- Twitter have impacted the structure of international news in terms of its news production and distribution. Furthermore, I will look at the wider discussion sphere as to how new media technologies have impacted the media environment with relations to the structure of international news. As media coverage on international news according to Moeller (1999) focuses mainly on war, famine, pestilence and human misery issues, I will be using the case studies of 7/7 London Bombing and the Israel-Gaza conflict as examples.
First of all, this essay argues that the functionality of new media technologies like smartphones have impacted the structure of international news in terms of news production. With the increase to access and ownership of new media technologies, in this context culture production tools, “today everyone is a reporter” (Utley cited in Holms, 2001: 126). Smartphones are typically defined as mobile phones with advanced capabilities such as internet access, camera function, voice and video recording (Smith, 2011). These capabilities within a mobile device, I argue are potential mediated tools for news gathering, enabling ordinary citizens to generate their own news content especially in times of unfortunate event. For example, during the 7/7 London bombing incident where journalists were denied access to the sites of bombings, the public capture images and videos of the bombing attacks using smartphones (Allan, 2007). These photographs and videos captured by ‘people who are not professional journalists and are unrelated to news organisations’ are what Wardle & Williams (2008) defined as user-generated contents (UGC). With relations to the 7/7, news agency and organisation like Reuters and Sky News initially have no confirmation of what was going on at London’s Liverpool Street station (Allan, 2007). Instead of obtaining news material from professional journalists, evidences of this breaking news came from UGC captured by eye-witnesses (Allan, 2007). This demonstrates that in times of emergency, producer of international news rested in the hands of whoever has the means of cultural production (Beckett, 2009). Realizing the difficulties entering the site of incident, BBC News site publicly solicit photos and statement of witness (Allan, 2007) and as a result, received over thousands of news materials. As such, this proves that the functionality of new media technologies like that of smartphones has enabled the production of UGC, thus affecting the production of international news which are formerly generated ‘exclusively’ by professional journalists (Beckett, 2009).
Due to the functionality of smartphones that connects users to the Internet, this essay moves on to argue that social media, another form of new media technology has impacted the structure of international news in terms of news sourcing and distribution. Hahn (2013) asserts that BBC journalists’ referral to Twitter has increased by 500% between 2010 and 2012. As opposed to traditional international news sourcing which rely on the four global news agencies namely Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters and Agencia EFE (Belair-Gagnon, 2013), Twitter has become a valuable source of reportage for modern journalists (Hermida, 2010). BBC News editor agreed that social media help journalists to see what people were seeing and experiencing in real time (Belair-Gagnon, 2013). For example, updates of 7/7 bombing documented by citizens on Twitter allow news organisations to come up with a precise timeline of the attacks. Furthermore, amateur journalists who are on the ground in times of emergency sent texts on to Twitter and further spread it across other social media like Facebook, Instagram and MySpace through actions of ‘re-tweeting’, re-blogging’, ‘sharing,’, and ‘tagging’ (Belair-Gagnon, 2013). This decentralized distribution of international news to not only official news organisations but also other unofficial avenues like that of social media is a sign of how new media technologies have impacted on the previously vertically distributed international news (Goode, 2009) by changing it into the present day horizontally shared model.
However, I acknowledge that there have been concerns over the quality of UGC and legitimacy of tweets used in international news reporting (Bowman & Willis, 2003). For example, in the event of the 7/7 bombing, mainstream media misreported the number of explosions, causing many to thought there were six explosions but in actual there were only three (BBC News, 2005). Despite the uncertainty over the authenticity of the information extracted from social media, mainstream media still adopts the ‘publish then filter’ journalistic style (Kperogi, 2011). As messages on Twitter often consist of unsubstantiated rumours whenever there is a major breaking news event, such unverified news source may jeopardizes a media organisation’s corporate ideology such as that of BBC’s ‘being impartial and accurate’ (Hermida, 2010). Nevertheless, despite such risks, BBC still broadcasted a ‘shaky’ video clip taken with camera documenting the real-life story event of commuters being trapped underground (Allan, 2007). This is probably due to public’s demand for minute-by-minute report (Belair-Gagnon, 2013), especially in times of emergency like that of 7/7 has changed the traditional structure of international news of presenting news as a whole. Owing to globalization, flow of information has speeded up and with global communications infrastructures that links distant communities across the globe, new media technologies supply us news feeds across the world (Terry, 2007). As such, this essay argues that despite the controversy over the inaccuracy and low quality of news sourced via new media technologies, UGC remain valuable to newsgathering in times of crisis (Belair-Gagnon, 2013).
