Between the release of the world wide web (WWW) standard in 1991, the start of the first online news publications worldwide in the mid-1990s, the Kidon Media-Link international database of 18,318 online news media in 2006, and the emergence of 70 million or more weblogs and podcasts, of which about one-tenth focus on news, one could say the web has become a widely accepted and used platform for the production and dissemination of news – by both professional reporters and amateurs (or “citizen journalists”). Not only thousands of professional news media have started websites, millions of individual users and special interest groups have used the web as an outlet for their news as well. Correspondingly, trade and scholarly publications have focused extensively on journalism as it is produced online, resulting in a sprawling field of research dealing with one or more aspects of Internet news. A particular focus on news as it is gathered on, produced for, and distributed via the Internet seeks to disconnect it from the hardware of personal computers, technological appliances, and digital networks, thus enabling a more specific focus on online journalism as a distinct social practice.
Journalism is and has always been dependent on technology. For the profession to achieve public status and reach a “mass” audience, it relies on technologies for the gathering, editing, production, and dissemination of information. Ever since the first newspapers appeared in Europe during the seventeenth century, technology has enabled journalism to organize itself around its basic premise: to deliver relevant public information in a timely and usable manner. If one considers the history of technology in mass media journalism, one could argue that the nineteenth century belonged to (the rise and establishment of ) print newspapers, the twentieth century belonged to broadcast media, and the twenty-first century belongs to (wireless) digital multimedia. Journalism has evolved and professionalized accordingly, developing specializations in print (newspaper and magazine) journalism, radio and television journalism, and online journalism. During the first years of the twenty-first century, a multimedia journalism has emerged – both in education and training programs, as well as in converged organizations’ newsrooms (Quinn 2006). The literature in the field of journalism studies is largely informed by the standards of research, education, and practices set by print journalism. Scholars from a variety of backgrounds – such as sociology, social and mass psychology, anthropology, political science, and economics – flocked to communication and media studies as mass media became ubiquitous and pervasive in society, and as the lives of many peoples around the world became saturated by media.
Online Journalism Studies
Studies looking at online journalism emerged since the mid-1990s, as the Internet made its way into newsrooms and became both a reporting tool as well as a platform for news dissemination. Surveys among journalists in several countries show convincingly that a vast majority of journalists are now using the Internet regularly in their daily work. Several scholars have studied the effects of this adoption process, including the practices of computer-assisted reporting (CAR; defined here as using the Internet as a reporting tool), concluding that beyond benefits (more information, more sources, more checks and balances freely available), many reporters and editors feel nervous and concerned about the “omnipresence” of the Internet in daily reporting (Garrison 2000), as well as about the increasing “technization” or “cybernetization” of news work (Heinonen 1999). Another aspect related to CAR which affects all journalists is distinctly ethical: how to deal with online communication such as email, posts in newsgroups and discussion forums, weblogs, and instant or chat messages (including SMS and MMS via cell phones) in an environment where the verification of information is extremely difficult due to the often anonymous, fast-paced (or instantaneous) communication involved (Deuze & Yeshua 2001). Credibility is seen by most media workers and researchers as a core issue when assessing the relevance and meaning of the role the Internet plays in journalism. Several studies also signal the worrisome fact, that the introduction of the Internet in reporting accelerated the news process, sometimes even causing journalists to spend more time at their computer instead of going “out on the street.” Such considerations contribute to an instrumental view on the role new media play in news. The focus is on established practices and ways of doing things in the average newsroom, thus ignoring or marginalizing the disruptive nature of new media such as the Internet.
Since the late 1990s, scholars have started to map the changes taking place in the way news companies are reorganizing to make room for online newsrooms (Singer 1998). Although most news outlets used the Internet as an outlet for their news from the mid- 1990s, many did not consider their websites as much more than just an advertisement for the print or broadcast mother medium. With the decline and graying of traditional audiences, the preference for the web among global youths, and a growing interest among advertisers for cross-media marketing and online ads, significant investments were made in online journalism (Boczkowski 2004).
As a distinct professional practice – a fourth type of journalism – online journalism should be seen as journalism produced more or less exclusively for the world wide web (the graphic user interface of the Internet). Online journalism has been functionally differentiated from other kinds of journalism by using its technological component as a determining factor in terms of an operational definition – just like the fields of print, radio, and television journalism before it. The online journalist has to make decisions on which media format or formats best tell a certain story (multimediality), has to consider options for the public to respond, interact or even customize certain stories (interactivity), and thinks about ways to connect the story to other stories, archives, resources and so on through hyperlinks (hypertextuality). One can safely say the field of online journalism has achieved a separate status both in the profession and in academia, and furthermore is considered to be important by the institutions of the field: schools, universities, research centers, professional organizations, and news companies.
The field of online journalism studies has been informed largely by the distinctions made between the production, content, and consumption of news and information on the Internet. This has resulted in a sprawling field of research consisting mostly of surveys and in-depth interviews with online media professionals (reporters, editors, producers) and end-users, as well as largeand small-scale content analyses of websites and home pages. Theoretical discussions on the evolving relationships between new media and journalism generally consider the emerging formats, genres, and practices in online journalism in terms of how these challenge traditional functions and goals of (print) journalism, such as the gatekeeper role, the role of online journalism in shaping and sustaining community (for example by embracing the online genre of weblogs or “blogs”), digital elements of journalistic storytelling, or online journalists as a distinct professional group more or less in control of the production and dissemination of editorial news content. The field can thus be typified as a social scientific study of practice: it concerns people living and working in the context of existing and evolving structures, including emerging new technologies.
