By: Yadira Nieves – Pizarro
From Uruguay[i] to Puerto Rico[ii], governments in Latin America and Spanish speaking Caribbean countries have embraced the idea to connect their citizens to the Internet. It is a known fact that the access to information and communication technologies (ICT) is determined by social and economic conditions and access to education (Peres, 2009, p. 61). In the near future there will be an increase of mobile web users in the region, in such a way that it may surpass the engagement of these services in the United States and Canada (Fiorotto, 2012). This prediction may very well anticipate the closing of the digital divide[iii] that has kept a scarce audience for digital media and traditional journalistic industries that have been converging within the Internet since early twenty first century (Jarvis, 2010, pp. vii – viii).
The working conditions in the Information Society have also changed for journalists. The audience is conceived as a content generator and distributor with the consent of Social Media outlets[iv] (Jarvis, 2010, p. viii). Also, the journalistic production routines[v] have shifted the value of information from the content itself to hyperlinked cyberspaces that publish unfiltered and subjective material. Where the audience finds the news and not who produces them drives their attention. A super abundance of information roams free throughout the Web (Jarvis, 2010, p. ix). Nowadays data has the capacity to turn viral[vi] with renowned misinformation consequences. For the journalistic profession, to truly comply with social responsibility, information in this new media landscape must be produced in new media industries that exploit the multimedia capabilities of the Web (Jarvis, 2010, p. x), yet are faithful to journalistic ethics and rigor.
In recent years, communications professionals in this part of the world were overwhelmed with the sudden surge of Social Media in the News Industry. In this scenario there are ethical and practical issues that have to be addressed in order to maintain justice and truthfulness (principles that guide our profession) in news reporting. Old and new reporters try to get a grasp on fast paced journalistic routines as they combine multimedia and writing skills for truthful and inspiring storytelling. The field of action is rapidly changing for journalists but there is some resistance in mid-career professionals as Rendón in Cabrera-González and Bernal-Treviño (2012, p. 10) point out:
In production technology should be considered an ally. The constant updating of the available tools should motivate journalist to have an “inherent desire to stay up to date in this regard”, since this determines the “quality of content” and their ability to create technology based structures and formats to present journalistic genres.
Mass Media Studies in Latin America and the Spanish speaking Caribbean countries may be profound in theory but fall short to effectively train aspiring news workers with the demands of the profession in the new field of action. Journalism today is conditioned by technological evolution and certain issues must be addressed regarding the teaching methods. The reporter must master storytelling abilities and multimedia tools required for digital media outlets.
Nevertheless, as Mensing (2010, p. 511) points out, “journalism education programs are distinctly unprepared to respond to such deeply structural changes in the environment”. So recognized Parra – Valcarce (2008, p. 65):
The emergence of cyber journalism is derived from the chain of circumstances that include the appearance of a new learning model, one that is mainly audiovisual rather than the traditional standard form of written education as taught at school, the arrival of a new, cheap and easy technology that offers a high capacity for impact, and the crisis being faced by traditional journalism. Cyber Journalism implies a major change in the way information is treated and also seeks to adapt to the needs of a new kind of consumer (…). All of this involves certain high level cognitive challenges that the University, being as it is an institution dedicated to the teaching of future journalists and the research of these phenomena, cannot ignore.
Journalism education in Latin America and Caribbean Spanish Speaking Countries tackle issues like ethics, commitment to the public and the capability to promote an informed society (World Journalism Education Council, 2007). Basic skills such as “interviewing, reporting, researching, sourcing, writing and editing” (Josephi, 2009, p. 49) are offered by communication programs to journalism professional with great mastery. In 2004 the Project for Excellence in Journalism called the attention to this problem in the United States. Convergence and multimedia storytelling had introduced some relevant changes in practice but journalism education then had shifted little in response to the “epochal transformation” (Mesing, 2010, p. 512). This is an accurate portrait of the times south of the border. Nevertheless, the academy is conscious that the only possibility to practice journalism in the future is having the ability to work “with all media” (Parra – Valcarce, 2008, p. 76).
These massive changes have brought about growing uncertainty amongst journalist as a result of the dominance of the Internet (Bigi, 2012, pp. 5 – 6). Production, distribution and reception of news in the Internet as the ultimate media platform have called the journalist traditional authority into question (Bigi, 2012, p. 6). Telling stories that fulfill the public’s interest is central to the profession no matter the platform (World Journalism Education Council, 2007). The challenge for journalism education in the region is to adapt the storytelling to the changes within the craft, media and technology (The Poynter Institute, 2013).