After looking at how new media technologies have impacted the structure of international news in terms of production and distribution, I further argue that new media technologies has caused a ripple effect to the wider international news media environment. This statement is supported by Kperogi (2011)’s assertion that the new media technologies have challenged the ‘dominant cultural hegemony’ of global media organisations. For example, the emergence of citizen journalists which is the resultant of new media technologies have become the watchdog of mainstream media (McQuail, 2008), thus indirectly affecting the structure of international news. Meraz (2011) further contends that as contemporary cultural production tools have been ‘democratized to the masses’, the increase in citizen journalism has contributed to the creation of panopticon effect where mainstream media are under the surveillance of citizen monitoring (Stones cited in Meraz, 2011). As a matter of fact, citizen journalists who are generally perceived to uphold the notion of ‘freedom of expression’ (Krumsvik, 2010) often question the editorial structure of international news which they condemned as narrow, homogenous and pre-determined by news agencies (Holm, 2001). As the Internet has allowed media users to bypass traditional gatekeeper in publishing news (Holm, 2001), citizens are being given an opportunity to create a networked public sphere that deviates from the hegemony public sphere. For example, the creation of Twitter-sphere and the use of hashtag ‘#’ (Butcher cited in Hermida, 2010) such as #GazaUnderAttack demonstrate a deviation from the Western international news that deliberate structure Israel as the only victim in the Israel-Gaza conflict. As such, I argue that the prominent usage of hashtag demonstrates how new media is used to provide narratives of war from a marginalized group’s news angle. As the intention of contemporary journalists practice is to provide independent and wide-ranging information that a democracy requires in news reporting (Bowman & Willis, 2003), Goode (2009) reckons such journalistic practices poses challenge to mainstream corporate media. Therefore, new media technologies have empowered citizen journalists the ability to challenge the spreading of the dominant Western worldview on the structure of international news.
In order to mediate the contestation from citizens as discussed above, international news organisations such as CNN, BBC, ABC, Fox News and MSNBC initiate corporate-mediated citizen journalism projects such as iReport.com, UCG Hub, i-Caught, uReport.com and FirstPerson.com. (Belair-Gagnon, 2011; Kperogi, 2011). This incorporation of citizen journalism in the mainstream media offers ordinary people the opportunity to contribute unedited, unfiltered and uncensored UGC (Kperogi, 2011), reflecting news organisations democratic practice in news structuring. Furthermore, news organisations also solicit public’s opinion for example, BBC uses SMS poll to gather audiences’ heterogeneity views (Lee-Wright, 2010). This connotes news organisations, in the face of new media technologies advocate open conversation, transparency as well as encouraging heterogeneity of opinions in structuring international news reporting (Belair-Gagnon, 2011) by recognizing the usefulness and credibility of UGC (Bruns, 2007).
Nevertheless, I argue that this adoption of corporate-mediated citizen journalism is a double-edged sword that on one side, seemingly advocating citizen journalism but on the other hand, retaining the dominant hegemony ideology. As Jurrat (2011) asserts, structure of international news can never be free of hegemonic control. Kperogi (2011) further points out that the very creation of corporate-mediated citizen journalism in actual represent hegemony cooptation of citizen journalism. This statement is reflected through Moeller (1999)’s assertion that international news reporting have always made references that resonates and emphasizes the Americans in mainstream news channel. This is because media globalization is dominated by Western transnational media corporation and as such, allowing the West, particularly the United States to exert hegemony across the world (Terry, 2007). For example, even though UGC are gathered in CNN’s iReport.com, the selection of these UGC is still subjected to the control of gatekeeper (Kperogi, 2011). Such highly editorially controlled news suggests that homogeneity opinions are still very much preferred (Lee-Wright, 2010), thus implying that media cultural imperialism still exist. News help stronger countries influence weaker ones. For example, in the Israel-Gaza conflict, CNN and Fox News presents the Hamas group as terrorist organisation, framing the idea for audiences that US support for Israel is justified. Being one of the superpower in the media industry, the spreading such homogenous media content worldwide (Terry, 2007) is undeniable, branding Hamas or rather Palestinians as terrorists. Furthermore, there may even be a possibility of media domestication (MacGregor, 2013) where actions of altering video and text supplied by making it relevant to local context such as modifying news angles and omitting irrelevant material. For example, the way how the current Gaza war is narrated conforms to the Western’s dominant hegemony ideology of framing the Hamas as terrorist organisation instead of showing how Palestinians being victimized. Such deliberate framing I argue, gives the US authority the justification to supply ammunition to Israel.
This essay concludes that new media technologies have indeed impacted on the structure of international news in terms of its production, where news organisations have become reliant on user-generated content and its distribution, where previously vertically distributed news have become horizontally distributed. Besides that, social media, Twitter in particular has emerged as a powerful tool for reporting breaking news stories and generating stories angles (Belair-Gagnon, 2011). Even though there have been speculations over the usage of UGC and Twitter feeds, I argue that these new media technologies still have positive significances in the structure of international news. Discussing on a wider spectrum, new media technologies have further advocated the manifestation of citizen journalism which proves to pose quite a challenge to the hegemonic structure of international news. Nevertheless, I concede that the dominant Western ideologies of media organisations though being contested, remain dominating in this global media landscape. As a conclusion, in this globalized technological determinism society, technology is the impetus in the development of cultural production, in this context, the structure of international news.
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