Journalism and New Media / Reshaping Communications: Technology, Information and Social Change

By Fernback, Jan | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Journalism and New Media / Reshaping Communications: Technology, Information and Social Change


Fernback, Jan, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


Books

* Pavlik, John. (2001). Journalism and New Media. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 272

* Preston, Paschal. (2001). Reshaping Communications: Technology, Information and Social Change. London: Sage. pp. 320

In the scramble to ascertain the social influence of new media, a number of books are attempting to put away the rose-colored glasses, take a step back, and contemplate critically the state of global culture following the new media explosion. These books often succumb to the temptation of making grandiloquent pronouncements about the vast societal changes (whether positive or negative) shepherded by the development of new media technologies. Two newly published books, however, resist the temptation and provide solid, foresightful analyses of the impact of digital communication technologies.

Paschal Preston's Reshaping Communications and John Pavlik's Journalism and New Media each aim to contextualize the future of new media in the social order - Preston in terms of long-range political and economic trends and Pavlik in terms of a revitalized journalistic enterprise. This feature makes both of these books theoretically informed and useful in ways that surpass works by such technological forecasters as Alvin Toffler, Nicholas Negroponte, Esther Dyson, and George Gilder. In the wake of dotcom failures, legal wrangling over online intellectual property rights and unrealized hopes for universal access to information technologies, students of journalism and mass communication need scrutiny of-not uncritical enthusiasm for or condemnation of-- the place of new media in contemporary culture. But the similarity of these two books ends there.

John Pavlik's book is a comprehensive account of how new communication technologies are altering journalism, from the rise of nonlinear storytelling to decentralized newsroom practices to redefined relationships with audiences. Pavlik is executive director of the Center for New Media at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, and he has authored several books on new technology. This work claims a fourfold transformation of journalism by new media: changes in news content; changes in the journalistic work methods; changes in the structure of news organizations; and changes in the interconnections between news institutions, journalists, and various publics. New media technology can ultimately influence journalism by facilitating the emergence of "contextualized journalism," a form of reportage that relies less on objectivity, sees journalists as interpreters of events, empowers the audience, and reconnects communities. Pavlik describes how new media encourage these transformations through fluid online architectures, customizability, instantaneity, and interactivity. These developments will enhance the potential for journalism to better serve democracy.

Pavlik's work is useful, particularly for an audience not overly well versed in issues of new media and culture. Written in plain language, Journalism and New Media is rife with evidence on a multitude of issues surrounding the digital newsroom, including editorial integrity, ownership and control, privacy, and job prospects. Some deeper theoretical interrogation of new media's potential for contextualized democratic journalism would lengthen the book's shelf life, as some examples (on search engines, for instance) are verging on becoming dated. The book's wideranging focus may be its weakness; a number of books cover information on newsgathering in the digital environment, but fewer consider the potential for new media to promote a healthier democracy through a revitalized civic journalism. The enterprise of civic journalism, not without its detractors, would benefit from serious examination in the context of Pavlik's compelling assertions.

Preston, quite differently, attempts to assess the impact of new communication technology by marrying economics, social science, and information science together with non-academic, industrial literatures in Reshaping Communications. …

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