Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Out with the old

Sometimes you only realise how much things have changed in journalism when you read a book published nearly 10 years ago. This morning, I was dipping into (sorry, reading intelligently as part of my PhD research) John Pavlik's Journalism and New Media, published in 2001. A good read, widely quoted, with plentiful insights into how new technologies are changing the way journalists work. As the subject of my PhD is the way convergence are changing the way journalists work in mainstream UK national broadsheet newsrooms, I thought it a good idea to revisit this book, on many of our student reading lists. But I soon realised that things had moved on a bit. On the subject of search engines, Pavlik mentions such venerable players as Alta Vista, Lycos and Yahoo before adding: "A related search technology is called Google." In all my time at Times Online, the Evening Standard and teaching journalism (admittedly only four years of my working life), I can't recall any of my colleagues using anything except Google. And not only Google the search engine but Google Mail, Google Reader, Google Scholar...

Is it a waste of time reading books and papers which focus on out-of-date technology and working practices? I don't think it is. Because I've come to my subject as a practictioner rather than an academic, I'm having to do quite a lot of contextual reading about theories of production and consumption of news as well as catching up on more recent work about how traditional newsroom organisations and hierarchies are being challenged by the convergence of print and online media. Nothing happens in a vacuum. The development of technology is part of this context and part of the debate about how journalists have to adapt to new technology.

Of course, reading Pavlik's book was yet another reminder that in six years' time everything will have changed again. The very idea of a blog will probably be laughable. But only four years ago, I was commissioned to write a blog for Times Online. My response was: "What's a blog?" and my editor said: "I'm not quite sure...." There's some context...

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