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Online technology has been regardedas the source of informationsincethe beginning of the twenty-first century, whenthere are over 800 million separate web pages served for approximately 200 million regular computer-users (Hall, 2001).With the circulation ofWeb 2.0which characterizedas 'interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-created design and collaboration on the World Wide Web '(Wikipedia, 2009), more and morecommon peoplecan gather, create and share the information with anyone sit behind the computer. Thus, theamount of online news has risen at an exponential rate.
Nevertheless,whether the information provided by online news allows people become moreknowledgeable?Whether the public doubted more about the credibility ofonline newsas it increasing at an incrediblerate? Meanwhile, willtherevealing and uncovering of 'under the table secrets'onthe Internetcause a crisis of trustworthiness between citizens and governments, evenwithin whole society? As Keen argued, the implement of Web 2.0 offered an expectation of 'bring more truth to more people', but then he also underline that 'every week a new revelation calls into question the accuracy reliability and trust of the information we get from the internet.' (Keen 2007, citied in Newman, 2009). In fact, it appears that the of authority and crediblyofonline newsoften questioned only by professional journalists and media organizations,seldomresearches have analyzedit from audiences' perspective, who nowadays manifest the decisive rolein news control rather than traditional news organization(Newman, 2009).
In this essay, I am will try toillustrate that onone hand, with the help ofunprecedented growth of news provided by the websites, peoplearebecomingmore informed than ever before, itmay beessentialfor them torealize their civic right and built the awareness of citizenship. On theother hand, the flourishing ofonline news has been contributed by citizen journalists, in large part, whorely on Internet to 'make speeches' simultaneously.Moreover, we should emphasize that online news has satisfied citizens' expectationsto allow them know more about the events happenedamong them, so they seldom doubt aboutthe trustworthiness of online news.However, aninformed citizen does not mean he or she is knowledgeable,the reliability of news does not meaninfallibility. Therefore, active citizensshouldgetting access to more timely information through Internet,and develop a higher media literacy so that theycan compare and distinguish 'theright and wrong' on-line. Meanwhile, it may acquire the endeavor from professional journalism and democratic government at the same time.
In addition, Iwill consider a number of questions related to online news, such as whatmakesthemdifferentiate from 'traditional media news? What the news relationship between'journalists' and 'audience'? Who contributes to the prosperity of online news and how they can do that? How can wemeasurepeople's trust on the news? What is the relationship between the credibility of online news and citizenship? How should governments,journalism and citizens do in order to build the trustworthiness of online news? To further analyze those questions two relative cases will be discussed.
TheProsperity of Online News
In the past centuries, audiencecould only know news though radio, television, newspapers, one or more days after the events have been gathered and edited byprofessional journalism. With theemployment of Internet, the public can get access to news borderless and timeliness from numerous kinds of websites. Moreover, in the Internet environment,audiencecan transform from 'passive consumer' into ' active participator' who would like to engagein creating, verifyinganddisseminating news (Currah, 2009). It is doubtless that therise of news websites and 'news participator' result in the prospective of online news.
Three Main Online News Websites
1. Mainstream news sites
Recently thousands ofonline TVs, online newspapers, and online broadcasts have been mushroomed in the websites,countlesstraditional mediaset up their own websites and utilized internet as an alternative platform to release news. Take newspaper industries for example, by July 2005, more than 1375 North American daily newspaper have a web presence (Newspaper Association of American, 2005cited in Thurman, 2007) such as The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Time and The Washington Post. The same phenomenon also happed in UK,where renownedtraditionalnewspapers likeTelegraph and Guardian started to develop websites andprovided a debate and comment space for audience online. It reduced the priceof news accessing for audience andallow them know more about others opinion, which many vital for themtounderstand the news from vary angles. Furthermore, a research by Baruhust has demonstrated thatthe news storieson-line are quiteidentical with the one that printed inoriginal newspapers (Thurman, 2007), somore and more people would like to access those free news online instead of buy a newspaper.
2. Search engines
Currah (2009) addressed that Search engines 'has user-friendly graphical interface, the classification of stories, the ability to compare headlines from multiple news outlet worldwide'. Histhoughtfulanalysis revealedthe extraordinaryplaces of search enginesfor computeruses. Though search engines do notcreate news,they aresophisticated toaggregate, navigate and packagenews. They are more likea 'gatekeeper' for news consumers, which funnel a customized selection of storiesto users, and mediate the connectionbetween users and online news websites. It is interesting to find that search engines such as Googlehas been listed as themostvisitedwebsites(according toAlexa on Decameter 2009) which means thatSearch engineshave become themost popular websites among the public.
