Publisher’s Perspective

By Tim Douglass, Publisher of the Pope County Tribune

The following essay was written by my brother, James Douglass, who is the executive director of communications, media relations and marketing at Riverland Community College.

He wrote this for another publication in Southeastern Minnesota, but I thought it was appropriate to reprint here.  A bit of a spoiler alert:  the topic is actually Artificial Intelligence or AI.  Here it is.

The Media Revolution:

A 30-Year Odyssey of Information Evolution

By James Douglass

Over the past three decades, the media landscape has undergone a profound transformation, reshaping the way we consume, produce, and understand news and information. From the pre-digital era of print and broadcast to the current age of social media and streaming, the evolution of the media has been nothing short of revolutionary.

In the early 1990s, the media ecosystem was characterized by traditional newspapers, magazines, and television networks. These were the gatekeepers of information, determining what news reached the masses. The process was controlled, with professional journalists serving as the conduits between events and the public. Trust in media was generally high, and the term “fake news” was rarely heard.

Then came the internet, a game-changer that forever altered the media landscape. The World Wide Web, introduced in the early 1990s, opened the floodgates of information. Suddenly, anyone with an internet connection could become a publisher, breaking down the traditional barriers to entry. The rise of blogs and online forums marked the beginning of a new era, one in which the audience played a more active role in shaping the news agenda.

The 24/7 news cycle emerged, fueled by the relentless need for content in this digital age. News organizations had to adapt quickly to keep up with the constant demand for updates, leading to a blurring of lines between journalism and entertainment. Sensationalism and clickbait became common tactics to capture the fleeting attention spans of online audiences. The pursuit of breaking news often took precedence over accuracy, leading to a decline in media trust.

As the 2000s progressed, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter became powerful tools for news dissemination. Citizen journalism gained prominence, with eyewitnesses sharing live updates from the scene of events, sometimes ahead of traditional news outlets. While this democratization of information was empowering, it also gave rise to misinformation and echo chambers, where people consumed news that reinforced their existing beliefs.

The 2010s saw the rise of digital-native news outlets, such as BuzzFeed and Vice, which tailored their content to suit the preferences of online audiences. These outlets embraced multimedia storytelling, leveraging videos, memes, and interactive graphics to engage viewers. While these innovations brought fresh perspectives and a more immersive news experience, they also raised concerns about the erosion of journalistic standards.

The advent of streaming services, like Netflix and YouTube, further disrupted the media landscape. Traditional cable TV subscriptions declined as viewers turned to on-demand, ad-free content. The lines between news, entertainment, and user-generated content blurred even more, challenging the traditional model of journalism.

Amid these changes, trust in the media plummeted. The term “fake news” gained widespread currency, often used to discredit news stories that did not align with one’s worldview. Fact-checking organizations struggled to keep pace with the deluge of information, and media literacy became an urgent necessity.

However, the 2020s marked a turning point. The rise of fact-checking initiatives, media literacy programs, and increased transparency efforts by news organizations began to rebuild trust. Technology companies also took steps to combat misinformation on their platforms, though challenges remain.

The past 30 years have seen a media evolution that has reshaped the way we consume and understand information. While the democratization of news has empowered individuals, it has also exposed us to a deluge of misinformation and polarizing content. The challenge for the future is to strike a balance between the freedom of information and the responsibility to ensure its accuracy and reliability.

In this era of rapid technological advancement, the media must continue to evolve. Journalists must embrace digital tools and platforms while upholding the principles of accuracy, fairness, and objectivity. Audiences, too, must play a role by critically evaluating the information they encounter and supporting trustworthy news sources.

As we move forward, the media’s evolution will undoubtedly continue, driven by emerging technologies and shifting societal norms. However, the core mission of journalism—to inform, educate, and hold power to account—must remain constant. Only by adapting responsibly to the challenges and opportunities of the digital age can the media continue to fulfill this vital role in society.

Today, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become part of the conversation. The “author” of this column has been working in media and communications for the last 30 years and lived through all referenced above. To illustrate the ease of creating content for a column like this, the question posed to an AI application was “Write a 500-word opinion piece about the evolution of the media in the last 30 years.” Most of the above content was created in less than a minute and the most frightening aspect is that it closely represents the kind of column that author would have written, even in writing style.

With some editing and verification, the author spent more time on the last two paragraphs than artificial intelligence on the proceeding dozen. This poses the question; does it properly tell the story of the media revolution as some of us remember it? How will AI impact the media’s future?

James Douglass is the executive director of communications, media relations and marketing at Riverland Community College.