Serving professional journalism since 1912

Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

1920 – 2020 Looking back on 100 years of Journalism

A feature by Navin Kukadia MCIoJ

This article looks back over the last 100 years of journalism; showing how science and technology have shaped and changed journalism and the press.

It also highlights the milestones on how the media have shaped the world by reporting news and stories from around the globe.

Back in the 1920s, the world’s leading super-powers included the British Empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the French Commonwealth.

The 1920s became known as the ‘Golden Age Twenties’ largely because of economic growth following the First World War.

The emergence of ‘Jazz Age’ culture in the United States contributed to an era when social, artistic, literature cultures were progressing dynamically.

Despite the end of the Great War of 1914-18, a global news story of unprecedented proportions, national and world events meant there were many opportunities for journalists and the press to report urgent and significant news.

The news industry in that period was dynamic, expanding and evolving around the world.

Reporters would be dispatched to bring back stories relating to conflicts such as the civil wars, major political changes, and regional conflicts from around the world.

At the same time journalists were operating locally and regionally by reporting incidents, events and extraordinary stories on their own patch.

In those days the press reporting technology was limited to taking notes on paper pads, usually using the skill of shorthand.

More fortunate news operations were able to employ photographers with cameras who could capture significant news events on photographic plate and later film.

News photographers in January 1908 using plate cameras covering the wedding of Gladys Vanderbilt and Count Laszlo Széchenyi in New York City. Library of Congress Bain News Service archive LC-USZ62-50640.

Over the first 40 years of the twentieth century most of the news came to its audience by printed press, radio and cinema news reel.

It could be argued that the infrastructure of production meant there was time to process news stories with established systems of rigorous editorial, grammar and structure checks before publication in print and by broadcasting.

At this time news was very much of an exciting innovation in the expansion of print and radio media. The narrative had a captive audience.

April 1922 Italian opera singer Claudia Muzio (1889-1936) listening to the radio with headphones while holding a dog doing the same. Library of Congress, Bain News Service Archive

This was the time breaking news stories evolved from stop press items on the back page of newspaper last editions to live radio transmission, photographs transmitted by telegraphic radio waves, and news reel film in the cinema ‘news theatres.’

Again it can be argued that reporters and newspapers were able to take care and responsibility for their stories and the scrutiny on detail was high.

A view from Piccadilly Circus in 1949 showing the news reel only cinemas of the time. On the left Eros News Theatre. On the right the London Pavilion has a “continuous performance”. Kodachrome photograph by Chalmers Butterfield. CC BY 2.5.

Reports consisted of what they saw, observed and who they interviewed.

Those reading the news relied on reporters being balanced, impartial and honest with what they witnessed.

During the 1920s and 30s, technology such as radio, camera and film helped journalism bring moving stories and photos to the people.

By 1922 news camera technology was changing from plate to film and news reel cinema companies were shooting moving footage. Here is a media conference featuring the UK’s first sitting woman MP Nancy Witcher Langhorne Astor, Viscountess Astor, (1879-1964) arriving in New York City on the Olympic. Library of Congress, Bain News Service Archive LC-DIG-ggbain-34108.

100 years later, in 2020, technology is once again shaping and transforming the press and journalism industry.

I believe the acceleration in change is very similar and has been equally transformative.

The single biggest impact has been the Internet that has utterly changed the dynamics of journalism.

We are now in a period where mega global news outlets are beaming down from their channels multiple news stories and this is mixed with the output of national news channels, independent publishers, individual freelance publishers with their own platforms, and the ‘citizen journalist’ communicating in what has become known as ‘social media.’

The Internet and digital media have transformed and re-shaped the press and what was previously understood as journalism into some vast portal of information.

New stories are now rapidly and continually fired into public media space.

The speed and scale has been breath-taking.

It would have been regarded as science fiction 100 years ago.

It would have been to many unimaginable.

In 2020, production and transmission allows very little time for editorial scrutiny of content, grammar, structure, ethics, or quality.

Story images, both still and moving, are instantly uploaded from mobile smart-phone cameras and edited on what are really mini production studios with almost instantaneous publication to the World Wide Web.

In the 2020 news media room of today, it seems mainstream journalists are all conscious and struggling to keep up with the speed of news information and the competition from the online ‘citizen journalist.’

News events in terms of the technology of capture are no longer dependent on the presence of the professional reporter, photographer, radio reporter or film news reel camera-person, and television reporting crew.

Anybody with a smartphone has become more than just a witness. They have become part of the near instant producing news media sphere.

At the same time reporters are looking to capture more in-depth stories and incidents by going right into the heart of the matter sometimes regardless of risk and of their own safety.

This is perhaps very much the case in instances when the reporter is more daring to capture a particular point of view for exclusivity.

The graphic below reinforces how over the last 100 years, news has been shaped by breakthroughs in technology and brought about major transitions in the journalism process:

Today, in the Information Age, news and journalism have become much more mobile through televisual practice and the context of the Internet.

The Internet has also enabled the power of choice and selectivity to now belong with the reader.

In 2020, the decline in the selection of printed news stories by readers is now self-evident.

They have shifted their choice by seeking news from digital social media platforms.

One of the major challenges today for journalism is how best to react to technologies such as artificial intelligence that could some day produce automated news commentaries from videos and photos.

The possible impact of facial recognition that can generate and develop news stories about people in public spaces is another technological development that could become part of news gathering and content creation.

The need for maintaining balanced, respected and impartial journalism is all the more acute in the face of these potential changes.

The graphic below highlights how printed and traditional news formats appear to be declining with the Internet taking over through websites and social media.

Journalism Risk Management: The Future

Journalism and ‘the press’ as we have known it, in political, public and conflict zones have come under much greater scrutiny and are at greater risk of attack.

There is always an element of risk in the world of journalism.

Depending on the area, the risk level can be low or high with consequences.

Over the last hundred years, risks have always been present in front line journalism.

I would argue that today, professional journalism should take preventive and mitigating actions against risks and consequences.

Below is a graphic that charts zones of risk and consequence.

They are very much dependent on the areas covered by the reporter.

What emerges from the analysis is a need to take preventive and evasive actions.

Risk assessment, personal protective equipment and visibility are paramount.

In high risk zones, the chances of consequential incident remain high when there is great uncertainty.

The contingency of the unknown is always troubling.

My concluding graphic below symbolises the need to separate fake news from professional and transparent mainstream media.

It is vital to differentiate competition from all sides.

What we have learned over the last 100 years of journalism is that technology has been a significant game changer.

Now mobile apps bring us the news and stories which shape opinion and understanding almost instantaneously compared with the news gathering and production time cycles of the past.

The key risk facing journalists today is that the need to be first and exclusive for the moment in the new techno-media-sphere can compromise standards

It can diminish qualitative levels of ethical and professional performance.

What has differentiated the journalism from 1920s and that of 2020s is the lowering of content, balance and editorial scrutiny to a fast-paced echo-chamber of digital sound, online multimedia, and digital video and imagery.

Format and style have been transformed to embrace new technologies.

The very nature of news content is so different.

And there is so much more freedom to corrupt news values with biased, unbalanced, and non-fact-checked material.

The heat of the story of the moment is so much more intense and the global digital sphere means it cannot be forgotten and hidden in traditional archives of bound volumes of old newspapers and metal cans of old film and audio-tape.

And perhaps now the individual reader is no longer a passive unresponsive consumer of print, radio sound and merely watching film projected onto a cinema screen or presented by television cathode tube.

The reader is so much more selective.

The reader is now so much more.

The reader edits and publishes as well.

Navin Kukadia MA, MICO, MCIoJ

Techno Journalist / Report Writer