3. Social network websites
The notion of Web 2.0 is different from 1.0, in that itswebsitescontained a social element, which permit users receive more information,generate and distribute content, as well asshareand reuse freely. (Cree and Martin, ) The prevalence ofsocial network websites is allied to the emerging ofWeb 2.0; therepresentative ofthem is online users-generated video, like YouTube, personal websites, likemy space, Facebook, andonline encyclopedia like Wikipedia.
News in the social network websites have been credited for it is independent from government and corporations interests, as Seiken () pointed out that 'immediacy, depth and interactivityadvantages the site had over its press and television rivals.' Those socialnetwork websites have disclosed stories and contained thoughtful analysis of events that unavailable and neglected by the traditional mainstream media. He also considered that audiences do not want to relay on journalist's interpretative summary any more. Hisargument hasbeen echoed with Currah(2009), who hold a view that citizens nowadays want to be the 'co-producer' and 'co-distributor' of the news.Yet cooperation is farenough to satisfy active citizens' needs today,they want to act as 'citizen journalists' and publish their media items as directly as possible. Consequently, they set up websites like Ohmynews,Indymedia to'receive anyone's voice' all over theworld.
To sum up, the popularity of online news websites stem from three reasons. Firstly, online news is cost-effective andthe hyper linkingattached with in the websites offered acomprehensivebackgroundinformation for users, which contextualize the story and make it been understand easily. Secondly,news on-line is unlimited by space or time restrictions, audience can get access to theup-tominuteonline news any time around the clock, as long as they open the computer and connect the Internet. Lastly, there are a wider range of interactionbetween 'producers' and ' consumers' in all kind of online news websites, so the audiencescanat least to make comments and feedbacks to the authorities. Moreover, these social and participatory news web modelsprovide opportunity for more citizens engage in news contribution, like in social news websites.
The Emergence of 'Citizen Journalism'
The developing of digital technology has enhancedtheappearance ofcitizenjournalism. 'Citizen journalism' also named as' "public'", "participatory", "democratic" or "street journalism" isdefined as members of the pubic "play an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information' according toBowman and Willis (2003)(citied in Wikipedia,2009). They equipped with a set of up-to-state equipment like mobile phones, camera, laptop and wireless devices to cover the events happened around them. Furthermore, an increasingnumber ofjournalists alsoseek outinformation and stories fromsocial media websiteshome and aboard (Jonson and Kaya), and they invest a large amount of money to stimulate audience to contribute their personal experience of major events. The video, photography and word of rapidly unfolding events reported by citizen is essential, especially when a crisis happened, like London bombings and Wenchuan Earthquake in china. Take ‘Ohmynews' as an example, the number of registered citizen journalists is over 35,000 in 2006(Allan, 2006)
Case study: The success of Ohmynew
Ohmynews (www.ohmynews.co.kr) was established in February22th, 2000, as the first online alternative newspaper, With its slogan ' Every citizen is reporter, Alliance of news guerillas',Ohmynewsinitiate common citizens into public news process and have a significantinfluencein Korea.Eventhe Guardian, one of the most famous British newspapers, described it as ' the words most domestically powerful news site'(2003)
‘By December 2001, the number of online reporters reached 15,000 and daily site visits reach 650,000. In the first year, a magazine survey said that it is ranked as the 10th most influential news media outlet in Korea and in the following year it was the 8th, exceeded only but three major television channels and four other newspapers (Rao, 2003).'
The success of Ohmynewsattribute to three reasons. Firstly, it satisfied the needs of some knowledge citizens, who desire to know more news that ignored by the mainstream media. Ohmynews offered ordinary citizen a new form ofnews reporting,thus, an increasing number of ordinary people been encouraged to act as 'citizen journalists', and engage in making 'their voice been heard'. In fact, ordinary citizensthemselves knowbetterabout what the audience really want, and hascloser relationship with readers thansome professional journalists. The success of Ohmynews is a success of ordinary citizens.
Secondly, Ohmynews is a successfulnews websites, as an editor-assisted open news model.Unlike completely open and decentralized news models, like Indymedia (The Independent Media Center). On the one hand, itblurred the borders between producers and consumers, for 80 percent of its content writtenby its consumers, the citizen journalists. One the other hand, it employedsomefull-time staff, whosemain tasks are promoting citizen journalists' contribution, developingordinary citizens' skills by collaborative editing, and the most important tasks is fact-checking the news materials. Thus, it seems that the trustworthiness of Ohmynews result from the effort of citizens journalists and sophisticated editors.
