Online journalism has facilitated media convergence Photo Credit: Josh
Anyone who has read Steve Yelvington’s infamous argument on the viability of online journalism will probably have come across his great phrase for the oft-repeated claim that newspapers ‘sowed the seeds of their own demise’ by putting their content online for free many years ago. He calls it the ‘original sin’ myth: “The most charitable thing I can say about it is: This is bullshit.” Pardon him, he’s an American. Four letter words come to them handy.
But not everyone will agree with him. Of course until you read his works to get the full background, but as someone else who has been following the trends in the industry and in active practice for over 10 years, I can only say: He’s right. What choice did publishers have? Why do we have punchng.com or vanguardngr.com. Or the very active thisdaylive.com? Online journalism is the new trend. And as a bath water, the traditional media practitioners are eager to throw it away but the baby wouldn’t let go of the baby-bath.
The thing about this myth is that it relies upon some sort of ‘genie in the bottle’: the idea that news organisations had something special that they ‘let out’. That’s a nice story, but it’s only half the story.
In reality, what publishers had was just a bottle: a way of restricting the content that was available to their readers. The reach of a newspaper was a function of its degree of circulation in terms of location, area and number of copies. So all the news content was restricted to the bottle. The internet smashed that bottle: suddenly readers could access all sorts of content from all sorts of providers, including experts, celebrities, sports and fashion brands and eye witnesses.
As for the genie part: well, that’s where the story falls apart – on two levels.
Firstly, if the genie was content then newspapers didn’t have much exclusivity to sell: the problem wasn’t that the newspapers were giving away content for free; it was that their sources were giving away their stories for free, and that didn’t leave much left (it says something about journalism that we have to shout about stories when they are “exclusive” or an “investigation”).
But many newspapers now have bigger audiences than ever. The untold part of the story is the genie that newspapers really gave away: their dominance in advertising.
The list is growing and becoming endless. From Google, Ebay, Jumia, Facebook, lindaikeji, bellanaija to OloriSupergirl. Advertisers have shifted focus with the audience shift to online news and gossips. Newspapers’ original sin was not that they gave away their content for free; it was that they gave away their advertisers for free.
The internet makes news more interesting because of the interactivity and multimedia like videos, audios e.t.c. that are used. The online news organization is increasingly gloomy about its financial future and online journalists are optimistic, reporting expanding newsroom and business.
So what is online journalism? The practice most media scholars argue has been wrongly defined and situated according to who is defining it. Each situates the definitions in the context that captures his/her practice. Sadly, the need to define what online journalism is strongly hinged on who qualifies as a journalist.
Online journalism is journalism more or less produced for the World Wide Web (unlike print, radio and television journalism). It exploits the unique characteristics of the Internet. A network of networks, joining many governments, universities and private computers together and providing an infrastructure for the use of E-mail, bulletin boards, file archives, hypertext documents, databases and other computational resources. The vast collection of computer networks which forms and acts as a single huge network for transport of data and messages across distances which can be anywhere from the same office to anywhere in the world.
First conceived by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the United States government in 1969. The ARPA Net was a project funded primarily by U.S. military sources such as the Department of Defense. Journalism is any non-fiction or documentary narrative that reports or analyzes facts and events firmly rooted in time (either topical or historical) which are selected and arranged by reporters, writers, and editors to tell a story from a particular point of view. Journalism has traditionally been published in print, presented on film, and broadcast on television and radio. “Online” includes many venues. Most prominent is the World Wide Web.
So having established a universal understanding of online journalism, a question arises. Who is qualified as online journalist? Is it safe to refer to anyone who engages in online journalism as a journalist? Every blogger becomes a reporter. Every soul with a device that can access internet and push contents online become a journalist?
This has remained a subject of debate in media practice with the growing trend of online journalism. This is due to the attendant challenges and ethical issues.
A major strong argument in favour of online journalism is question of access to news. It must be acknowledged though that the development of digital journalism has radically changed the way people access the news. The introduction of the internet opened the way for the creation of an entirely new medium of journalism and online journalism. Online journalism presents users with the unprecedented ability to chose when, where and what news they will receive. The traditional news media of broadcast, print and radio all broadcast, publish or air their bulletins at the time they chose, in the order they chose and to the depth they chose.
