Almost anyone can use the worldwide web to be a media outlet, so how will we differentiate between truth, myth and lies?
Australias two largest legacy media organisations recently announced big cuts to their journalistic staff. Many editorial positions, perhaps up to 120, will disappear at Fairfax Media, publisher of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and News Corporation announced the sacking of the majority of members of its photographers and editorial production staff.
Both proclamations were accompanied by corporate spin voicing a continuing commitment to quality journalism. Nobody in the know believes it. This is the latest local careen in a crisis that is engulfing journalism worldwide.
Now, partly thanks to Donald Trump, many more people are becoming their head to the future of news, including fake news and its opposite.
How, in the future, are we to know the difference between truth, myth and lies?
Almost too late, there is a new concern for the merit of the traditional newsroom, and what good writers do. That is, find things out, verify the facts and publish them in outlets which, despite famous stuff-ups, can generally be relied upon to provide the best available version of the truth.
As this weeks proclamations make clear, the newsrooms that are typically most original journalism are radically shrinking.
News media for most of the past century appeared to be one relatively simple business. Gather an audience by providing content, including news. Sell the attention of the audience to advertisers.
The internet and the further implementation have brought that business undone. As any householder can show, the audience no longer assembles in the same concentrations. The household no longer amass around the news on tv. Most homes have multiple screens and news is absorbed as it happens.
Appointment television is nearly dead, at the least for those under 50.
At the same time, engineering has torn apart the two firms ad and news that used to be bound together by the physical artefact of the newspaper. Once, those who wanted to find a mansion, a occupation or a auto had to buy a newspaper to read the classifies. Now, it is cheaper and more efficient to advertise and search online, without needing to pay a single columnist.
Publishers and broadcasters have moved online, but the advertising model fails. Ads on websites earn a fraction of the amount that used to be charged for the equivalent in a newspaper or during a program break.
All this is last centurys news but over the past five years the landscape has shifted again because of the predominance of Google( which also owns YouTube) and Facebook. These social media locomotives have rapidly become the worlds most powerful publishers. Besides them, Murdoch looks puny. Yet Google and Facebook dont employ writers. They serve advertisements and news to the audience members on the basis of what they know about their interests.
For advertisers, its all gravy. Why pay for a display ad in a newspaper when you can have your substance delivered direct to the social media feeds of people who you know are likely to be interested in buying your product?
It is now estimated that of every dollar spent on advertising in the western world, 90 pennies terminates up in the pockets of Google and Facebook.
Today, just about anyone with an internet linkage and a social media account has the capacity to publish news and opinions to the world. This is new in human history.
The last great innovation in communications technology, the printing press, helped is carrying out the enlightenment of the 1500 s and 1600 s.
The optimists amongst us believed the worldwide web and the further implementation might lead to a new enlightenment but as has become increasingly clear, the reverse is also possible. We might be entering a new nighttime age.
Fake news isnt new. The place of Barack Obamas birth was about as verifiable as a fact gets with the primary record, his birth certificate, published online. But the mere publication of a fact did not stop a large proportion of US citizens from believing the myth that he was born overseas.
It is very hard to say how many Australian journalists have left the profession over the last 10 years.
This is partly because the nature of journalistic study has changed. Many now work aggregating or rendering digital content, never leaving their desks.
Institutions such as universities and NGOs are now rendering journalistic content, published online, but the people employed to do this duty rarely show up in the figures be established by unions and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, because their employers are not classified as media organisations.
Nevertheless, the big newsrooms have shrunk beyond acceptance. This weeks proclamations were the latest in a 15 -year tendency. In 2013, industry commentators estimated that more than 3000 Australian writers had lost their jobs in the previous five years. Since then, there have been farther deep cuts, and last weeks proclamations were merely the latest. In the US, it is estimated that 15 per cent of journalistic jobs disappeared between 2005 and 2009, and the cuts havent paused since then.
At the same time, and offsetting this, there are new participants in the Australian media. We now have online local versions of the British Daily Mail, the youth-oriented news and amusement outlet Buzzfeed, the New York Times,( which has just launched) and the Huffington Post, which operates in partnership with Fairfax. Not least, there is this outlet an Australian publication of the Guardian.
There are also many small-scale, specialist outlets that exist because the economics of online publishing beat the cost of buying site licence or printing on bits of dead tree, trucking the papers all over the nation and hurling them over the fences.
For similar reasons, almost any large organisation can, if it picks, use the worldwide web to be a media outlet though whether the output class as journalism or public relations is another matter.
Most of the new entrants to the business employ only a few local writers. The reputable ones struggle to perform miracles each hour with hardly any reporters.
So what does the future comprise?
I think it is clear we will have many more smaller newsrooms in the future including new entrants , non-media organisations touting their wares and the wasted remains of the old businesses.
Some of these newsrooms will operate on the slippery slopes that lie between news, advocacy and advertising.
Some of them will be the fake news factories, devoted to earning an income from spreading clickable, outrageous lies.
If it were only the decline of businesses, we would not need to worry so much. It is rare in history for those who have profited from one engineering to go on to dominate the next. Cobb and Co ran the stagecoaches, but not the steam teaches.