The new ‘multi-journalism’: close to the mark or way off?

By MARK PEARSON Follow @Journlaw

From my 1999 PhD thesis, “The New ‘Multi-journalism’: Journalists’ and educators’ perceptions of the influences of the Internet upon journalism and its implications for journalism education”, available from (pp. 405-7)

The influences of the Internet upon the context in which journalism is practised and upon the very practice of journalism itself are so momentous that they represent the emergence of an endeavour which, while retaining many of the characteristics of journalism as it has been known, is too fragmented, multi-dimensional and multi-purposed to be classified as such, a notion which has profound implications for journalism education. The term “Multi-Journalism” has been coined to describe this new manifestation of journalism as an occupation.

The term “Multi-Journalism” has been coined to encapsulate the multi-dimensional nature of journalism as it emerged from the analysis. While some of the scholars cited above were pessimistic about the transitional role of journalism and its longer term prospects, the data suggested journalism was not dying, but was transforming into a disparate combination of new and old practices at multiple sites, serving numerous social purposes. Whether or not they boasted new media titles such as Content Editor, Producer or Webmaster, a common thread of journalism linked the discussants simply because they appeared to view themselves as journalists. Thus, on the one hand, the term “journalism” and its accompanying complex meanings founded in history and tradition, should not be discarded. However, the influences of the Internet meant that this occupation, while retaining many of the qualities of journalism as it has been known, was now too fragmented, multi-dimensional and multi-purposed to be classified as such, and was better prefixed by “Multi” to encapsulate this complexity.

The new term might accommodate the complex mosaic of occupations and practices which might emerge from the Internet influence within the journalism domain, ranging from the new media positions mentioned above through to the traditional provincial newspaper reporter whose role will undoubtedly continue for the foreseeable future. Equally, it might account for the computer-assisted reporter using sophisticated database searching techniques to undertake investigative journalism as well as the “information specialist” as described by Newhagen and Levy (1998, p. 20) who might provide information processing or Internet navigation services.

Whether the work undertaken by such individuals at multiple sites and for multiple purposes is still “journalism” will be dependent upon their own conceptions of that function, their self-perception, and the judgment of their societies and audiences. Thus, “Multi-Journalism” is a movable entity, changing its guise according to the social roles and functions it performs and the shifting
conceptions of its practitioners and its constituents.

The Core Category also allows us to move some way towards answering Postman’s question: “What is the problem to which the profession of journalism is the solution?” (Fulton, 1996, p. 22). “Multi-Journalism” offers multiple solutions to a diverse range of problems in a complex array of contexts, all centred upon the provision of reliable news and information for the social good. Such solutions might be as a “pathfinder” through the Internet environment (Newhagen and Levy, 1998, p. 18), an “information specialist” (Newhagen and Levy, 1998, p. 20), a “facilitator of responsible public discussion” (Aufderheide, 1998, p. 54), or as a quality controller or “sense-maker” (Singer, 1998). Or they could find meaning in a host of other social functions for a range of audiences or clients. Nevertheless, despite the diversity of their roles and occupational sites, they would be bound by commonalities of meaning in their conception of “journalism”.

Well? How close was my crystal ball 14 years ago? Close to the mark or way off? Let me know by posting a comment below or by messaging me @journlaw

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Filed under citizen journalism, journalism, multimedia journalism

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