The public is no longer as passive as you think

Embedded in the psyche of the traditional media is the belief that they are uniquely clever, informed, well-connected experts who find out what is going on in the world, decide what is important and what isn't, analyse what it all means and present it to you, the grateful public.

The idea that, instead of receiving the news in reverential silence, their audience might talk back to them — or simply talk among themselves — is still an uncomfortable one for many traditional print journalists. They tend to regard blogs, messageboards and chatrooms as irrelevant or, at best, a third-rate form of journalism.

Newspapers and traditional media just want to tell you things. Journalists working on the internet are equally interested in providing full, accurate and up-to-date information; but we also know that it is just as important to find out what people think and give them a chance to express their views. We believe that in this vivid mix of voices lies the future of journalism.

The future of news is online. The internet is rapidly becoming the place where most of naturally go to find out what is happening in the world, to understand and discuss it.

A few years ago I left a good job in national newspapers to work on the Web, and a lot of my press colleagues thought that the choice I had made was eccentric, to say the least. But print journalists are increasingly coming to understand and respect the internet's power to provide high-quality breaking news, comment, analysis and discussion.

When bombs went off on London's transport network last July, the internet was for millions the primary source of information about what was going on. In part this was because the story unfolded during working hours, when many people don't have access to a television or radio.

But it also reflected the strength and depth of coverage that the internet was able to provide. It wasn't simply the mixture of constantly updated news, in text, pictures and video that AOL and others offered; just as important for many were the messageboards and chatrooms that allowed users to share their reactions and discuss the events as they happened. Pictures and video taken by people who had been caught up in the bombings added a different dimension to reports, as did blogs, such as that written by AOL employee Paul Dadge, who assisted victims at the scene.

The coverage of the tsunami in South-east Asia similarly blended remarkable reporting from professional journalists and news organisations with firsthand accounts from people who lived at the scene or were holidaying there. The internet also played a vital role in helping worried families contact relatives who they feared might have been caught up in the disaster.

In this mix of words, pictures, video, the accounts of professional journalists mixed with the testimony, views and opinion of ordinary people, it was possible to see emerging a distinctive type of journalism – one that is unique to the internet and that newspapers, radio and television are simply unable to match.

At the heart of this new model of journalism is the power of the Internet to give a voice to its users, and the willingness of websites to give them that voice.

It is this democratising tendency that really sets true Web journalism apart from that produced by television, radio, newspapers (and their associated web sites).

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