News is not changing, but what is changing is the process of gathering the news and presenting it to consumers. As a process, news-gathering has been around since the beginning of news as we know it in the 1830s, and it remains in flux. Consider the history of newsgathering:
Before James Gordon Bennett in the 1830s, the content of newspapers was a hodge-podge of whatever came an editor’s way. Bennett changed that. He created a new line of business—news reporting. He assigned employees to keep track of everything going on an assigned place, like police precincts, city hall, the courts. This methodical approach was the first attempt at a process to assure mass audiences a comprehensive account of the day’s events.
News-gathering later changed with mechanical assists. The telegraph, invented in 1844, enabled same-day coverage of huge geographical areas and eventually most of the planet. With radio in the 1920s and 1930s, live coverage was possible.
Television profoundly affected news-gathering. In the 1960s, people saw the carnage and horror of war in Vietnam right in their living rooms. Also for the first time, people saw reporters going about their work. Bylines suddenly had a voice and a face. Few people had ever witnessed the news-gathering process before then. Now reporters found themselves doing their work in a fishbowl. People could see brilliant interviewing and on-scene coverage, as well as the foibles. Reporters began going about their work differently, using more caution
with more presence of mind.
The 21st century wrinkle in the evolution of news-gathering has been the Internet and, specifically, social media. Now people participate in the gathering of news as well as its presentation. Consumers go on Twitter and social networking sites to post eye- witness accounts. Photos can go to Facebook and YouTube-type sites in real time. Numerous start-ups allow consumers to upload their iReports, photographs, and videos, making them available to news agencies worldwide. Instead of waiting for the next edition or the next newscast, people have online access to unprecedented quantities of information around the clock. News reporters themselves depend on social media as they go about news-gathering.
Aurora, Colorado Mass Shooting at Movie Theater Consider what happened when a mentally ill gunman opened fire at a Batman movie premier in Aurora, Colorado. A great number of people pulled out their smartphones and began videotaping the carnage, describing what they were experiencing. It was a chaotic picture, largely from amateurs who were not trained at assembling a coherent picture of what was happening, particularly in the middle of a crisis.
News reporters, many far away, monitored the Twitter feeds as well as other sources to report a broader portrayal of the event. These sources included police emergency channels, emergency room nurses, aerial maps, and forensics experts. Within minutes, experienced reporters flocked to the scene. The summaries, continually updated, comprised the accounts that most people relied on to understand what was happening. These were the accounts from television, radio, newspaper, and online news sources to make sense of it—for a comprehensive account of the day’s events. This is what news-gathering provides, whether it’s a large enterprising accounting, as in the New York Times, CNN. or Huffington Post, or focused sites like Yahoo Technology, Backlot, or Politico.
Thus, although news-gathering has changed significantly in recent years, and older news organizations, such as the New York Times, NBC, and CNN, have new competitors, news itself has not changed. People still want to know the latest that’s going on from credible organizations that pull it all together reliably, consistently, quickly, and accurately. Shades of James Gordon Bennett’s invention of news as we know it remain intact.
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