Newspapers reached a theoretical height of excellence in the early 1970s – never before had a president of the United States resigned in scandal, and the investigation was conducted almost entirely by newspaper journalists. However, the velocity of news would increase dramatically with the development of new mediums including cable news and the internet, and newspapers faced increasingly stiff competition in their basic business.
The Cable News Network (now known as CNN) was first broadcast in 1980, and provided a 24-hour medium for constant news. The channel suffered from credibility issues throughout its first decade of operations, and proved to be mostly insignificant against the already established evening news television broadcasts and newspapers.
That dynamic changed in the First Gulf War. When the bombing of Baghdad by coalition forces first began, CNN had the only reporters in the city and broadcast the bombing live. The vivid coverage drew wide attention among the public, and put CNN “on the map.” The development of popular primetime shows like Larry King Live and the Capitol Gang helped to cement the network’s ratings and prominence.
However, it was the development of the internet that proved to have the most immediate effects on the print media industry. The internet was opened to commercial traffic in 1995, and newspapers quickly joined the new medium. The world wide web may now appear revolutionary, and indeed, commentary certainly was enthusiastic at the prospects for the new medium. However, the power of the internet to deliver the news was not convincingly clear until 1998.
One of the most sensational stories of the 1990s was the scandal of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. The story was first investigated by Newsweek, which had learned that Lewinsky owned a blue dress with the stain of the president on it. While reporters for the magazine waited for further sourcing, the news of the dress was scooped by Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report, an online clearinghouse of news headlines with a conservative slant. Journalists of all stripes learned that methodical sourcing and getting the story right was no longer the dominant ethos of the industry.
The internet is merely a tool to connect people together, but it was the development of new modes of communication that would truly revolutionize the dissemination of news. Web logs, later known as blogs, became an immensely popular way for everyday citizens to update the world about their lives and news – democratizing the news reporting function outside of the small elite of journalists that had previously controlled the media. These blogs linked to articles and provided immediate opinions and analysis, and represented an entirely new way to report on news than previously seen.
In the past few years, the development of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook have connected people like never before, and ushered in the era of social media. Articles today are increasingly coming from diverse locations and spread by the recommendations of one’s friends. These changes have fundamentally altered the nature of the newspaper industry, representing something of a paradigm shift in how journalists have traditionally functioned.
Today, there are significant debates over the effect of the internet on the knowledge of everyday citizens and whether new sources of journalism are meeting their fourth estate obligations. Answering those questions is difficult, but it is important to remember the limited time frame that analysts have to look at the history of the internet. Social networking has only developed in the last few years, and its effects are not even entirely clear. The internet is changing how we read the news, and that may be a tremendous positive, a negative, or perhaps a mixed bag.