Technology disrupted the media's monopoly on journalism. The advent of smart phones and social networks reduced the barriers of entry, for digital journalists, to practically nothing.
Journalist used to be a title reserved for professional writers. But now, any average Joe with a camera phone can capture and share a moment. Any aspiring blogger can publish a story and disseminate it to thousands over her Facebook newsfeed.
Seemingly overnight, a shift of power occurred. Established media outlets relinquished their control over what content the public could consume. And the laypeople, once considered consumers, were now creating original content at a remarkable rate.
Not surprisingly, content quickly saturated the Internet. As a result, it grew increasingly difficult for consumers to find context and authenticity among a maze of digital media.
Today, the majority of content that we consume doesn't even resemble journalism. Sometimes it's an Instagram. Sometimes it's a Tweet. Sometimes it's an Elite Daily article telling us the 22 things that we don't know, but ought to know, about string cheese.
Regardless of its form, the content to which we cling serves a function similar to journalism. It garners our attention, if only for a moment, and informs us to varying degrees.
The fact is, whether or not you consider BuzzFeed posts journalism (by traditional standards), we, as consumers, continue to digest them. In that regard, they're directly affecting the things that we do consider journalism.
Sure, BuzzFeed isn't rendering the New York Times obsolete. But it is offering readers another (potentially less reliable) place to turn for answers. BuzzFeed is yet another challenger with which traditional journalists must now compete. "The entire point," according to journalist Stijn Debrouwere, "is that journalism is not being disrupted by better journalism but by things that are hardly recognizable as journalism at all."
It's no surprise that today, we navigate the digital landscape for hours on end before accepting that we're lost. We compulsively refresh newsfeeds, desperate for news worth celebrating. We click refresh to feel refreshed, scrolling aimlessly until our bony fingers ache.
Like Christopher Columbus and his motley crew, we travel the socially connected Web in search of answers, but seldom find quite what we're looking for. Distracted by the black depth of digital content, we drift on, from site to site, neglecting to notice the ceaselessness of our odyssey.
As Westerners, we customarily relate to our world in linear terms. We anticipate conclusions to voyages. We expect plots to evolve and protagonists to change.
But when traversing the terrain of digital media, too much happens for one to remember, and so, in a way, nothing happens at all. Events intersect but don't progress. People connect but don't make contact.
Digital media as we know it is proving incompatible with our linear worldview. Our online experience no longer resembles the finite story that drives our lives.
And that's okay. Our relationship with digital media is complicated and ever-changing. It's balanced by contradictions pulling incessantly in opposite directions.
From a cultural studies perspective, digital media is nothing short of a miracle. It's opening exciting new windows through which to investigate human interaction. More than that, it's informing, entertaining and uniting individuals across geographical boundaries. It's providing a platform on which almost anybody can tell a story and reach their intended audience or beyond.
However, now more than ever, there's a new duty associated with journalism. Since digital media is abundant beyond measure, we share the responsibility, as journalists, to promote only the content that we deem worthy of our audience's attention. It's our job to produce compelling stories that matter. Otherwise, we're just rotting our readers' minds with fleeting facts about string cheese. Ain't nobody got time for that.