However, online journalism allows the user to access the news at any time from any computer or personal device with an internet connection. Once connected, the user can select the stories they wish to view and can easily access further information on the story if they so desire.
Immediacy has always been a fundamental element of journalism as the very nature of the news is that it is new. Broadcast and radio were traditionally the most immediate form of journalism as, should a major story breaks, they could interrupt their programming with a bulletin. However, they are still constrained by deadlines and cannot explore the story in too much depth. Print journalism allows stories in depth but often the stories are not reported until the morning after. Online journalism provides perhaps the best arena for distributing news quickly as it presents the immediacy of broadcast and radio with the depth of print. However, this has presented a problematic question for news organizations that run both a traditional and online outlet whether or not to break a story on the online site before broadcasting or publishing it. In the one hand, the news organization wants to take advantage of the incredible speed of the internet and be the one to break the story. On the other hand the organization
does not want to beat its own primary news vehicle and tell competitor what it has. Then again, the organization wants to use the web site as a promotion for its primary news product. But it does not want to make it unnecessary for people to purchase the newspaper or to watch or listen to a broadcast because they saw the story on the Web already.
Even though there are many arguments in favour of online journalism, prompting millions of companies to advertise online, there are also some problems involved. This include issues with advertising online such as measurement problems, audience characteristics, websnarl, clutter, potential for deception, costs, limited production quality, poor reach and lack of Intrusiveness.
From coast to coast, online news sites are experimenting with new ways of storytelling on the Web. And around the globe, the next generation of web readers and writers is already rocketing through cyberspace to create inventive ways of conveying information.
If most Web readers are only scanners now, the generation that is growing up with the Web could well become serious readers. To limit our vision of writing forms for a current generation of scanners is short-sighted. So which form is best? All forms: the inverted pyramid for some hard news stories, serial narrative for others, screen-size chunks with links to different Web pages if stories have logical breaks and scrolling stories for those that need a more linear presentation for comprehension. Different forms for different functions. This is what the best global agencies are doing now.
On the subject of media credibility and questions of ethics in online journalism, the Internet has no doubt brought a multiplicity of senders and receivers, destroying the linear paradigm. A blow was dealt to editorial agenda setting. Veracity is paramount in the synaptic ricochet of the online news environment. Retaining credibility in this new psychologically intuitive medium is critical. Control of content and quantity of the news appears to slip from editors’ control. “Pathfinder” is coined as peers evaluate newsworthiness. Perhaps future gatekeepers will be dubbed “information specialists.”
The developments of online relationships have been viewed as virtual communities. Findings from various cases of web-based news suggest the early ideals of democratic community-building on the Web are encountering resistance as media organizations define “virtual geographic space” and stake out “territory” on the Internet. The traditional press is fusing with computing and telecom to create a new medium of human communication. The World Wide Web is a space allowing global community-building without regard to geography or time. Online journalists and media organizations would do well to mine this resource. Common interests make connections; tapping into these connections makes profits.
Post-publication manipulation of electronic copy and lack of editorial control are serious issues that bother on credibility concerns for media practitioners. Some speculate on the future demise of press objectivity and ethics, while journalists align with special interests, advocacy groups, and titans of commerce. They see a dismantling of the firewall between advertising and news: Ads, opinion, marketing, and news will become intertwined as the audiences lose their faith in journalistic objectivity. Advertisers have a long tradition of influence peddling with regard to editorial content; it is a vested interest. Media are often susceptible to this pressure in a bid to survive in the competitive market. Online news reporting is now dynamic and often “pre-verified.” Print journalism is more static. This disparity fuels the fragmentation of news consumers into readily targetable audiences or niches. These niche targets are sometimes labeled as communities defined by shared interests rather than simple geography.
All said. No perfect way of predicting the future patterns of online journalism. Even technology cannot. Much as the journalists is clueless on its future. Only time can tell.