Current digital journalism training has to compliment basic journalist skills with the technological tools and storytelling adeptness to compete in the digital media landscape. In Latin America the efforts to examine the journalism profession concentrate in the matter of freedom of the press, ethics and Internet security. In 2005, the Argentinean Journalist Forum (FOPEA) surveyed 282 reporters. The results evidenced a need for better education and continued training to face a new and complex professional scenario. The journalists in Argentina complained about their stories being conditioned by the commercial interest of the medium. They also protested the absence of liberty to publish their own work and questioned the relationship between journalism and power (Giacobbe, 2005).
Uruguay surveyed 257 journalists of traditional and new media who concurred in the need to elaborate an ethics code. Guides for working with sources, limits to receiving gifts and plagiarism are some of the highlights of the investigation (Fraga, 2012). On the other hand, Colombia came to grips with the reality of corruption within journalism after a survey conducted on 603 journalists and news media executives. Their perception about access to public information and violence against journalist was assessed when they answered a questionnaire by telephone and the Internet (Proyecto Antonio Nariño, 2012).
Mexico is one of the most dangerous places to practice journalism. Reporters who discover government corruption, drug trafficking and organized crime are threatened, hurt or killed. In their quest to publish the truth, many have found in Internet blogs and social media a vehicle of expression. The International Center for Journalism sponsored an investigation to examine this practice. The researcher contacted 102 journalist and bloggers through independent journalist groups and human rights organizations (Sierra, 2013). During two months these were referred to a web link in which they’d answer 21 questions (Sierra, 2013). The findings revealed that respondents did not use tools to safely store and erase documents and mixed personal and professional information on social media making them vulnerable to attacks (Survey Finds Mexico’s Journalists Face Digital Security Threats, 2013).
Journalism is often called the fourth power, but in this new media landscape journalists and news media are at a lost. The Academy barely keeps up with the changes. In consequence, students in Puerto Rico, for example, struggle in the professional practice. “New technologies have promoted an excessive focus on entertainment news, the prevalence of news stories based on news releases (…) and a surplus of short news stories that lack quality and depth” (Herscovitz, 2012, p. 374). The superabundance of information, the multitude of social media outlets and the immediacy that the Internet craves are an explosive combination which results in the audience not getting the message.
Josephi in Bigi (2012, p. 5) indicates journalists must be primed to fulfil their role: “The key purpose of journalism education is to enrich the quality of journalism by improving the quality of journalist (…)”. “On the positive side, journalists say that new technologies have opened a new path for independent journalism and democratization of news (…)” (Herscovitz, 2012, p. 374). Empowered reporters all over our nations will be prepared to face the threats that inherently come with the practice of journalism. In addition, they will be able to publish engaging stories that impact the citizens of Latin America and the Spanish Speaking countries of the Caribbean. In this day and age, an aspiring reporter who masters the skills for the Web 3.0 media landscape is an asset to society. Latin America is plagued with inequalities, corruption, drugs and violence and journalists are committed to uncover injustice and promote a participative democracy[vii].
[i] Uruguay is one of the countries with the highest Digital Opportunity Index (IOD for its Spanish acronym Índice de Oportunidad Digital), surpassed only by developed countries such as Canada and the United States (Pittaluga, 2007, p. 6).
[ii] San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico, announced a plan to promote access to Internet WIFI to its citizens, starting with the economically disadvantaged (Primera Hora, 2012).
[iii] Digital divide refers to the technological capacity of a society to manage information. The faculties that each inhabitant has to transmit process and store information. The ability to exchange information using modern communication networks (Peres, 2009, p. 49).
[iv] In social media everyone is on the same level: journalist, politicians and users. Traditional hierarchy does not exist anymore. A journalist must identify the audience and seduce them (FPNI, 2012).
[v] Production routine is the process by which the criteria to appraise newsworthiness is established and journalistic work is systematized in such a manner that a news organization can handle information efficiently (Martini, 2000).
[vi] Viral communication occurs when hundreds, thousands or millions of people send a message from one to another using mobile telephones or Internet technologies (Allen – Hendricks, 2010, p. 81).
[vii] Historically “institutional restraints lessen political engagement (…) and spawn political apathy in the long term. The participatory theory envisions citizens who engage in political decision making in great numbers and who share a sense of collective responsibility” (Zittel, 2007, pp. 9 – 10). When this concept is translated to journalism, “active audience members can contribute content and can influence the process of producing and distributing news” (Singer, 2011).
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