History of Journalism: 1995 to Present

Patricia L Dooley. Encyclopedia of Journalism. Editor: Christopher H Sterling. Sage Publication. 2009.

Since 1995, a complex mix of social, economic, political, and technological changes have combined to substantially reshape journalism. Several trends are of particular significance during this period: changes in broadcast industries, the acceleration of the decline of printed news, the emergence of the World Wide Web, developments in political news, and the events of 9/11 and the international battle against terrorism.

Broadcast Industry Transformations

Until the 1990s, CBS, NBC, and ABC largely predominated in the broadcast television business in the United States. But in 1985, their power began to wane when Rupert Murdoch started the Fox network. Over the next decade, Fox slowly developed a group of affiliates and debuted prime-time programming. In 1996, Fox’s parent company got into the news business when it started Fox News Channel. Fox News grew slowly after its mid-90s debut, but by 2007 it was rated as the cable news network with the largest number of regular viewers.

Critics of Fox News accused it of being biased toward the political right and Republican ideologies at the expense of neutrality. Murdoch and his associates disagreed. Selecting “Fair and Balanced” as Fox’s trademarked slogan, Murdoch claimed the channel’s news and opinion were more balanced than those of its competitors.

Like the broadcast television industry, after 1995, radio was likewise forced to adjust to technological innovation. Emerging technologies allowed radio station owners to cut back on the number of people they employed, and much of the news aired on commercial radio was purchased rather than produced locally. AM radio grew in popularity among listeners eager to hear from conservative talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Don Imus. Public radio news programs remained popular among many Americans looking for fuller treatments of the events of the day.

With its 1997 decision to license satellite radio, new opportunities for radio news journalists were born. The first satellite radio leaders, XM and Sirius, started transmitting music, news, sports, and other content across the globe to its subscribers in late 2001 and early 2002. In 2004, XM began offering radio channels featuring local weather and traffic reports. The two companies merged in 2008 after the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission approved their request.

Web Revolution

The relationship between journalism and newer technologies starts long before 1995. During the 1980s, the development of many new media, including the Internet, accelerated thanks to computers and modes of transmission that increased speed, lowered cost, and expanded capacity.

By the mid-1990s, almost all aspects of newsroom operation, including production, layout, composition, circulation, and the newspaper archives, were computerized; and the potential of computer networking for journalism was increasingly recognized. In the 1980s, a handful of newspaper and broadcast journalists started dial-up bulletin board systems on the Internet. Most resulted from partnerships with budding dial-up platforms such as America Online, Prodigy, and CompuServe. Standard journalistic fare on such bulletin boards included classified ads, business and entertainment listings, and a few headlines. In 1991, the Chicago Tribune Company invested in America Online. A year later, it launched Chicago Online on AOL with localized stories and other content.

Since the mid-1990s, the ability to transmit mail electronically has greatly aided reporters and editors in their reporting and fact-checking activities. While there are some drawbacks to using e-mail as an interview tool, such as the criticism that they are lulling journalists into laziness and susceptibility to hoaxes, there are many virtues. E-mail provides an electronic record that allows both reporters and sources to keep track of what has been said and written.

Surely the most dramatic technical development of the mid-1990s was the appearance of the World Wide Web, which is essentially a system of interlinked hypertext documents that can be accessed via the Internet. With a web browser, journalists can view pages that may contain text, images, and other multimedia and navigate among them using hyperlinks. The basic idea was developed in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, and first made available on the Internet in 1991. As use of the web expanded journalists became cyberjournalists.

The first online newspapers were usually digital versions of the printed publication. Better understanding of the web’s unlimited capacity led publishers to include more information and visual material in expanded online editions of their newspapers. Over time, they began experimenting with design as they added hypertext and links. An early example was the 1993-94 appearance of the Nando Times, companion to Raleigh, North Carolina’s News & Observer. The online edition quickly attracted attention as the first ’round-the-clock, regularly updated news and sports online venue. Initially its staff did some original news reporting, but soon settled into primary roles as news aggregators and enhancers.

While online newspapers offered more news and other content than did their print counterparts, publishers had difficulty selling online advertising or otherwise generating revenue. Only The Wall Street Journal developed a successful subscription model in the web world that most users presumed was a source of free information.

