Media Fragmentation: The end of liberal journalism?

Arijit Sen writes:

Paolo Mancini believes that media fragmentation openly threatens the very basic tenets of journalism, namely neutrality and objectivity. According to Mancini, for a society increasingly fragmented in its choice, the morning newspaper thud on doorsteps increasingly provides news that the reader likes to read at the cost of objective reporting. Divided in their dinner table conversations, people are reading or watching what rhymes with their politics. This choice and the biased reporting that caters to it, Mancini says, create fragmentation.

He raised some critical questions: Is the Internet reshaping and helping create more fragmentation? As a logical extension of the “more fragments” argument asks, is objective journalism possible in a world of more internet journalism? Mancini mentioned a 1992 paper written by Daniel Hallin. In The Passing of the ‘High Modernism’ of American Journalism, Hallin writes, “The prosperity of these organisations was closely connected with their universality: their audience knew no bounds of class, politics or any other social distinction.” Not any more, if Mancini is to be believed.

Objective journalism has less and less room in a crowded market place, Mancini argued. An audience targeted on the basis of ideological, cultural, and political variables is leading to a partisan, advocacy-oriented journalism that in turn leads to polarisation. The internet, Paolo Mancini says, is the driving force in this divide. Mancini maintains that the internet is not just a crucial medium for spreading the idea of democracy but also a cause of the fragmentation of the audience.

Mancini looked at the situation in 2011. The basic trend is that traditional media consumption has gone down and new media consumption has gone up. That is leading to mass media fragmentation and, in turn, audience fragmentation. Mancini showed figures for the Total Average Circulation of Paid-For Dailies. His charts pointed out that in most Western liberal democracies (like the United States) circulation of traditional press is decreasing (although in countries like India it is increasing and stable in Brazil). But the global number of internet users has gone up hugely between 2000 and 2010. And as for social media, Mancini quoted a Time Magazine survey that projects a possible one billion Facebook users by August 2012.

Mancini argued that such fragmentation of the audience implies inevitably a sort of committed journalism that adopts a partisan selection of news. “Where does the success of Fox News come from?” he asked. According to Mancini, the anti-Islamic feeling that Fox News generates makes it more popular among a certain audience. Mancini sounded the warning bell when he reminded us that society is at the risk of being divided into many different niches, and that media fragmentation can lead to social polarisation and not a common space for meeting and discussion.