Finally,the 10 preconditions, beenput forwardbyOh Yeon-Ho (the establisher and CEO of Ohmynews) to valuate user-generated news content, played anessential role toestablish its reputation. Among these predications,three of them should be mentioned,all the news publicized in Ohmynews should have the verity of material, its content shouldbe aim to meet the need of audience, instead of reporters. Furthermore, content of the newsshould seek to affect the 'real world' withpositive contribution, andprevent simply being negative or critical. (Flew)In view of this preconditions, all the citizen journalists in Ohmynews should 'use their real identities and in accordance with an agreed code of ethics', (Allan) but consumers can still comment the news anonymously. In that case, the authenticity of the information can be guaranteed while the public can still voiced freely.
Ohmynews have done a remarkable success in the name of enhancing democracy,since everyone is invited to participate in news gathering and creating. Moreover,a international news service was provided by Ohmynews in 2004, as it lanched the English language version (http://english.ohmynews.com). It appears that Ohmynews are aim to build a' world cittizen report' platform. However,nowadays it onlylisted as 7,252in the ranking oftop sites on the web (Alexa ). It seems that there isa long way to goto reach its ambitiousgoal. First is the language barrier, and thenis how toinspire upmore ordinarypeople involving in theaction ofcitizen journalists worldwide.
Additionally, from 2003, Oh my news began to rely on advertising as their revenue. AlthoughOh Yeon-Ho emphasize thatearning money is important, the mostsignificant thing is the maintaining of its identity. Yet confronted with corporation interest, how to keep itsprinciple as 'people's news source' is a vital question.
In conclusion, more and more citizens are informed through the alternative news from Ohmynews, which normally contributed by citizens themselves. It initiates a revolution of journalism in favor of public interst.
Credibility of Online News
Most criteria of online news today is set up by professional journalists and media organization, who hold a view that believable, fairness, accurate and objective is the measures of credibility.However,these criteria seemed untenable because they are never considered the main consumer of online news. Actually, according toColeman (2007) 'News, as a civic resource, can never be independent form public propensitiesand aspirations'. Thus, the quality of the online news relies on how well journalists serve the public. And 'publictrust in the media will lose when they were imagined and approached in ways that ignored or devalued their everyday experience.' It can also explain thatthe rise ofcitizen journalists and social media sites, whichsourced from citizens' daily life.
Meanwhile,acknowledging the link between news and public expectations, Jonson and Kaya (2004) makes the significantaddress thatalbeit blog is opinionated and subjective, as long as the userregard theblog matching their own and adjusts to the style of reporting,they will judge it credible. Similarly, Richmond ( ) argues that the real question in a social media context is not whether content is good or bad, but whether it is relevant to the audience.
Traditional media argued that news consumers concerned about sources of information, currency, believability and other characteristicsare demand. Therefore, Iwillanalyzethe credibility of online news through two aspects, the credibility of technologies and credibility the sources and, in order to demonstrate the criterion of credibleonline news from audience perspective, and online newsaudiences' distinctive news-consumptions behavior.
The moreoneuse a kind of media, the morereliable one will evaluate it. (Jonson and Kaya). Thus, it is obvious thatpeople, who would like to spent most of the time online searching for newsrather thanother media, have regarded the Internetisone ofa credible channel toget access to the news.
Credibility of source ofnews
Although the credibility and qualityof newssource plays a fundamental role in traditional media, theyis notbeso importantfor computerusers to judge the trustworthiness of online news stories. As ainvestigation bySundar( ) indicatethat ‘Most online users receive "news" from various sources-electronic mail, like cyber-acquaintances, mailing form distribution lists, newsgroup postings, web sites, and a growing number of online news services.' Confronted withthose multiplicities of sources, it isimpossiblefor online users to remember 'which source supplied which pieces of information or news'.Moreoverreaders' liking for online stories as well as their judgment of newsworthiness are unaffected by sourcing', instead user expertise,understanding,demand for information, and the valuation of errors influencedits credibility. (Tseng and Fogg, 1999)
In short, the majority audience rarely questioned the reliability of online news, and their criterion of credible news is quite subjective and individually various according to their personal experience.
Online News Consumption Behavior
A large number of computer-users read online news haphazardly. An investigation done by Burton illustrated that web reader's stay ona website at a short period of time(Burton, 2004 cited in Thurman, 2007). These result parallel studies of Currn (), who states that confronted with abundance of digital information, consumer will scarce their attentionandoverwhelmed by the choice of web. Furthermore, because Internet is regarded as an unfiltered, primary source of information that not to be distrusted like the traditional news media.Most users will acceptthe information on the Internetimmediately (Newsswire, 1997), so they will become vulnerable facing with news that contained errors information.
