Journalism education and tips for journalists

Monday, August 25, 2003

Future: First World, Fourth World | guy berger • 2002-04-05 10:56
Future News: First World, Fourth World.

The future of news hinges upon the future of journalism. And where you are in the world makes a big difference to your futurizing about news.

One of the big contextual issues facing First World journalists is what Peter Dahlgren calls the decline of the "modernist model of journalism". He argues that advanced competition, commercialization and new technologies are threatening the classic (and romanticized) image of journalism with extinction. Instead of the journalist as crusading Superman pursuing truth and justice, we have Fellini's commercialized Paparazzo operating at what Bill Kovach calls warp-speed.

In this view, journalism morphs into non-journalism, and the little that remains has to compete with entertainment and advertising. In addition, it's argued that information sharing in cyberspace bypasses the classic info-mediary role of professional journalism. In short, Dahlgren warns that journalism is in danger of losing its rationale.

The response to such pessimism is to work vigorously for preserving the democratic and informational importance of journalism, and for connecting it back to communities. The call is also for journalists to survive by growing their role as guides and interpreters in a media terrain that is ever more overcrowded with messages and meanings.

So, the future of news in the First World therefore will be a function of how successfully these strategies can be pursued.

Back in Africa, in what Manuel Castells calls the Fourth World, the future of news is rather different. Here, the "modernist model of journalism" is under threat from somewhat different forces. Instead of Superman, we have the journalist as Terminator. This is communicators crafting news as "patriotic" apologies for failed African governments like Zimbabwe, or producing propaganda for genocide as in the case of Rwanda.

Far from being a threat to independent journalism, commercial and technological factors in the Fourth World can help develop it. Producing a portion of news as a commodity for sale, means the product has to be credible enough for purchase. That's not a bad thing in the context. Except for one condition: unless there are also non-commercial (but politically independent) mechanisms to serve the strata of "information poor" of the Fourth World, news for them will simply remain out of reach. The market can liberalise Fourth World news production, but on its own it won't serve the wider societies. The future of news in the Fourth World requires successful struggles for media freedom and independence as well as true public service.

So, although for different reasons, classic news is under threat in both First and Fourth Worlds. The same applies in varying mixes to the worlds in between. The outcomes depend on successful strategies ... and on adopting a holistic approach that links the two poles. First World news needs to incorporate news about the rest of us - even if not always commercially popular - if First Worlders are to understand the impact of the world beyond Washington DC. The annual Highway Africa conference in South Africa () is precisely about developing the Fourth World's information riches that have so much to contribute to global knowledge and information.

At the same time, Fourth World journalists need the First World solidarity that grows out of coverage of their struggles. There is also much that Fourth Worlders can learn from First World democratic, economic and technological experience.

Amongst the diverse media with prospects for advancing news on a global basis, it is the Internet lends itself to journalism that can link most successfully across the international divides. Who pays and how is still an unsettled matter. Whatever models emerge, the future of news in an uneven world will be profoundly influenced by them.

References: Berger, G. 1999. Grave New World, Journalism Studies, vol 1, no 1.

Berger. 2002. Theorising the media-democracy relationship in southern Africa. Gazette, 64 (1) 21-45.

Castells, M. 2001. Challenges of Globalisation. South Africans debate with Manuel Castells. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman.

Dahlgren, Peter (1997) Media Logic in cyberspace: repositioning journalism and its publics. Javnost-The Public. 3.3. pp. 59--72.

Kovach, B. and Rosenstiel, T. 1999. Warp speed. America in the age of mixed media. New York: Century Foundation Press. [respond]


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