Internet Killed the Television Star: What does the future hold for Broadcast Journalism?

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Introduction 

 

Gone is the era where citizens wait for the 6pm news to be informed about the world in which they live; in the present day, we are given instant access to relevant information via new age technology. Technolgical advancements over the last decade have evolved the entire industry of broadcast journalism in more ways than one. Firstly, the future holds the possibility of a decline in sensationalism throughout TV news. People are more switched on than ever before; thereore, o

Seven’s move of axing the 19 year old program in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, came as no surprise to the media due to the long standing rivalry between Today Tonight and Nine’s A Current Affair. Recently, Nine made the innovative decision to extend Nine News and push back A Current Affair. This switch has proven tosky rocket both their ratings and viewing between the time slot of 6pm – 7pm weekdays[1]. The recent increase in competition between the two channels was sparked in 2013, when ACA beat Today Tonight for the first time since 2004[2].This has lead to a recent increase in the dramatization and sensationalism found in the content, as the programs battle out to attract more viewers than ever before. Today Tonight, however, was spared the axe in Adelaide and Perth, where it will continue to be produced for local current affair stories1. The fact is, today’s society prefers news that delivers the truth. Channel Seven chief executive highlights this when justifying the decision. Tim Worner states, “This move is about building and investing in Seven’s leading news coverage. In recent times we have increased our level of news across the day with great success. We plan to do even more in the future. We see this as an exciting opportunity to serve our news audience in a better way”1.According to TV Tonight, on Monday the 12th May Nine News attracted 192,000 more viewers than the program that followed, A Current Affair[3]. In 2008, Blue Moon Research Company[4] conducted a report that revealed only 50 % of those interviewed believed a current affair programs provided some relevant information to the public. Less than half, only 38 % of interviewees, agreed that these programs fairly represent viewpoints. 

Society’s need for straight edge news can be seen in the figure below, with 97% of respondents agreeing to the statement “if an error is made during the program the broadcaster has the responsibility of making a correction”4.With the demand for unbiased, ordinary news growing throughout society, the future existence of sensationalism in TV broadcast journalism is highly questionable.

Where did Sensationalism exist? 

The past mistakes and slanted reporting styles of these programs have lead to the unpopularity of sensationalism. On many occasions, both A Current Affair and Today Tonight have been hauled up to broadcasting authorities and negatively critiqued by Media Watch, Australia’s leading forum for media analysis[5]. For example, Today Tonight’s infamous decision to tie an elderly nursing home resident to her bed with large chains, in attempt to dramatically reenact an incident for their story “Granny in Chains”, sparked mass controversy throughout the media2. The story alone resulted in job losses and cost the channel tens of thousands in damages. Based on their research findings, Blue Moon categorized unfair reporting into Three Levels of Errors4. Level One, named the “Absolute Nots” consists of deliberately leading viewers to a false conclusion, as well creating a distortion of fact4. In 1996, Media Watch exposed Today Tonight for presenting footage filmed in Barcelona as the Spanish island of Mallorca, therefore falling into the first level2. Level 2, consisting of aggressive questioning and surprising interviewees, is exemplified when last November, Today Tonight was again slammed for halting a murder trial when reporters ambushed the accused outside a Sydney court2. Blue Moon’s third level4, “Errors due to Poor Journalism”, was directly demonstrated by ACA when screening a full segment produced by Today Tonight on the 21st March 2011[6]. ACA simply blurred out their rival’s watermark, according to an article on TV Tonight6. The mass controversy that these programs attract contributed to Channel Seven’s decision to axe the show after 25 years, forming the ideology that sensationalized Broadcast Journalism may be on the downfall.

