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How 35 years of the Journalist Fellowship Programme - founded the same year as the internet - reflect a changing industry

How 35 years of the Journalist Fellowship Programme - founded the same year as the internet - reflect a changing industry

The Journalist Fellowship Programme was launched in 1983, the year Time magazine in the US ran a cover story naming the computer Machine of the Year.

1983 is also considered to be the year the internet began - after Arpanet was migrated to TCP/IP. Microsoft Word was launched in 1983; GPS was made available for public use; and Tandy introduced the first laptop computers with a built-in modem, which quickly become popular with journalists. 

Germanys Stern magazine ran the Hitler Diaries in 1983. They were later proved to be false. The International Press Institutes annual report for that year concluded: Press freedom continues to wither.

Titles of research papers completed by Reuters Institute Journalist Fellows in the 35 years since the programme began reflect the enormous changes that have impacted media since 1983: from a time when television was the main competitor for newspaper readersattention to, in 2018, the impact of digitalisation upon all traditional forms of publishing.

Early research by Journalist Fellows, often produced on word processors, covered topics such as Newspaper Marketing(1993). This paper warned of newspaper circulation declines as an increasingly alliterate worldturned away from newspapers, towards television and video games.

Within five years, Fellowsresearch began to reflect other changes to the industry. Reports, usually told from an international perspective, included, in 1998: Internet Age and The New Media: Threat or opportunity for the traditional press?and New News is Good News: Digital TV in a developing country.

In 1999 another paper: The Impact of the Internet on Newspapersopened with: On the brink of a new millennium newspapers face a multitude of challenges: how to stem falling readership, how to remain competitive in face of spiraling newsprint costs, how to draw in a generation of readers who have a television - not a newspaper - habit. Of all these challenges, none is greater than that posed by new technology. All vain hopes that the internet was a passing fad can now be abandoned. The web has entered the media landscape and it is here to stay.

This was confirmed - if sometimes tentatively - by the titles of papers that followed in the next few years, including: The new media, a different cultureand Blogs, democracy and the media: friend or foe? By 2008 the future seemed inevitable with: The death of print? The challenges and opportunities facing print media on the web.

Two years later, in 2010, the impact of social media upon news had become a topic of research - and sometimes concern - with titles such as Tweet first, verify later? How real-time information is changing the coverage of worldwide crisis events.

Other trends were discussed in papers that followed, these include a 2012 reflection on the impact of tablets on news: Journalistic storytelling on tablets.Other topics included citizen journalism, spin-doctoring, Politics in the YouTube age and press freedom.

The titles of recent papers confirm the fears of those that predicted the internet was here to stay: They include: How can journalists learn to speak code?(2015); Media coverage in a world of lies, falsehoods and alternative facts(2017) and - most recently - in 2018, research about the role of fake newsin Mexican elections; social media in Afghanistan; and the use of data journalism and audience metrics in newsrooms.

Journalist Fellows about to start at the Institute, including from Egypt, China and India, in autumn 2018 will be studying the revival of audio for news either through radio or podcasts, sparked by the widespread use of voice-activated speakers; subscription payment models for news; and as ever - press freedom.

While Fellows research has traced the many media changes over the past 35 years, it also records that global pressure on independent media continues with little sign of any change.


by Caroline Lees