In a time where virtually every sector of human life is becoming dominated by technology – from everyday shopping to art and science – it seems only natural that the proliferation of information should follow this path too. There are many people in the media today who focus their efforts entirely on the transition from print to online publications. But maybe we should be more sceptical of this seemingly unavoidable change.
Arguments in favour of online media over print media tend to focus on its superior speed, cost, and energy expenditure, however these apparent benefits can be insidiously problematic. The efficiency of online media in terms of cost and time, for instance, can lead to reduced credibility and legitimacy for online publications. Anyone can post an online blog giving an uninformed opinion based on shaky facts, but it takes an established institution with the ability to invest both time and money into research, analysis, and detail to produce a comprehensive printed paper or journal. This is where the importance of print media becomes apparent.
Online publications focus on speed and efficiency at the potential cost of legitimacy, promoting lazy journalism that ‘doesn’t have time’ to properly fact-check or critically analyse its output as deadlines shorten and the news-cycle condenses. Printed papers, on the other hand, have no choice but to spend time, money, and effort on ensuring a high quality of output, taking the necessary steps to check facts and suitably analyse what is being published. Blogs take minutes to write, papers take days to publish. As a result, the material published by print media tends to be more detailed, more analytical, more reliable, and more credible than its online counterpart.
Following on from this, the tunnel-vision focus of online media on speed and efficiency of publication has lead to a problematic social phenomenon of our time: that of readers who skim and scan instead of consuming and digesting. In the age of online publications like BuzzFeed which constantly churn out endless cycles of meaningless ‘news’, and social media sites like Reddit and Facebook being huge forums for debate and discussion, it seems that the readers of today’s publications have no time to read more than the headline of an article, skimming over it and coming to quick, ill-informed conclusions before properly digesting the material.
This can lead to huge problems of misinformation and misunderstanding, amplified by the instantaneous nature of online debates. Also stemming from this is the clear focus of online publications on the impact of headlines rather than the substance of the article. In a world where fake news runs rampant, online publications do little to mitigate the problem; in fact, they worsen it.
Although print media may be on its last legs, it remains an important part of the resistance against misinformation, fake news, and lazy journalism – some of the most important issues that plague the media today. Perhaps if readers had done more to resist the advent of online media, with its cycle of (mis)information, people would have less reason to be mistrustful of what they are reading.
The political landscape of the West would have held its grounding in informed debate, rather than spiralling into the incomprehensible post-truth chaos that we see it in today.
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