An honest explainer on how technology is changing journalism—as told by actual journalists
As Told By… takes a closer look at today’s issues, as told by those impacted the most. Today, we’re looking at how technology has affected journalism, as well as what journalists have to say about it.
It’s not hard to be updated these days—the Internet is brimming with information, after all. In fact, the Internet has changed the way we consume the news. It has given us direct access to newsmakers: You can read what’s going on with your favorite celebrities or be updated with the latest in a company, thanks to social media.
We’re also active participants in the news cycle, thanks to the Internet. From just watching the news through television or reading it from newspapers, we can now react to it—like, share or retweet—with a tap of our fingers.
But the greatest impact the Internet has is that it allowed us to be “newsmakers” ourselves. All it takes is a picture, a video, or even a witty quip to go viral, and you’re guaranteed to make headlines.
Given all this, it’s no surprise that journalism is also changing. For this feature, Variable talked to six journalists to hear their thoughts on technology, social media, and the Internet—and how these are changing the practice of journalism.
How is technology changing the landscape of journalism?
“When I started as a journalist, tech was [almost] non-existent,” explains journalism lecturer Alcuin Papa, formerly a desk editor for ABS-CBN News. “Ang pinaka-tech sa’min [were] cellphones, beepers, and the fax machine—and that’s it. We had desktop PCs at the time, but they were [running] WordStar.”
Being on the field is a different story altogether, as many journalists at the time relied on their beeper for assignments and updates. Stories had to be printed out and sent by fax to their home base for it to air. In one instance, Papa had to get off a jeepney that he just paid to get an update via payphone.
As more familiar gadgets came in—laptops, smartphones, and most importantly, wireless Internet—journalists got more information and provided even better context on the stories they’re working on.
“[Information] gathering became astronomical,” he notes. “Suddenly, we had so much info available.”
But the biggest game-changer for journalism was social media. As Facebook and Twitter took off, they created a new avenue of sharing news.
Social media also presented journalists with new tasks and challenges. Beyond writing their stories, they now had to present them on social media feeds. This meant making sure their 280-character tweet stands out and gets engagement from readers—in a sea of content all designed to compete for attention.
No longer were journalists the all-important town crier, the main source of news; rather, they’re now a voice in a bigger conversation—a powerful one, for sure, but no longer the only voice.
A new way of consuming news
The rise of technology and social media also allowed anyone to respond to the news, which fundamentally changed how news is consumed. A recent report by the Pew Research Center reveals that around 53% of adults in the U.S. say they often get their news from social media—a percentage that may not be far off in the Philippines.
Digital immigrants—titos and titas like us born before the widespread adoption of technology—had a one-way relationship with news growing up: reading about it on the paper, hearing about it on the radio or watching it on TV.
That’s a far cry from how people consume news these days. Anyone on the Internet can now reshare the news and even add their take on it. In turn, this can be shared and reinterpreted by their own friends and followers.
Arlene Burgos, who heads engagement and partnership for ABS-CBN News Digital, has a word for this: “malleability.”
“If I publish, for instance, one unit of a newspaper, that one unit of newspaper physically stays with the person handling that newspaper,” she explains. “So that piece of product is not malleable, you know, yung end product.”
With how easily news—or any sort of information for that matter—can be shared and reshared over the Internet these days, it’s hard to call it an “end product.”
“They’re able now to produce their own [news]—that’s a major change in the dynamics, in the way we produce and gather news.”
Journalists are adapting to the digital space
Despite the challenges, technology has also made it easier for journalists to find much-needed context for stories.
This context is important as simply breaking the news is no longer enough. With almost anyone with a cellphone and an Internet connection able to “break” stories, journalists now have to follow through and provide this extra context.
“You always have to move the story forward,” says Tarra Quismundo, deputy editor for ABS-CBN News. “Kasi ngayon, ang breaking story mo … ano pa ang maibibigay mong ‘premium’ sa iyong readers kung nabasa na nila sa Twitter yan, kung nabasa na nila yung breaking story.”
“Kailangan holistic yung report mo, full-bodied ‘yung report mo.”
As part of this, the beats that reporters and journalists are assigned to have also changed. It used to be that a reporter would be assigned to one area, say Congress, and that would be their beat.
“Yung istorya hindi na lang siya naka-sentro sa iisang lugar,” explains Zandro Ochona, a multiplatform reporter for ABS-CBN.
These days, stories are more open to other angles. Journalists now have to know how to write stories for other beats, or at least they should understand how these beats work.
