Journalists often have a prominent place in cyberpunk. A lot of times the story in a cyberpunk setting is told as being a news story. It can be a reminder of how much corporations control everything if the newscast is missing information that the reader/viewer knows, or it can be an affirmation of how an independent can break through the control to report the “real truth”.

So, let’s take a look at journalists in cyberpunk, and how our future is likely to head compared to the previous concept.

The first thing that popped into my mind was the Media role in R. Talisorian’s Cyberpunk paper RPG. This character type focused on a lot of social skills and While this didn’t have the raw brutality of a Solo or cater to teenage rock ‘n’ roll fantasies like the Rocker, the media’s important it is to the genre required that it be included in the game.

Of course, we can’t discuss future journalism without including Spider Jerusalem from Transmetropolitan. Here’s a continuation of the “gonzo journalism” style pioneered by Hunter S. Thompson. Spider Jerusalem dives into the story and uncovers the details while others cringe and hide. He’s mean and cranky and foul, but he provides a valuable service and gets information out where it’s needed. In short, a very flawed picture of what a journalist should be.

But, this is not likely to be the case in the future of our world. A interesting article called Cells in the Panioptiswarm shows how journalism is changing in our world. The reality is that nearly everyone has a recording device with them, often in the form of a cell phone, so that they can record incidents and post them online for many people to see. Journalists aren’t a special class anymore, and as the article points out, that has rather interesting consequences. Journalists used to be special because they could get information out to the public. Even if the journalist were working for “the enemy”, the truth might show that your enemy doesn’t necessarily have the moral high ground and erode popular support. A country oppressing their journalists was usually used to demonstrate that country had something to hide from the world.

But, now journalists aren’t unique given the increase in “citizen journalism”. In fact, information is even harder to control because even if you do restrict one person, there are dozens if not hundreds of other people who might upload their version of a video of an incident. While this means information is able to get out, it also means that journalists may not have the protections they once enjoyed. What separates the professional journalist from the guy on the corner with an iPhone besides the cost of the equipment? In the eyes of someone wanting to cover up information, not much, and a trigger-happy enemy might not take time to figure out who should be wiped out and who might be susceptible to intimidation or coercion. As is pointed out in the article, the options were to make everyone protected or to decide nobody was protected as journalists were in the past; unfortunately, the general consensus is that nobody is to be protected.

One final issue to consider: part of the traditional role of the media was to filter out the important information to be presented to a wider audience. If anyone can be a journalist, this traditional role breaks down and means we get even more information to flood our daily life. While this is good in that it means a person in a position of authority within the media can’t decide to restrict information from the masses quite so easily, it also means that the “real news” is potentially given as much weight as a crackpot conspiracy theory. While one hopes that people can separate the important stuff from the trivia, this is not always the case. It is also possible that the “truth” is drowned out in a sea of artificial dissent; one common tactic in information warfare is to flood a channel with false information to obscure the valuable information.

What do you think? Do you think that journalists will continue to have a place of importance in our world, as predicted by cyberpunk? Is Spider Jerusalem a possible future hero? Or will the masses take his place? Either way, will the result be better or worse than what we’ve had in the past and what we have now?