Part II: The rise of Citizen Journalism

Due to rise of the technological era, society is prepared to go to other means to acquire information other than waiting for TV news programs. BBC Deputy Director- General, Mark Byford, discussed the topic of digital age Broadcast Journalism in a speech given at Leeds University[7]. Byford touched on the fact that in 2006, BBC found that in digital TV homes with multiple entertainment channels, compared with analogue homes, weekly viewings of the news was halved. Soaps on free to air channels, however, did not suffer this same decline. Byford delivered the sentiment, “Whether for the BBC or ITN, News at Ten has become News at When? – whenever audiences want it”7. The BBC discussion sparks the topic of citizenship journalism, which refers to the movement of amateur journalists generating content[8]. If sensationalized news is not delivering the fact, citizen journalism proves that non-professionals are prepared to seek out the news for themselves. Compact equipment is readily available for citizens, therefore eradicating the barrier between reporter and citizen8. Social media also adjusts traditional news platforms, as a simple a “status update” by an amateur journalist can prove to be more effective than a five-minute television segment[9]. 25 year old Josh Lynagh, a citizen journalist that runs a community news page in Mount Gambier, is able to deliver information about murder charges, lost pets, reports of house fires and local events all via Facebook[10]. UK BBC news connects with 80% of the UK population every week, according to Byford7. The way this reach is made, however, is by interactive new media rather than traditional linear TV news programs[11]. The internet is now the second source of reference for under 30 year olds in the United States, fast catching up on TV News, and is expected to continue to rise11. In order for TV Journalism to remain a successful industry, TV news must represent accuracy and an ability to inform with straight fact.

Part III: Job cuts throughout the Journalism industry

Predictions on the future of broadcast journalism can also be made when observing the rising figure of job losses throughout other areas of the industry, such as print media. Due to the journalism environment becoming increasingly competitive, all major news organizations are required to make economic cuts, inevitably resulting in hundreds losing their positions in the work place[12]. In 2012, Fairfax Media announced that it would make 1,900 workers redundant and close main printing plants, in order to adapt to the new digital age[13]. These cuts were designed to save $235 million, taking 300 positions in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times. Julie Posetti, University of Canberra journalism lecturer, highlights the rapid effect the job cuts has on the industry when stating, “…Fairfax had to make a decision to dramatically alter its approach to the digital production of journalism. I welcome the overall strategy to move to an online publication model in a truly converged environment. This is going to be a very painful transition, but it’s a transition that was inevitable and necessary if the company is to have a sustainable future”13. According to Kylar Loussikian[14], a Freelance writer at The Australian, major organizations such as News Ltd and the ABC, now take limited journalism graduates. Peter Fray, former editor at The Sydney Morning Herald, describes that although graduates with journalism skills are still in demand, they will be more likely to work creating content for health funds or banks14. In 2013, The American Society of News Editors released its annual newsroom census, shocking the public with the acceleration of job cuts[15]. The number of reporters, editors and other journalists has decreased almost one- third from 56,000 in 200015. The instability of journalism, including all aspects of broadcast journalism cuts.

Conclusion

Due to the rise of the technological era, the face of broadcast journalism is predicted to rapidly evolve in future decade. Sensationalism, found in a current affair programs, has already began it’s decline downhill. The question of citizen journalism taking over the industry can also be asked; with the technology available to ordinary people, no one is being stopped from producing their own content. Finally, broadcast journalism may mirror the job cuts seen throughout print media, as organizations prepare for an entirely digital based world of journalism.  

 

Word Count: 1588 words

[1]http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/seven-axes-today-tonight-on-east-coast-20140203-31vuh.htm

[2]http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/feb/03/today-tonight-axed-on-east-coast

[3]http://www.tvtonight.com.au/2014/05/monday-12-may-2014.html

[4]http://www.acma.gov.au/webwr/_assets/main/lib100068/current_affairs_program_research_part-03_quantitative_report.do 

[5]http://televisionau.com/2014/02/today-tonight-axed-on-east-coast.html 

[6]http://www.tvtonight.com.au/2011/03/a-current-affair-passes-off-today-tonight-story-as-its-own.html

[7]http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/speeches/stories/byford_leeds.shtml

[8]http://www.tvtechnology.com/default.aspx?tabid=204&EntryId=523

[9]http://cie.acm.org/articles/new-media-redefining-journalism/

[10]http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2014/05/14/4004510.htm

[11]http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/C/citizen_journalism.html

[12]http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/one-in-seven-journalist-jobs-lost-says-union/story-e6frg996-1226464999203

[13]http://theconversation.com/fairfax-to-cut-1-900-jobs-shut-printers-in-huge-downsize-7726

[14]http://www.crikey.com.au/2013/06/18/as-journalism-jobs-go-how-will-graduates-find-work/

[15]http://asne.org/content.asp?pl=19&sl=236&contentid=236

 

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