Journalism, new media and the global public sphere
Discussing the contemporary technological media environment with my students I am always struck by the relative nonchalance with which they talk about so-called ‘new media’. To them it is not new, digital technologies have been around since before most of them were born. Rather, the technologies they surround themselves with – mobile phones, notebooks and tablet computers – are ever evolving. For them, it’s not new media, it is just a technological tweak from what they had before: a smarter phone, a quicker laptop. Nor is it anything to be marvelled at, it ﬁts so well into their lifestyle and their work almost as if it was an extension of themselves as individuals and as students of journalism. Moreover, the technologies connect them into a network which can be used for communication and information. For some of course such technologies can be used to liberate or at least challenge prevailing power. However, as the quote from Adam Curtis above suggests, we should be wary of investing too much power in the technology itself. This ‘machine organising principle’ to which Curtis refers is, of course, the notion of the networked society to which we are all inﬁnitely connected. Curtis sounds a warning, however, that we should not invest too much in the power of technology to liberate us, as this comes at the
expense of developing new ideas about how to change society. This chapter examines some of the debates about journalism and technology with particular reference to the conception of the global public sphere as much is often made of technology’s power of reinvigorating the public sphere and shaping new political contexts. We will begin by exploring the conception of globalisation and how some authors view new information and communication technologies as both drivers of globalisation and as saviours of a degraded public discursive space. Following this we move on to discuss new media and journalism in more detail and analyse the ways in which some authors have argued that such technology radically alters journalism in practice and in nature. Here we will examine the WikiLeaks phenomenon, the debate about which is still raging as I write. The chapter then looks critically at some of the more optimistic claims of those who cite new media technologies as the key drivers of a reinvigorated public sphere. Here I explore what Morozov (2011) terms the dark side of internet freedom where repressive and even democratic states use internet technology in particular to monitor its citizens and crack down on dissent. Finally, I assess whether or not the much-lauded democratising power of the internet and journalism’s utilisation of the internet for democratic purposes is yet to be fully realised. Even in an era where a leaked cable on WikiLeaks can cause red faces in the corridors of power it is suggested that we should view the relationship between new media and the new context of journalism far more critically.