Important changes in the way we tell history have occurred simultaneously with major changes in the technology of the press. In the early years of the Republic, politicians created, sponsored, and controlled newspapers to further their interests. People who spoke out against these interests were often discredited. John Peter Zenger, the printer for the New York Weekly Journal, was arrested for libel after printing a column opposing and criticizing the policies of New York governor, William Cosby. Although Zenger did not write the work, he was held accountable for the content of the paper. At his trial, in 1734, Zenger was acquitted of all crimes and a sense of freedom for the press was established. From this point on, the first amendment established the freedom of speech and consequently the freedom for journalists to speak the truth and inform the people of current events such as the government, health, education, business, fashion, and sports. Over time, new technology transformed the world of journalism and reporters needed to conform to these new needs of society. Technology has transformed the news into an interconnected web of online media, where audiences can view a story minutes after it happens. In the modern era, technology poses a threat to the integrity of journalism by exponentially increasing the sources available to readers, with both legitimate and illegitimate sources, and ultimately leading to the distrust of the news by the people.
With changes to technology came the rise of self-supporting, daily newspapers. From the 1800s to the early 1900s journalists investigated the world around them and informed audiences of current events through newspapers. However, this did not last long. The invention of the radio and television led to a rise in electronic media. Digital broadcasts allowed audiences to watch concise reports, without having to read a whole newspaper; the public no longer needed to pay for a subscription to a publication. This decline continued into the 21st century with the creation of the internet. News sources needed to adapt to this new age of media distribution, and many newsrooms established digital forms of their newspapers: USA Today became the first newspaper to offer an online version of its publication in 1995. The Internet brought free, accessible news to the public. Many publications could not keep up with the online media and filed for bankruptcy. additionally, from 2008 to 2018, newsroom employment declined by 25%, allowing for internet-based sources to gain followers.
In the past, newspapers wanted to be factual and unbiased to gain subscriptions from the people. These subscriptions funded their work and kept publications in business. The internet does not contain the same restrictions, anyone can post online. News sites, blogs, and social media have made finding the truth and reliable sources difficult. Today, social media constantly gets ridiculed for its dissemination of information without fact-checking its sources. Stories get ridiculed and discredited publicly online and drastically impact the viewers’ opinions on reading reports. Many sources today on social media have biases and are inaccurate. Bias is the opinion portrayed by a writer pertaining to a particular topic. Bias tends to use facts of an event and create it into a narrative that draws people to the article and makes it interesting. Although bias may make an article enticing, news should appeal to reason, not emotion. If the report appeals to emotion, it is most likely not a reliable source. The internet is appealing because it promises a space where anyone can share and research information, however, this great feature of the internet is also its most significant concern. Readers must be conscious of the sources they are receiving information on, and are responsible to make sure the information is accurate.
Social media is not only ridiculed by readers for its inaccuracy, but the United States government has also had its own speculations and criticisms of social media and its influence on users. In October, The House Financial Services Committee held a Congressional hearing with Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, on concerns of the social media platform. One of the main complaints was that earlier in the year, Facebook said it would allow politicians to run advertisements on its social networks, without fact-checking the ad’s content. This dissemination of false information detrimentally affects Facebook’s users. Many are arguing that Facebook has a responsibility to make sure information displayed to over 244 million Americans should be accurate. According to a Pew Research poll, 45% of Americans use Facebook to get some portion of the news they obtain. How can Americans rely on Facebook for information if they publicly admit they don’t check information on their ads that could influence readers? On a global scale, there are 2.8 billion users on Facebook or Facebook affiliated applications such as Instagram, WhatsApp, or Messenger. A corporation that can affect the minds and opinions of approximately 30% of the world’s population should protect the people’s rights to the truth and not allow lies to be spread on such a large scale.
Journalism is a vital aspect of society. It provides citizens the knowledge necessary to make the best decisions for themselves and government. Without Journalism or the news, people would not know about changing events locally or worldwide. However, online news has become less and less reliable due to its easy access and the ability for anyone’s voice to be heard. Anyone can post and article that may be false or biased, and a user may be influenced by false statements. In 2018, Google acknowledged that it has been getting increasingly more difficult to distinguish true and false information online and has created an initiative in hopes to better the quality of information being distributed to the public. Philipp Schindler, Chief Business Officer of Google, states that “ we’re focused on combating misinformation during breaking news situations. Bad actors often target breaking news on Google platforms, increasing the likelihood that people are exposed to inaccurate content. So we’ve trained our systems to recognize these events and adjust our signals toward more authoritative content.” Google has launched two new organizations, Disinfo Lab and the First Draft, to fight misinformation during elections and breaking news moments. Schindler also claims that Google is committing $300 million from 2018-2021 to further the goal of making sure the public receives accurate information.
Although Journalism has changed drastically due to technology, its purpose has not; to inform the people of the truth and allow them to make decisions that will affect their lives and others. Like Google, large social media corporations should be aware of and responsible for the information given to the public on their services. If any information is false, the service should be held responsible and remove the information from public access. Without the truth, readers cannot come to proper conclusions or fully comprehend events.