Decades of media consolidation have reduced the depth and breadth of reporting, cutting investigative reporters, relying on syndicated news and in some cases eliminating photographers completely. The influence of corporate and politically-driven private money is increasingly commonplace and many consumers are leaving traditional news outlets. Online media, dependent on advertising, weakened by a reliance on unpaid reporting and diluted by contributors untrained in journalism, have also provided a space for hackers, whistleblowers, leakers, and citizen journalists to take on roles previously held by investigative journalists.
As the definition of journalist shifts and the new fact-checkers are not bound by an ethical code or allegiance to any news organization, government surveillance is on the the rise, fed by compliant ISPs and telecommunications giants. Vast amounts of previously protected data are open to new scrutiny, leaving journalists increasingly vulnerable to surveillance and prosecution and fearful of communicating with each other and with sources. Laws and law enforcement are creating a repressive environment for news and combined with the increased surveillance capabilities makes even the act of investigating sensitive stories a risky proposition.
The Obama administration, along with the NSA's long reach into an expanding list of communications, not including email and texts, is now considered to be waging a war on the press or even free speech, citing national security and terrorism concerns as cause for a massive surveillance expansion. This leaves open the question of not only who is a journalist, but what rights does the press have in this new world? Are we left with any check on the government?