Another big change is integration. It used to be that newsrooms for radio, television, and print were kept separate. While this remains true for some organizations, others such as ABS-CBN have already begun to integrate their newsrooms. This allows news to be much more effectively broken on different platforms.
In organizations that have adopted this model, journalists now have to know how to write for different mediums. These include those that may have emerged thanks to technology, with many of the new services put out by tech companies serving as new outlets for journalism.
The rise of Zoom and its impact on local journalism
One service that has come into prominence, especially with the ongoing pandemic, is Zoom. ANC reporter and host Mike Navallo has become quite familiar with the service, using it to continue hosting ANC Rundown.
“During the pandemic, it became so much easier [because of Zoom],” Navallo explains. “In fact, most of our programs now are being broadcast through Zoom.”
Thanks to Zoom, Navallo can continue to host the show and even conduct interviews from the safety of his home. (Read: Zoom launches a new events platform)
As part of this, Navallo admits to having to learn new skills since he no longer has a crew physically present with him.
“We’ve become very creative in the sense that we’ve maximized the available technology,” he explains, adding that with Zoom, “all you need [is] just, you know, two people, or at least one person. In some newscasts isa lang yung nag-nu-newscast.”
Another journalist who has taken advantage of Zoom is ABS-CBN reporter Jasmin Romero. Like Navallo, Romero first became acquainted with Zoom during the pandemic.
She says that thanks to how quickly people have adjusted to technology, it has become much easier to reach them.
“Even the simplest folk, even the simplest OFW who just owns a simple gadget with online access ang dali na nating maabot sila.”
According to Romero, she enjoys being able to converse with OFWs for her show from all over the world, hearing them speak Tagalog in places you wouldn’t expect to hear our language.
That said, despite these advantages, Romero admits that there’s still something special about being physically present in the scene of a story.
“A journalist, as far as I’m concerned, kailangan kasi niyang makita, maramdaman yung lugar at mga taong ginagawan niya ng istorya.”
She says that a journalist must still be able to feel her sources’ presence in order to feel their emotions. This is especially true when covering a sensitive story.
“You can’t just talk to someone and ask how they feel kung nasa Zoom lang, diba.”
She recalls one instance, back when the pandemic lockdowns had just started, where she had to interview a senior citizen over Zoom. During the interview, just as her interviewee started crying, her connection hiccuped causing the video feed to drop the resolution.
“Those are the critical video materials that broadcast journalists are after. We capture the emotion,” she explains. “Pero ‘pag nag pixelate ka, hindi mo masyadong makuwento na malungkot si lola, kasi naka-lockdown siya, kasi yung luha niya nag-pixelate.“
At that point, she realized how awkward it was to ask her interviewee to repeat her answer.
Competing for attention
With the amount of information being shared on the Internet, journalists now have to deal with the algorithms used by search engines and social media platforms to prioritize content.
SEO—or search engine optimization—has been a buzzword among online content producers. Making an article SEO-friendly means algorithms like those used by sites such as Google will prioritize that content, making it more visible to readers.
Whereas people can be hooked by a catchy headline and good writing, a search engine’s AI algorithm only cares about keywords. Journalists now have to consider SEO when penning their stories.
The challenge here is that SEO-optimized content can often come into conflict with good news writing. After all, search engine algorithms care about keywords, but not the context behind them and why they’re newsworthy.
“Hindi siya basta magaling ka an magsulat, papatok ka na sa SEO,” explains Quismundo.
As such, there’s often a battle between style and optimization. At times, how a journalist wants to tell a story may not be the most SEO-optimal way to write it.
For example, a more narrative-focused lede can end up not having important keywords. At the same time, a more SEO-optimized article can look too mechanical, too tailored for a search engine and not human readers.
This challenges the journalist to figure out other means of optimizing for SEO, such as through the headline or through the URL, while still making sure that they write good articles.
Journalism vs. SEO
In the battle between good journalism and SEO, one key thing to remember is that journalism isn’t just “content.”
Most content on the Internet is made to get people to click on a website and keep them coming back for more. What’s more, anyone can be a content creator thanks to technology.
What sets a journalist apart from everyday content creators are their discipline and accountability, according to Quismundo. Journalists are aware that what they write is consequential to so many people and could even change their lives.
This means that a journalist has to consider all the possible sides to a story to ensure that they present a complete picture.
“Hindi namin ginagawa ito ng basta-basta,” adds Ochona. “Ginagawa namin ito because it is our profession, and we’re responsible and accountable to whatever we do.”