The research agenda of online journalism and Internet news studies traditionally focuses on how the production, content, and consumption of media messages evolves online. Pavlik (2001), for example, discusses the impact of new media on news and society in terms of four distinct implications: how it affects news content, how it affects newsroom and media industry structures, how it affects the way journalists do their work, and how it affects relationships between stakeholders in the news: media companies, journalists, publics, competitors, advertisers, and sources. These kinds of approaches fit in the wider field of (new) media and society research. This does not necessarily mean that applying “old” theories or paradigms is wrong when studying online journalism – it just means that researchers predominantly study and interpret the role of the Internet in journalism in terms of the role mass media have traditionally played in society (Hall 2001). In that particular context, the key characteristics of Internet news – its convergent, interactive, and networked nature – challenge an interpretation of online journalism as exclusively part of a “mass” media system.
A Typology Of Internet News
Internet news comes in many shapes and sizes. Although news organizations tend to share certain conventions about the design and structure of their online presence, the way the online journalists in their daily work articulate the characteristics of the new medium differs widely. These differences and similarities can be considered across two dimensions. Journalism has traditionally been about providing content to audiences, whereas online, interactivity becomes a more salient feature of news work. Research shows that online journalists are more likely than their offline colleagues to consider interactivity-related issues (such as providing a forum for public debate) among the most important aspects of their job. Internet news thus exists somewhere on a continuum between professionally produced content and the provision of public connectivity. In the latter case, journalists primarily act as facilitators of people telling each other stories – such as through comment boxes, discussion platforms, registered user blogs, or user-submitted news. The second dimension represents the level of participatory communication offered through a news site. Arguing from open to closed, a site can be considered to be “open” when it allows users to share comments and posts, and upload files without moderating or filtering intervention. At the other end of the spectrum, “closed” participatory communication can be defined as a site where users may participate but their communicative acts are subject to strict editorial moderation and control. Onto these dimensions it is possible to map four more or less distinct categories of Internet news, corresponding with a typology of four online journalisms: (1) mainstream news sites, (2) index and category sites, (3) meta-and comment sites, and (4) share and discussion sites (Deuze 2003). The most widespread form of Internet news is the mainstream news site, generally offering a selection of (aggregated) editorial content and a minimal, usually filtered or moderated, form of participatory communication. Hyperlinks on sites like these tend to point inward, referring only to other pages under the umbrella of the same brand. Index and category sites are generally operated by net-based companies such as certain search engines, marketing firms, Internet service providers, or enterprising individuals. Here, online journalists offer (deep) links to existing news sites elsewhere on the world wide web. Those hyperlinks are sometimes categorized and even annotated by editorial teams, thus generally featuring more or less contextualized (or contextually presented), aggregated content. Metaand comment sites contain numerous examples of Internet news that either serves as a platform for professionals and amateurs to exchange and discuss news published elsewhere online, or offer an outlet for so-called “alternative” and otherwise critical, non-mainstream or nonprofit news. Share and discussion sites, finally, are places where any meaningful distinction between the producer and the user, the news professional and the amateur reporter, or between opinion and fact for that matter, is lost. In terms of concrete examples, this mapping exercise would start with the websites of daily newspapers (such as the New York Times or O Globo) and broadcast news organizations (as in the BBC News or ABC News Online), ending with collaborative communities and citizen journalism sites (such as Nettavisen, OhmyNews, Wikinews, and JanJan).
The degree of openness and connectivity-focus of Internet news is highest in types 3 and 4 news sites which are often net-native, whereas types 1 and 2 are most likely to be relatively closed, top-down news operations of mainstream media organizations. It is important to note that when adding public connectivity elements to a news site operating in closed participatory communication with its publics, the site as a whole changes. The same goes for when such a site relinquishes its editorial control over communicative interventions by (members of ) the audience. Adding (or subtracting) certain elements has consequences for the typology of the news site as a whole, and subsequently for the way Internet news gets made. As most Internet news outlets are extensions of offline media companies, it is possible to suggest that the different kinds of journalism online are not necessarily exclusive or unique to the web – these journalisms are indeed part of an existing journalistic culture that finds various new ways to express itself in emerging professional identities online.
- Boczkowski, P. (2004). Digitizing the news: Innovation in online newspapers. Boston, MA: MIT Press.
- Deuze, M. (2003). The web and its journalisms: Considering the consequences of different types of news media online. New Media and Society, 5(2), 203–230.
- Deuze, M., & Yeshua, D. (2001). Online journalists face new ethical dilemmas: report from the Netherlands. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 16(4), 273–292.
- Garrison, B. (2000). Diffusion of a new technology: On-line research in newspaper newsrooms. Convergence, 6(1), 84–105.
- Hall, J. (2001). Online journalism: A critical primer. London: Pluto Press.
- Heinonen, A. (1999). Journalism in the age of the net: Changing society, changing profession, doctoral dissertation. Tampere: Acta Universitatis Tamperensis.
- Pavlik, J. (2001). Journalism and new media. New York: Columbia University Press. Quinn, S. (2006). Convergent journalism. New York: Peter Lang.
- Singer, J. B. (1998). Online journalists: Foundations for research into their changing roles. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 4(1). At http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol4/issue1/singer.html, accessed November 2006.