As the digital media industry grows and the print industry wears away, the author Jane B. Singer of the chapter Theorizing Digital Journalism: The Limits of Linearity and the Rise of Relationships explores the theories and differences of analog journalism and digital journalism. Singer analyzes the characteristics of journalism by creating the “Five I’s” (Singer 2016) as well as ending the chapter with a suggestion as to how further journalism studies should be done and what questions journalism scholars should be asking.
Singer begins with the ‘limited effects’ that journalism brings when defining the term – journalism. To Singer, the news is always changing and there’s never one definition because it has slowly shifted from analogical to digital. Today’s media is considered to be more intertwined when it comes to readers, viewers, and listeners. Although, Singer goes more in-depth discussing the challenges the definition of journalism may bring in today’s society and takes readers through four different theories done by communication scholars which bring light to those challenges.
One of the theories is the Spiral of Silence Theory, which, in short, as Singer describes it is “the media has a significant effect on audience behavior.” (Singer 2016) More specifically, one scholar, Noelle-Neumann, said that oftentimes when a major event happens, people will respond by taking note of the public’s opinion. Which if a person believes their opinion is not popular, then we will most likely remain silent so they are not alone or as Noelle-Neumann puts it “avoiding isolation.” (Noelle-Newmann 1993) When people do this, the more favored view becomes more prevalent, this would be considered the spiraling effect. Singer describes this notion as a “one-two punch” (Singer 2016) for news outlets. What this means is that in the beginning portion of a news outlet’s coverage, it’ll rely heavily on the basic information for people of what they need to know and then it will focus on the popular vs not popular views of an issue. This will, in turn, tell people “what is safe to say in public without being ostracized.” (Singer 2016) These same effects do not seem to stand the same when it comes to the digital environment. When it comes to the unpopular opinions on issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage, Singer found that those people who support those unsought after opinions are not shy of sharing them. It can be said that social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter can help people voice their minority opinion because they don’t have to deal with those face to face consequences.
Another theory that Singer makes note of is the cultivation theory by Gerbner and Gross. This theory implies that “watching television affects our world view, typically leading to a heightened sense of risk and insecurity.” (Gerbner and Gross 1976) Singer gives examples of how exactly TV affects our world views, one of them is that topics such as racism, crime, violence, and victimization have an impact on people’s attitudes. Another example is that those who watch a lot of action movies or shows have an increased chance of feeling anxious. As for digital media, most studies have focused on video games rather than TV, despite the fact that the theory was built for studies around the TV. Singer stated that most of the work done involving the cultivation theory includes TV and its effects on “perceptions of such matter ass materialism, immigration, and violence.” (Singer 2016) Recent studies done around the theory have found that more digital technology use often leads to decreasing trust in social institutions and participation in society, this theory was tested immensely when the internet was first introduced.
The next two theories, the Knowledge Gap Hypothesis and the Agenda-Setting Theory, have often been used to study political information within the journalism field. The knowledge gap hypothesis revolves around the idea that those with higher socioeconomic status will receive information a lot faster than those with a lower socioeconomic status, therefore creating a knowledge gap between the two statuses. Singer said that the effects of this theory are often found in areas of “general knowledge such as public affairs and health rather than areas of niche interest.” (Singer 2016) It should be noted that Singer suggested that controversy over a local issue tends to decrease the gap. This is due to people gaining motivation for themselves to look into the topic because it may affect them or also, other people they may know to tell them about the issue. In contrast to digital media, most studies at the start of the internet focused on the “digital divide between those with and without online access.” (Singer 2016) Nowadays, studies are focused on the use of digital media and the information it can provide. Oftentimes, there is still a gap in knowledge even though people may still have access to a computer or a phone. On the other hand, social media is known to maybe fix this problem or gap thanks to its ability to share a variable amount of information on people’s timelines. People often come across current new or issues when it comes to social therefore increasing their knowledge. Singer mentions that social media can’t close the gap when it comes to political participation, especially with sites such as Facebook and Twitter, which “amplify” (Singer 2016) the inequality of political participation.
The last theory, the agenda-setting theory, centers around the press and their ability to tell people what to think about rather than telling people what to think about a particular issue. This theory is considered to be the easiest to test because of its effects on people. The theory was tested on the media’s impact on political issues. It was found that voter’s shared ideas about issues that the media covered the most. Within the digital world, the theory has not been so widespread. Nowadays, online blogs along, with newspapers, have more influence to sway people’s opinions, this allows people, not just the media, to set the agenda. As far as social media, it was discovered that “media actors on Twitter have far more agenda-setting influence than other actors do.” (Singer 2016) This was especially seen in the 2016 presidential election when journalists, from larger outlets, would oftentimes set the agenda on Twitter rather than the politicians.
In this chapter by Singer, she also discusses “The Five I’s” (Singer 2016) which describes the characteristics of digital journalism today. The five I’s include immersive, interconnected, individualized, iterative, and instantaneous. Immersive refers to the fact that people today are constantly using social media or, just media in general, and it’s not a separate aspect of their lives. Interconnected specifies the theory that communication in the digital age isn’t linear meaning there isn’t just a news source giving the people news. People today can become that news source if they wanted to through social media, making the digital news aged interconnected. The word individualized points out that in today’s world, the billions of users online have their news individualized to them, meaning people can choose which news they want to see or hear. When Singer examines the word iterative, she starts to compare how newspapers and broadcast news are unchangeable while the same can’t be said for digital news. Digital news allows for a “fluid conversation” (Singer 2016) as Singer invokes to it being, in a sense, everlasting and changing. Lastly, Singer refers to digital media being instantaneous, suggesting that more than ever before journalists are more concerned about the accuracy of media because they are producing the news so fast.
Singer ends the chapter stating there needs to be “a call for ‘relationship effects.’” Singers suggest that as the linear communication within the digital world seems to be shrinking, theorists are becoming more uncomfortable. With that being said, Singer says there need to be new effects theories – “one that expressly encompasses ‘relationship effects.’” Singer adds that the relationship between journalists and audiences are extremely important, where theorists must do more research on them. “An immersive media universe invites melding the linear effects tradition with the intellectually rich understanding of how humans interact and create social and cultural connections.” (Singer 2016) Singer concludes the chapter by asking how the digital world may affect the relationships between the audiences and journalists within the future – especially since digital media allows for a nonstop flow of news.