2011 was an epic year for news. Whether it was natural disasters, dictators’ deaths, revolutions and riots, crisis in the Eurozone or scandals in the British press, news editors were spoiled for choice. As newspapers became the news, 2011 also saw a fundamental fault line open up in modern journalism. We can’t yet be sure which way the industry will turn, but we can sense that it’s changing.
It was a year of big headlines, from tragic disasters such as the Japanese earthquake and the Norwegian massacre, to the deaths of public enemies: Osama Bin Laden, Muammar Gaddafi, Kim Jong-il. But journalists and readers have also had to reconsider how news is investigated and reported.
The year kicked off with protests in the Middle East snowballing into an Arab Spring of uprising and revolution. Protests were organised using social media and news of the scattered Arab Spring often came via Twitter, with photos and video shot on mobiles. The Guardian liveblog format came into its own.
This rolling uprising, organised and recorded by citizens using social media, saw its dark inversion in the UK’s August riots. The Guardian has since led an investigation into the causes of the riots, making use of in-depth interviews and data journalism.
I mention the Guardian’s report on the riots because a contentious issue for the media in 2011 has been the lack of time to digest and understand the news, whether because of the nature of online reporting or because the headlines have flown in thick and fast.
Journalism’s use of social media and liveblogging to keep up with breaking news has raised questions over accuracy and sensitivity. The debate is likely only to become more heated in 2012 now that journalists are able to Tweet from court.
Amy Winehouse’s tragic death broke on Twitter before it had even been confirmed. There was controversy over images of Gaddafi’s corpse splashed on front pages. Would such images have been used if mobile phone footage had not been so central to the media’s understanding of the Libyan uprising? Or if the photos had not been so widely available on the internet?
The UK media itself became the central protagonist in a particularly juicy, rolling news story. The phone hacking scandal really broke with the revelation that Milly Dowler’s voicemails had been hacked by the News of the World: journalists now had a perfect victim with which to report on the immorality and illegality of other journalists.
Finally, what had been whispered about for years in newsrooms and recently murmured in our papers exploded, and with it a crisis over the ethics of journalism. Its effects were instantly shattering: the News of the World closed after 168 years, News Corporation withdrew its bid for full control of BSkyB and commentators wondered whether we were watching the first cracks appear in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
Early in the year, former News of the World editor Andy Coulson was forced to resign as David Cameron’s communications director due to the phone hacking investigation. As the story came to a head, politicians, including former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, started to come forward and talk about the control Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks had over them. The public began to see the full and terrifying extent to which the government had been under the media mogul’s thumb.
The Leveson Inquiry, the subsequent public inquiry into the culture and ethics of the British media, has since become a soap opera of celebrities and editors revealing the wrongdoings of the press. I dare say we’re enjoying the Leveson coverage almost as much as we enjoyed the stories that arose from the scandals these disgraced journalists uncovered. The result of the inquiry remains to be seen, but its impact is already being felt among journalists.
2011 undoubtedly brought with it a sense that the practice of journalism is changing, along with a sense that the ethics of journalism must change. What are your predictions for 2012?
- REVIEW | FRONTLINE: A Year of Journalism and Conflict 2011 was undoubtedly an incredible year for news as uprisings...
- 2012 in review: an emotional year for news We’ve come to that time of year when everyone looks...
- Wilderness 2011 | Review Our Reviews: The Student This is the latest in our Review Our Reviews series,...
- The Undergrad’s journalism hero and villain of the year You may have seen yesterday that Fleet Street Blues are...
- Press Awards 2011: #soincrediblyproud I’ve been in the happy position of having rather a...
After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look
_JenniGraham on Finding a job in journalism: Which websites are the best?kpedersen03 I wasn't sure how to answer your question, so I asked WH readers on Twitter what they would write in...
kpedersen03 on Finding a job in journalism: Which websites are the best?Yet another fantastic post there! What about journalism.co.uk - it's quite a labour-intensive registration process - so I would like...