The Globalisation of News

The 21st Century has seen profound changes in the way we read news.  With each passing year, the transition to the digital age has become more complete, more inevitable.  Where once the physical newspaper was the means by which people caught up on their the daily news of the world, today its place has largely been taken by online websites.  While the rewards such a transition could be great with an extended audience, for those concerned the path has not been a straightforward one.  In this post, I would like to provide an overview on how the Internet has resulted in the globalisation of published news and its impact.

The delivery of news has changed many times throughout history from word of mouth, public noticeboards, and up through radio & TV, and now finally with the online revolution that is playing out before us.  In the past, multiple forms of delivery managed to coexisted at any given time as they each tended to maintain different modes of operation.  By the end of the previous century, radio, newspapers and television were the main sources of news.  The Internet has not only provided a new way for news to reach people, but has also facilitated the delivery of the existing media.  Initially the technology itself was limited and only had a relatively small following, but in this century we have seen the Internet develop both in capability and in usage, especially among the younger generation.  It has gone from a geeky plaything to become the mainstream of pretty much everything [1].  While TV is still the preferred form of news overall, the Internet is now dominant in the domain of written news [2].  This process will only accelerate as network speeds increase with technologies such as 5G, and as it reaches more of the world's population.

With its popularity, the Internet has forced traditional news to move online, some making the move completely [3].  This has brought with it a number of challenges, the greatest of which is the simple fact that the operating location of a website has no impact on its visibility to the online world.  This enforces an implicit form of globalisation on to those publishers, which they may not have fully anticipated.  For your average newspaper, this can be good but comes with serious implications.  While the potential audience is vast, the competition can be problematic; at the extreme being every other news provider around the globe.  Contrast this to the past where a newspaper in a large city might compete with handful of other papers at worst.  Location is no longer a physical barrier to competition. As the power of the network technology has improved, we are now seeing all forms of news media coming into direct competition as they become equally available.  The only small respite is that people are still generally more interested in their local events and may be more likely to remember their local news providers when looking for that news.  However, for stories further afield, no such advantage lies and the exposure to competition only increases as the story attracts attention.

The move to the internet has seen many new outlets struggle to stay in business.  With traditional printed medium losing appeal, even large national papers have had difficulty in maintaining their viability.  In the past, advertising was one of the key means of income for much of the media.  But with the emergence of the Internet, the large tech companies have increasingly cornered this business model for themselves [4].  In return, many news providers have fallen back to the paywall model, in which customers pay a subscription in order to access the content [5].  There has been some success with this, but ultimately the payment, while reasonable for printed news, make little sense for the online world where the user would be required to have numerous subscriptions to make this business model viable for all providers.  Some success has been found when asking for very little [6] or by requesting donations from the readership [7].  But how sustainable this will be is yet to be seen.  Traditional news organisations have only had limited success in finding alternative and realistic pricing structures, such as micro transactions.  They have struggled to adapt to the changed reality that they have found themselves in [8].

While the move to the Internet has certainly made news more available to the average person, changes in the way that news is covered has not all been for the greater good.  In many ways the quality of news has been impacted by the challenges the industry faces.  At the simplest level, just by having access to so much news, one can expect to encounter a lot more average, or worse, news providers than otherwise might be the case.  Furthermore, people are now exposed to more biased media companies which look at the news through a particular lens, or attempt to place a certain political spin on events.  Even for those well-established publishers, the decline in income has resulted in less available resources, while at the same time placing a greater emphasis on the generation of income [9].  Journalists are both reduced in number [10] and forced to incorporate other activities, reducing their focus on the core of reporting the news [11].

Nor have these changes gone without notice from the world's governments and other powerful interested parties.  There have been some attempts to fix the perceived problems that the Internet has brought to local news publishers.  In some regions, lobbying has lead to regulatory push back in attempting to force the hand of the large tech companies to 'pay back' [12].  In other countries, governments or other groups have attempted to use these changes to their own benefit, and used the unprecedented access the Internet provides to manipulate the news for their own ends [13].  Some governments have attempted to block their own citizen's access to the news from other countries that they wish to access [14].  Recently, others have even attempted to impose their own 'will' upon the Internet itself, by introducing questionable laws that apply to the Internet located within other sovereign nations [15].  Unfortunately, legislation is a heavy handed method that can rarely fix an underlying problem and often produces unintended consequences [16].  This is especially true, if enacted by those who wish to deny the nature of the Internet, or those who lack the means or will to understand it.

This millennium has seen many ongoing changes in the way news is delivered and consumed.  Its greatest impact has perhaps been in the globalisation of communicating news.  While there are now more quality news providers available to the reader than in years past, finding and identifying them has become more difficult.  This is especially true when considering the conflicting forces that have begun applying over the latter part of this decade.  In future posts, I hope to explore some of these issues in greater depth.

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