Integrity is key
When a journalist pens a story, no one should be able to accuse them of writing falsehoods. To this end, journalists must hold themselves to a higher standard.
“It’s very important to be mindful of our roles,” says Burgos, when asked about how to combat misinformation and fake news—prevalent issues that plague digital media today. She adds that everyone has roles to play, from information producers to storytellers, down to the people who consume the news.
For journalists, this means remaining the same: gathering information, vetting that information, and presenting that information accurately, so readers can use that information properly.
This means reporting what really happened, according to Navallo. Unlike other forms of online content, journalists follow a rigorous set of standards, including fact-checking and going over the entire story, before they publish or air their story.
Journalists also have to take care of their credibility and be held accountable, as there are traits that separate them from other content producers.
“Dapat kami, mas mataas ang credibility na’min when it comes to giving out real and truthful news,” says Romero.
“‘Yan ang panghahawakan ng mga journalist to be able to do the things they’ve been doing,” adds Papa.
Sometimes, taking care of that credibility extends outside the workplace. For one, the rise of technology has made it easier to get in touch with journalists through social media.
According to Ochona, journalists are more well-known these days, even beyond the byline. Thanks to social media, people get to know journalists both from their body of work and as a person. This makes integrity such an important trait for journalists.
“People still know them as journalists, so the old rules apply. Whatever ethical practices you do offline should also be practice online,” adds Burgos.
“I believe that if you’re a journalist, you carry that with you.”
But it’s not just journalists who have to be set to a higher standard. Readers should also wise up, especially when it comes to processing information. They should be able to use social media and technology wisely to become a better citizen of their state.
It starts with improving media literacy—a topic that not a lot of Filipinos are familiar with. For her part, Quismundo does this through her weekly show, The YTL Podcast (Yung Totoo Lang), which wages war against disinformation and fake news.
The task is daunting, and they know it. But it’s what they signed up for.
“In the beginning, when fake news was really just rampant, it was just so tiring correcting every single mistake that you see on social media. And I’ve got. I’ve gotten experiences where even if you correct these netizens, ikaw pa ‘yung aawayin,” says Romero. She’s optimistic that people are starting to wise up when it comes to identifying disinformation.
At the end of the day, the best way for journalists to be held to a higher standard is to use hard facts to counter disinformation.
“You fight fear, you fight fake news with the facts, with the truth,” adds Papa. “It’s the only commodity of the journalist that really matters.”
The future of journalism in a world dominated by technology
So, what’s next for journalism in this tech-driven world? The journalists we talked to have much to say on the matter.
Advances in technology have always been a game-changer in the news business, from the invention of the printing press to the advent of mobile technology, says Navallo. It has also changed the way journalists present stories, as well as how readers consume them. However, it has also made journalists vulnerable to online attacks and fake news.
“There’s always an advantage and a disadvantage. It’s really up to us how to keep the balance, and it’s up to us how to make the most of the technology that we have at the moment,” he adds.
For journalists like himself, the future of journalism is looking at ways to use technology to advance the profession and keep people informed. It’s a must for journalists to adapt or they’ll be left behind.
“Trying to navigate the new space that we are in…is interesting and exciting because the new platforms [allow] us to do more than what we are used to doing so,” he adds.
“The challenge is to adapt and to be able to make the most out of what’s available right now.”
Given how advances in technology have propelled journalism forward, its future relies on people who will make good use of it, adds Burgos.
“We all have roles to play—as producers of news, as users of news—and this is all in the context of how we are citizens in our democracy, then I guess that should be a good guiding light for us.”
“Maybe that’s a good north and something to look like.”
For those looking to study journalism in the future, Ochona has this to say: “Ask yourself: Why do you want to be a journalist?”
If you’re looking to be the next YouTube sensation, he says that journalism may not be the right course for you. For one, journalists have a responsibility to the public—not the self.
“It’s a tough field out there right now. Journalism is being challenged by other information providers,” says Romero. These days, she says journalists have to compete with vloggers who also have an impressive body of work. These are the things students have to consider as they step into journalism.
Despite the tough competition, she believes journalists will remain because of their calling.
“You have to get into journalism not only by learning but also having the heart [for it]. Be dedicated to your craft,” she adds.
For Papa, the future of journalism in this tech-driven age remains the same—plain old good journalism.
“No amount of fancy-schmancy technology will make bad journalism look good, or mediocre journalism good. It’s still [has to be] good journalism at its core—the practice, the fidelity to the values.”
Franz Co contributed to the report.
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