The Top 7 Technologies That Changed Modern Journalism Forever

In the last few decades, the journalism industry has been rocked by an explosion of technology that has changed how news is gathered, reported, distributed, and shared. The following are the key technologies that have aided in the transformation of news:

1. Digital Audio Recorder

Before digital audio recorders, there was the reel-to-reel machine, a clunky device that required the operator to physically splice pieces of tape together to form an audio story. Fast forward a few years later and the digital audio recorders have made the machine obsolete and changed audio recording forever.

Digital audio recorders allow journalists to go wherever they wish with what amounts to a tiny recording studio in their pocket. Digital recorders allow for quick, off-the-cuff recording of a news subject or interview and drastically cut down the time necessary to edit and broadcast the recording. In addition, digital recorders also allow the user to connect to a computer and within minutes publish the audio to the web, a concept that decades ago was unimaginable.

2. Friendster

Before there was MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter, there was Friendster, the online community that popularized the concept of the social network. Even though the site has waned in popularity, it opened the door for hundreds of thousands of social networks. The number of social network users around the world totals in the billions, with Facebook alone comprising more than 500 million members.

For journalists, social networks enable reporters and newsrooms to interact directly with the people and the communities they cover. A large percentage of any online news operation’s web traffic comes from social networks as users recommend and share individual stories, rather than individual publications, with each other. Social networks have also replaced online news sites as destinations for news and allow audiences to shape and filter the news that reaches them.

3. iPhone

The iPhone, a device not without its flaws, is largely responsible for introducing the concept of applications to the public, eventually shaping mobile devices into mobile news readers. More than 24 percent of Americans now use apps regularly, more than half of which are news-related, according to a 2010 Pew study. The iPhone has accustomed audiences to paying for digital and mobile content and of course paved the way for a new generation of e-readers used for news consumption.

4. Google Maps

When Google Maps, and more importantly its API, first hit newsrooms, the technology was often used on a smaller scale to post small embeddable maps that accompanied stories. As newsrooms matured, Google Maps was used to create complex, location-based databases that not only categorized, but also visualized information. Google Maps in essence made data-driven journalism both the production and consumption — accessible to everyone and transformed what would otherwise be unsightly charts and graphs into more user-friendly ways of displaying information. Maps, to this day, remain an important component of multimedia storytelling.

5. YouTube

Who knew that a site that hosted videos of dancing cats and college pranks would become an online destination where an average of two billion videos are viewed daily and hundreds of thousands of videos are uploaded every day. YouTube conditioned audiences to watch online video and more of it and opened the door for both broadcast and non-broadcast newsrooms to publish and share video content online. YouTube not only empowered average citizens to upload and share their videos with a worldwide audience, it also transformed news video from siloed broadcasts to content that is freely shared and embedded on the web.

6. Laptops

Attend any press conference, news event, or media gathering and you’re likely to see a crowd of reporters with laptops in hand documenting what is happening in front of them. The typewriter and the desktop computer both revolutionized modern journalism, but it is the laptop computer that freed reporters from the confines of the newsroom. As laptops become more powerful and inexpensive, they now often serve as a mobile multimedia production lab. Reporters can now write, record or edit video or audio, or broadcast live directly from a laptop computers and from anywhere around the world.

7. Wireless Internet

A laptop wouldn’t be as revolutionary a tool for journalists if it weren’t for wireless internet. Wi-fi puts the library of information contained on the web at a reporter’s fingertips. Wireless internet also allows journalists to report from the field and file stories without having to physically return to the newsroom. As a Pew study notes, people are actually consuming more news than they used to and much of it is accessed online. There are many factors as to why this is, but it is likely due in large part to the pervasiveness of wireless internet and the many opportunities for news consumption the technology affords.
All of the aforementioned technologies were developed or rose in popularity within the last few decades. Who knows what knew technology will emerge that will also change the face of journalism?