The late 1990s saw tremendous growth in online journalism. The National Newspaper Association noted that during 1996, the number of online newspapers nearly doubled; by July 1999, only 2 of the 100 largest dailies did not have online editions. Site traffic grew accordingly. From 1995 to 1998, in a growing number of cases, the number of users accessing online editions of newspapers began to rival their print circulations.

Advertising first appeared in online news operations in 1994. Over the next dozen years, as advertising on the web grew exponentially, solutions were developed for many problems, including pricing; creation of means of measuring effectiveness; and developing linkages to other media, both online and traditional.

By the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, most newspapers and broadcast organizations were firmly established in cyberspace. According to the authors of the Internet Society, the web had become “at once a world-wide broadcasting capability, a mechanism for information dissemination, and a medium for collaborations and interaction between individuals and their computers without regard for geographic location.”

Web 2.0, the Blogosphere, and Citizen Journalism

One of the new century’s most notable Internet developments was the emergence of blogs and the blogosphere. Blogs are websites maintained by individuals who regularly post entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other content such as graphics or video. Since blogs are easy to create and cost little, if anything, to maintain, they have encouraged people without formal journalistic training to start publishing news and analysis. Called citizen journalists, such writers’ forays into traditional professional journalism territory have touched off a storm of controversy.

Blogs are one of a cluster of new web tools made possible by the development of web 2.0 applications. Such tools offer users opportunities to pull information from multiple sites and deliver it on their own to achieve new purposes. In a web 2.0 world, streaming audio and video, podcasting, and the downloading and uploading of digital images proliferate. Within just a few years after free blogger software became available in 1999, the number of weblogs exploded. Numerous web 2.0 sites provide users with easy-to-use downloadable free software.

Regardless of bloggers’ positive contributions, in the movement’s early years, some news publishers forbade their staff from blogging, concerned that their blogs would expose them to potential lawsuits. Indeed, it would take some time for the courts to render decisions that would reveal whether they would afford bloggers the same First Amendment freedoms as traditional journalists.

Over time, more newspapers added blogs to their online editions. Meanwhile, television and radio news operations also moved into the blogo-sphere. One of the leaders is MSNBC, the 24-hour cable news channel launched in 1996 by NBC and Microsoft. The channel’s online site, http://MSNBC.com, has become one of America’s most popular web news providers. In 2002, the site operated seven blogs; by early 2006, the number was up to 21. Other news organizations similarly began to enlist the help of citizen journalists in news gathering.

Not long after blogging became popular, people began experimenting with blogs where video was the main component. The rise of interest in video-blogging, or vlogging, was linked with the launching of YouTube, a video-sharing website where users can upload, view, and share video clips. Vlogs are part of the open sourcing trend that has recently become an important component of citizen media and journalism. Operators of open-source journalistic media ask audiences to produce and upload content, including digital photos, audio, and video.

The first open-source all-podcast radio station was started in San Francisco in 2005 by Infinity Broadcasting, Viacom’s radio division. Television was not far behind. ABC began offering a weekly 15-minute podcast titled ABC News Shuffle in mid-2005. By early 2006, many local television stations were also distributing podcasts and asking their users to upload their own content. Called crowd-sourcing, the practice of accepting video or other content from the public became increasingly popular during this period. An offshoot of this is crowd-funding, where people pool their resources via the Internet to support projects initiated by people or organizations not connected to the mainstream journalism industry. A San Francisco website named Spot.us is testing journalistic crowdfunding at the local level. The site allows freelance journalists to suggest stories and get funding from the public in the Bay Area. Other citizen-initiated journalistic websites, such as Pro Publica, are funded largely through foundations.

Many say that the web, and web 2.0, are changing the face of journalism. The mixing of formats is becoming an increasingly popular journalistic practice, and some argue that multimedia journalism has greater impact on the public than either print or broadcast formats. Others contend that there are downsides to multimedia approaches—for example, users sometimes have problems using the complex features of news sites.

