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Information boom or information crisis: The impact of digitization on news

Academic Discipline: Media and Communications
Course Name: Media and Communications
Assignment Subject: Information boom or information crisis: the impact of digitization on news credibility
Academic Level: Undergraduate-2nd Year
Referencing Style: MLA
Word Count: 1,898

With the rise of Web 2.0 – meaning interactive Web where the content is user-generated (Buhler et al. 215) – there has been a modification in the production and distribution of information, and thus in the overabundance (Anderson 52) and diversity (Buschow and Suhr 385) of information available. The positive outcome of this is that society now has access to more information sources, in comparison to the previously highly hierarchical information (Schapals, Maares and Hanusch 22) produced by a small and exclusive group of actors in the press industry (Hermida and Young 96). At the same time, the subsequent shift towards an abundance of information that was accessible to a much larger pool of contributors (Buhler et al. 218) has resulted in some negative outcomes, including information that is opinionated, contestable, hard to verify (Fisher 21), and in some cases purposely manipulative (Heinrich 179). In this paper, it will be argued that the digitization of news has ushered in a remarkable means of mobilization and action, but also a significant contribution to news and information dissemination to counterbalance the traditional mass media.

The digitization of news
In order to understand the reality of the processes of production and circulation of information, the material conditions that organize them need to be considered. This refers to the major distribution channels that direct the circulation of news (Parcu 103) and the main players taking part in the international flow of information (Anderson 53). Taking into account, the socio-economic conditions weighing on the production and dissemination of information (Hermida and Young 94) makes it possible to qualify the discourses celebrating the advent of an era of diversity (Buschow and Suhr 385) through news digitization.

From its inception, the Web became a medium that did not have to submit to the control that the major media outlets were subjected to (Schapals, Maares and Hanusch 23) over the production and circulation of information. This was, initially, a means of ensuring a greater range of information inputs (Heinrich 180). The Internet was seen as having the capacity to circulate information across borders, having unprecedented speed and reach (Hermida and Young 93), while also being largely cost-effective. These new contributors of information would play a part in extending the field of news, including eyewitness accounts and investigative journalism (Monahan and Ettinger 490) not commissioned or funded by large media corporations. As a result, independent media centers sprung up to produce both factual and valuable information (Schapals, Maares and Hanusch 24), but also conspiracy theories (Fisher 36) and counter-information that served to undermine the dominant media corporations (Buschow and Suhr 392). The materiality of the flows of information produced (Buhler et al. 217) attested to their ability to reach mass audiences.

Information boom
The development of Web 2.0 has unsettled the classic information economy (Schapals, Maares and Hanusch 27) by giving rise to a networked economy (Parcu 104), as the latter enjoys the freedom from limitations of the controlled production and dissemination of news (Heinrich 183). Firstly, as aforementioned, the reduction in costs has resulted in an unprecedented increase in the number of actors (Buschow and Suhr 386) who had taken on the task of interpreting and disseminating information, and secondly, it boosted the “diversity of perspectives” (Hyvonen 122), in both qualitative and quantitative terms.

With the development of the Web 2.0, ordinary citizens, most with no experience in journalism, branded themselves international correspondents (Hermida and Young 98) if they found themselves in the right place and at the right time, mostly aimed at creating the so-called ‘infotainment’ (Schapals, Maares and Hanusch 21). Their aim was to garner bigger audiences by creating engaging content that was informative, but also largely entertaining, and aimed at drawing a critical mass. These newly constructed accounts created on popular social media platforms, namely YouTube and Facebook, and subsequently Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok (Prerez-Escoda et al. 34), were competing both against one another, and the mainstream media outlets (Hyvonen 123) for their share of viewership. On the one hand, they had the advantage over the mainstream media outlets as their viewership and engagement numbers (Buhler et al. 223) were clearly visible, as this quickly drew in the advertisers (Anderson 59). On the other hand, unless they fully disclosed their sources, their accounts were potentially unverifiable (Fisher 22), and viewers still tended to trust the reports from the mainstream outlets. The content creators – which was the subsequently coined title for such contributors (Prerez-Escoda et al. 28) – did not have the same material and bureaucratic constraints that the mainstream media outlets tend to have (Schapals, Maares and Hanusch 22), and as such, felt empowered to freely tamper with the complex dynamics of information exchange (Heinrich 181) in the digital age.

Information crisis
The advent of a new era of news circulation attests to the permanence of the imbalances in the processing of information (Parcu 105). With the Internet, blogs, and especially social media platforms, each user works on building an audience. The Web is in a state of continuous flux, with information added, subtracted, edited, viral, and non-viral, and producing an abundance of links to other sites or other sources (Monahan and Ettinger 486). New intermediaries which have emerged on the Web constitute new gatekeepers of the process of information circulation (Dvorkin 55), as they challenge the effectiveness of the contribution of the traditional media outlets regarding the coverage of international news. The amateur production of information on the Web (Schapals, Maares and Hanusch 20) has affected the overall circulation of news by boosting competitiveness, changing the marketing and advertising forces (Anderson 59), thus effectively creating the New World Information Order (Zeller, Trakman and Walters 46). In such a system, the economic model of news content is the maximization of viewership.

