Thinking about what technological innovation has done to journalism in the past two decades can be a dizzying experience. People have more data, better maps, prettier visualizations, more push notifications, faster fact-checking, and so on.
Yet there is a unifying feature behind all of these innovations, and it has to do with the role of media and the public in a democracy.
The news media, the argument goes, must provide the rationally-minded members of the public with enough information for them to see a clear and accurate picture of the world, and then become deliberative citizens. In that regard, technology could help news reports to be more accurate, data-driven, timely, fact-checked, with rich multimedia embellishment.
Technologically-enhanced journalism was supposed to become better at conveying the complexities of our reality to the public. Why, then, instead of an enlightened citizenry, did we then find ourselves facing a horde of hateful trolls, hysterical fake news outlets, a news agenda led by Russian hackers, and a never-ending spiral of conspiracy theories?
Maybe something was lost along the way. One of the fundamental problems with that vision of the role of media in democracy—that only imagines media as neutral transmitters of information on which the public then rationally deliberates—is that it might not be enough for the news media to hold a mirror that seek to reflect reality as accurately as possible.