Advancement in information and communication technologies has expanded the horizon of opportunities in the journalism profession. This has popularized a form of news gathering and dissemination through the internet know as online journalism. Traditional news channels came under serious threat by the emergence of this digital form of journalism but today, virtually every serious news outlet has an online version to compete for cyber audience with web-only news platforms. In Nigeria, online journalism has grown in popularity to the extent that such web-only newspapers as Premium Times and The Cable are among the leading news sources in the country.There is also a growing preference of online news platforms to conventional offline versions, by many audience members in the country and across the world.
To excel in online journalism as a career option, there is need for an understanding of the concept and dynamics of this form of journalism.
What is Online Journalism?
Online journalism is the practice of news gathering and dissemination through the internet. It is also called digital journalism. This is a modern form of journalism common in this digital era. Online journalists distribute editorial content through the Internet as opposed to publishing through print or broadcast. Newspaper industries have been using this kind of journalism for the past years, where facts are reported, produced and distributed through the Internet. Online journalism is growing in popularity as many people no longer buy the printed newspapers except they want to keep it for reference purposes. Today’s internet users see online news sources as readily available and less costly to access.
Digital journalism makes news more interesting because of its interactivity and use of multimedia sources such as videos, audios, and text. The internet provides unlimited audience base for online news sources, and this makes online journalism economically prosperous, and popular among news audiences.
The internet has posed a great challenge to traditional news industries in several ways such that traditional news channels fear that they might lose their audiences to online news websites. This has led to a massive shift to online platforms by traditional news industries such that every serious news channel now has online version or some form of strong presence online. Growing accessibility of Internet enabled devices such as smart phones, tablets, and laptops, little or no barriers to entry as an online journalist, lower cost of commencement and participation in the digital space, are among factors that have led to the widespread practice of digital journalism.
There has been a strong debate as to what constitutes ‘digital journalism’. However, this form of journalism features the primary product of traditional journalism, which is news and feature stories on current affairs, and presents them solely or in combination as text, audio, video and some interactive forms, and disseminated through digital media platforms. It is basically the practice of conventional journalism but this time, through the internet.
Here are the basic advantages of online journalism;
Fewer Barriers to Entry
Anyone with knowledge of how to operate internet-enabled laptop or mobile phone can practice as an online journalist. This has popularized this form of journalism but has also weakened it as people without basic training in conventional journalism also jump into it. Serious online newspapers require basic journalism training before employing anyone to write for them.
Lowered Distribution Costs
You can post a story and the entire world would see it unlike traditional distribution of a newspaper for instance, which has geographic restriction. You might require a lot of transportation cost to move newspapers to different locations. But in online journalism, distribution cost is minimal, just make sure you have internet service, that’s all. Same applies to the broadcast media which also have restrictions based on transmitter power and bandwidth.
Diverse Computer Networking Technologies
Evolving technology expands the possibility of practicing online journalism through diverse platforms made possible by interconnectivity that allows two or more computers or electronic devices to communicate data electronically. A journalist can stay in one part of the world and post a story to a newspaper editor in another part of the world. Same interconnectivity makes it possible to reach audiences in different parts of the world. This is the power of diverse computer networking technologies which has made digital journalism a pillar in the global village.
Democratized the Flow of Information
The practice of news gathering and dissemination was previously controlled by traditional media including newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. However, emergence of online journalism has democratized flow of information such that there are now several options for people to choose for daily news updates.
Greater Degree of Creativity
The digital space itself is full of creativity. Text, graphics, audio, video, and audio-visual features which are core parts of online journalism are devices that are used to make digital media very attractive and interesting. Hyperlinks also add to the creativity of online news channels.
Real time journalism
Online journalists report news as it happens. They provide news on the go. A story could be uploaded even while it is still unfolding and people get the gist and even watch the video. Live streaming of breaking news also takes placed via online news platforms. This is how online journalism publishes stories in real time and updating breaking news and events as they happen. This has always existed with the broadcast media but online newspapers are enjoying this feature today due to advancement in digital technology.
Shifted time reporting
This refers to scheduling a story to appear at a later date. It is one of the most interesting features of online journalism. Radio and television stations enjoy this feature too. In broadcasting, time shifting is the recording of programming to a storage medium to be viewed or listened to after the live broadcasting. Typically, this refers to TV programming but can also refer to radio shows via podcasts. Online publications can publish and archive articles for viewing now or later.
Online journalism can include multimedia elements such as text and graphics, plus sound, music, motion video, and animation. These could be combined to make a story very engaging.
One of the most interesting features of online journalism is that it is interactive. The basic mechanism for this interactivity on the Web is use of hyperlinks. They link the various elements of a lengthy, complex work, introducing multiple points of view, and adding depth and detail. A work of online journalism can consist of hyperlinked set of web pages which can themselves include hyperlinks to other web sites. There are comment sections too, where the audience react to stories and interact among themselves. This way, digital journalism keeps the audience socially active.