Decline of Newspapers

The appearance of web options accelerated problems of newspapers and magazines. Compared to broadcast news, print newspapers and magazines had some built-in advantages. Most newspapers were produced in their readers’ communities, meaning their contents were closely related to local interests. In an attempt to compete with the visual appeal of television, print publishers spent huge amounts to purchase printing equipment that could provide more color and graphics. But other problems persisted, including rising labor, paper, and energy costs, and the appearance of web software that enables anyone to start publishing news. As blog publishing systems such as http://Blogger.com gained popularity, news blogs like Blogger News Network, which started on February 1, 2005, added to the problems experienced by print news publishers.

By 2008, some were suggesting that printed newspapers had entered their final stage. In the first quarter of 2008, print advertising sales fell by 14 percent, adding to losses of the previous eight years. Newsroom staffing levels were slashed at most major newspapers, including the country’s largest. Plunging advertising revenues and other financial difficulties led the Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times and other media, to file for bankruptcy protection from its creditors in late 2008. And the media consolidation trend started much earlier in the history of American journalism continued unabated. Knight Ridder, one of America’s largest news media companies and itself a product of media consolidation, was purchased by the McClatchy Company in 2006. And the Christian Science Monitor announced it would publish only an online addition starting in February 2009, presaging a move other papers were at least considering. In 2009, the world’s unfolding economic recession, the effects of which were noticeable in 2008, continued to pose problems for not only newspaper publishers but also all journalistic institutions.

Political News and Electoral Campaigns

The field of American political communication adapted to cyberspace as web-based news venues and eventually blogs proliferated after the turn of the twenty-first century. According to a 2006 report published by the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans turning to the Internet for news or other information related to politics had increased from 21 million to 26 million people per day. Responding to this trend, news organizations increasingly used the Internet and other new media tools in ways that they hoped would effectively engage audiences.

Political campaigners also turned to the new media for tools they hoped would attract supporters. Howard Dean’s unsuccessful bid for the 2004 Democratic Party presidential nomination is notable for his unprecedented use of the web. Four years later, Barack Obama’s use of instant text messaging, Facebook and MySpace, and other new technologies was touted as a watershed in American political history.

9/11 and Battling Terror

The attack on the United States by terrorists on September 11, 2001, had a lasting impact on journalism. Some researchers suggest that a new kind of journalism emerged in the post-9/11 world that is less frivolous and more connected to the serious concerns of people living in a complex and dangerous world. At the same time, however, critics decried the patriotic tone of much American and British news coverage, which was accused of credulously publishing prowar propaganda for their governments.

One major concern among journalists has been the chilling effect the U.S. government’s post-9/11 antiterrorism strategies have had on free speech and privacy rights. Government threats concerning the shut down of some websites, like one in Virginia that posted unedited video of journalist Daniel Pearl’s execution, and even Internet service providers, such as their shutdown of the nation of Somalia’s only Internet service provider in 2001; removal of once-available information from government websites; and the closure of once available government documents and meetings were among the changes. In addition, pre-9/11 rules that limited use of electronic surveillance strategies such as wiretapping by government authorities have been abandoned in the fight against terror. Concerned about the chilling effect such surveillance was having on journalism, in 2008, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the federal government to stop it from conducting unchecked tapping of international e-mails and telephone calls.


Journalism underwent a series of profound changes after 1995 as it was forced to adapt to new technologies, economic forces, and global political events. Already challenged by CNN, ABC, NBC, and CBS’s news operations faced further competition when Rupert Murdoch launched his Fox News in 1996. The decline of large metropolitan newspapers continued unabated, as their publishers struggled to adjust to rising prices in a time of declining advertising revenue and the global economic recession that began to unfold in 2008. Web-related innovations, particularly blogging, had a profound impact on journalism by opening up the field to nonprofessionals with a penchant for news writing and videography. New media likewise affected the political world, as journalists and political candidates increasingly used blogs, social networks, and cell phones, among other things, to disseminate information during electoral campaigns. al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attack on America was followed by a wave of patriotic journalism that lasted until the Bush administration’s retaliatory War on Terror seemed to many to be lasting too long. The 9/11 attack on America also ushered in governmental antiterrorism security measures that have troubled journalists and civil liberties advocates ever since.

Much as it has since it first emerged in history, journalism will survive in coming generations as it continues to adapt to the changes that take place in society that are outside its control. In the near future, however, the decline of the large metropolitan newspapers will continue—as will shifts in the field of journalism ushered in by new web tools and economics—and political campaigns will progress further in their web-and-other-tech-nological transformations.