Media ownership and the influence of political powers over the media (Hamida and Young 98) are the two main reasons that the traditional media has affected news dissemination and contributed to an air of distrust in the production of information (Perez et al. 26). It is believed that some mainstream media are a powerful propaganda instrument in the service of political powers that forge significant advantageous positions at the international level (Zeller, Trakman and Walters 60) and influence international public opinion. In democratic countries, the influence of political and economic forces on the media (Dvorkin 67) may not be as obvious as in some regimes which are perceived as authoritarian, and where the interference of the public authorities (Schapals, Maares and Hanusch 20) in the work of journalists and the control information (Dvorkin 16) disseminated by the mass media (particularly those owned by the state) is very apparent.

The control exercised by political forces over the media also has a great influence on the circulation of information in periods of conflict or crisis. For these reasons, the emergence of digital social media is seen as an opportunity to redress this balance. Namely, through the use of social media, users hope to undermine the power (Hermida and Young 99) to control the circulation and dissemination of information by the public authorities. For example, while state media, as a deliberate tactic, does not cover certain topics in conflict times (Zeller, Trakman and Walters 59), social media and public blogs and forums try to fill these gaps in the news coverage (Monahan and Ettinger 482). They tend to be based on eyewitness accounts, but also unbridled and unreliable sources of information, and, frequently, conspiracy theories (Fisher 36).

Numerous non-governmental organizations are working to ensure the freedom of information (Heinrich 180), and highlight the need for citizens and communities within public or private associations, to continue producing, processing, and communicating information. In the age of the Internet, driven by the hope of widening the circle of information producers (Buschow and Suhr 384), this works to transform the passive relationship to information into an interactive production. The alternative news sources have thus experienced a major transformation with the emergence of the Internet, and the digitization of news on online social media platforms (Parcu 103).

As a result of the digitization of news, online social media are also seen by some as the repositories of disinformation, which are contributing to the information crisis, in that they have the capacity to be disturbing propaganda tools (Heinrich 177). For example, in addition to the proliferation of content that has been doctored or taken out of context, there is the issue of identifying and preventing the dissemination of all the potentially engaging posts which tend to take off quickly and become viral, as the users of other social media platforms share them without making any checks with regard to their authenticity (Dvorkin 56).

Future prospects
The argument of whether the impact of digitization on news has resulted in an information boom or information crisis is centred on the way people access news, and how they consume news. For example, the socio-digital networks – which now play a major role in the way people access and source information (Buschow and Suhr 390) – seem to have the technical capacity to draw in significant viewership. At the very least, they provide access to more diverse visions and opinions (Parcu 107), but with the growing awareness of digital literacy (Buhler et al. 214), online users are seeking verifiable sources of information in order to gain an understanding of the subject that is rooted in facts. The proliferation of unverifiable sources and ‘infotainment’ has been criticized as it has an immense influence on the way people perceive information (Perez-Escoda et al. 31), and the way in which it shapes their view of the world (Zeller, Trakman and Walters 51) even if they aren’t aware of it.

On the one hand, ‘infotainment’ and content created with the aim to reach a critical mass on social networks appears to have encouraged people to take a greater interest in news and social and political issues (Hyvonen 126) in a way that is more engaging than traditional news reports in the press (Fisher 31). On the other hand, media and communication analysts have questioned the capacity of the content creators to bring more to this field to balance the traditional media reports (Dvorkin 82) by highlighting the way in which certain players have gradually established themselves as essential mediators (Parcu 92) between content produced by amateurs and the mainstream media.

Concluding remarks
The control of information, or rather, the authentication and verifiability of accounts (Buhler et al. 214), both by independent users and professionals or public figures remains a major issue, even more so in the digital era. The traditional mainstream media, which for a long time had a monopoly on information (Dvorkin 80), play a major role during these times, and their control becomes an important issue for the political and economic powers (Zeller, Trakman and Walters 60). The rise of social media and the digitization of news has contributed to reducing the power of the mass media over the control and circulation of information. By facilitating the expression of citizens, social media have contributed to the public’s awareness of social and political issues and their interest in understanding the causes, effects, and consequences. Nevertheless, these new media platforms are also sources of misinformation and propaganda (Heinrich 177), which is developing more and more as the competition mounts between the major corporate media and online users.

Referencing Style: MLA
Word Count: 1898
Sources: 13

Works Cited
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