While traditional journalism guides the reader through a linear narrative, the online journalist lets readers become participants, as they click their way through a hyperlinked set of pages. Linear narrative means that only the journalist tells the story but interactive narrative means that after the journalist generates the story, there are other stories that support the main one, which readers see by clicking on hyperlinks, and these readers also make their contributions through comment sections of the online story. With interactivity, the online journalist can pre-determine, to a certain extent, the reader/participant’s progress through the material, but manifold navigation pathways, branching options, and hyperlinks encourage the reader/participant to continue to explore various narrative threads assembled by the reporter/writer/editor. A web of interlinked pages is also an ideal mechanism to give reader/participants access to a library of source documents and background information that form the foundation of an extensive journalistic investigation.
Information Goes Paperless
This means you just need an electronic device to be in touch with daily news breaks and favorite discussion programmes. With digital journalism and other broadcast channels, every piece of update you receive is through electronic media hence saving the environment. Environmentalists love this development because a tree flourishes for every paper saved. With apps available for every newspaper, media companies can contribute to utilizing natural resources sustainably. However, this is a disadvantage to newspaper establishments but they have overcome this by having online versions of their publications to maintain their readers across the globe.
The comment section in online news platforms makes it possible for readers to react to stories immediately after reading them. Readers/participants can respond instantly to material presented by the online journalist and this can some in several forms. It could be through email to the reporter or editor which is similar to the traditional letter to editor of print publications, but email letters can be published much sooner online than in print. Online journalists can also take advantage of threaded discussions that let readers respond immediately to an article, and to the comments of other readers, in a bulletin board-style discussion that can be accessed at any time. A bulletin board is a website or web page where users can post comments about a particular issue or topic and reply to other users’ postings. Readers can become participants in the ongoing co-creation of an editorial environment that evolves from the online journalist’s original reporting and the initial article. This makes the content of online news platforms interactive.
Online journalism also has a some constraints. Here are the basic ones;
Relatively High Error Margin
Because of the quest to keep up with breaking news, there is high chance of putting out news stories with less proofreading and less thorough confirmation of facts. This has led to the era of fake news being blamed on the proliferation of online news channels. But very serious online newspapers and other media are always very careful with what they put out there for people to read.
Gatekeepers are those involved in determining what gets published as news, from the reporter in the field, to the news editor, then editor. Major news organizations have very well trained personnel who report stories and process them in the office before they get published. However, there are several other unreliable online news channels, especially citizen journalism platforms, that are operated by people with little or no training in basic journalism. This makes the news content of their platforms very unreliable.
A citizen journalist could be operating a one-man news platform. Several bloggers and online news platform operators who also claim to be practicing journalism have fewer people working for them or confirming and processing stories. Most of what we see as online newspapers could be one-man businesses. But very serious newspapers online such as Daily Mail, New York Times, Washington Post, among many others, have several gatekeepers that a story has to go through before seeing the light of the day. From the reporter in the field, to city editor, news editor in the head office and editor-in-chief, these people ensure a story meets basic journalism tenets before getting published.
Lack of Focus on Quality Journalism
Many online news platforms pay little attention to quality journalism in a bid to report the news before others and get more views. A number of those that work in such unreliable platforms are not trained journalists and this reflects in the quality of their contents. Such online news websites have less credible contents to an extent and are blamed for the emergence of an era of fake news. Since accessing the internet is more convenient to everyone, it becomes very easy for unscrupulous elements to spread negativity about a particular individual or group, thereby increase the spread of fake news in the society. However, serious traditional news organizations that have online versions of their news channels strive to maintain objectivity and top quality news reporting. This means there shouldn’t be a blanket condemnation of all online news channels as lacking in quality journalism. Many of them are online versions of very serious traditional news media. Also, there are some web-only newspapers and news channels that adhere to professional tenets in journalism.
Less Serious Editing
There seems to be less rigid editing in online editions especially in terms of story length and content and this seems to be a disadvantage to online journalism. The unlimited news space makes online newspapers a bit less serious than offline editions of newspapers. However, serious conventional newspapers and other news channels have online editors that oversee the content of the online version of their news channels.
Online journalism is a major pillar in the process of globalization and the concept of global village. Online journalism platforms largely have same contents in traditional magazine or newspaper publications and other news media such as articles and graphics, though with some added links to related web sites. By providing an instant, ubiquitous, cheap distribution medium, the Internet adds tremendous value to such articles. This has added to the growing popularity of online journalism in today’s digital society. However, basic journalism training is required by anyone wishing to take up a career in online journalism in order to maintain the tenets of the profession. Whether online or offline, journalism remains the same and professionalism should be maintained.