Case study: A 'White Lie' or Deliberate Sensationalization
On July 19th 2007, an Netizen, named vera_19851118,disseminated an news ' The Most InhumanEventsI Have Ever Seen ââ‚¬"ASix-year-old Girlwas Cruelly Beaten by Her Step-mother' inthe Forum of Sina.com. (Sina.com is the largest Chinese-language infotainment web portal.[Wekipedia]). In this article, the author reported a girl living inShangrao,Jiangxi Province, named Hui, whose six vertebras was broken afterher step-mother's act of violence. Fromsome pictures attached in the article, the audiences could found Hui was vomiting blood, there are wounds and scars all over her body, and the citizens who want to see her crowded in the hospital.Furthermore, the article also revealed the complication of her family, the diagnosis of her condition, even how her cruel motherswatted he from the description of Hui herself. In addition, the author announced this news was sourced from local TV reports in Jiangxi Province.
Although Hui's step-mother asserted that she never hurt the girl and neither Hui's father nor her neighborhoods thought this crime has been done by the girl's her, the public still regard this as a domestic violence, and ascribed Hui's illness to her step-mother. Overnight, this news was acted as a special coverage, have been reported bynearly allof Chinese majoronline websites and forums, such asCCTV.com (China Central Television websites),Tianya, QQ.com, China.com.cn. Even vast amount of newspapers published this 'horrible crime'. It arise a heated topic among the whole society abouthow can we protected childrenagainst domestic violence and child abuse,and how to assist these victims.
In response, Charitable Union of Jangxi Provinceclaimed theywill donatemoney to this 'poor girl', even Chinese Women's federation addressed thatsomeassistance will be offered for Hui againstfamilyviolence. Moreover,alot of audiences taunted and insulted this step-mother; they called her vile names andrequired the police put her into jail.
However, on 24th July, pediatrician of Hui came forward and addressed the girl is affected with hemophilia instead of physical trauma,so her presented with bruises, petechiae. What is more, after a large amount of investigation, the local police officerstated that no evidence showed thatHui was beenbeat by step-mother, and she was innocent. Nevertheless, there arestill some comments insist on the opinion of former reports and doubted about the authority of this local police office.
In retrospect, itappears that the criminalturned to be the victim. Whilstwho is the real criminal behind the scenes? Who can be trusted indeed? Is it the person who publicize the news should be blamed? Or it is the sympathy and unreasoning impetuosity of the public lead to the pity of Hui's step-mother? Those questions will be discussed in my following article.
Linksamong Online News, Democracy, and Citizenship
Democracyoffers the possibility of online news, vise verse; citizens need online news to enhance democracy. Article 19 United Nations Declaration of Human Right acknowledged that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of opinion andexpression; this right includes...receive and impart information and idea though any media and regardless of frontiers.' In view of this, Buckingham (2004) held a view that news as indispensable source of information is anultimate guarantee of healthy democracy. Moreover, it has become ‘citizens primary means of access to the public sphere of political debate'. Without it, political power will be abused; citizenry would become apathetic andisolatedfrom others and the whole society.
Online newsprovideda good opportunity for 'knowledge sharing and long-term community building'. As Willson() considered democracy cannot be sustained without discussion and deliberation. In the online environment, citizens can engage in politic issues, decentralizeauthorities' power and equalize their right to advance democracy. (Coleman and Bumler 2009), they also added that politicians are longfor find ways of informing citizens, on this account, citizenscan play their part in making 'instrumentally rational and morally dutiful social choices',since more active participation by citizens in the policy process will result in better public policy .
The revolution of digital technology tends to empower citizens participate in political system directly and strengthen democratic engagement. According to Currah(2009) citizen enthusiastsspent most of the time online, who concern for community and public interest, are more knowledgeable than the average citizens. It appears that online users are more keen on political and are more likely to seek out information from the media than the general public. They are calling for justice and willing to engage in harmony society building.
Form the case of Hui, we can see that these netizen appeals to the awareness of children protection among the whole society, they also have a great influence for the agenda of government. Vera_19851118, who disseminate the news, is totally out of kindness, her or his action is attracting attentions from large amount of citizens, even some traditional media. In fact, this news was coved by a local TV first, and then it is the Internet that spread it within the notion. It is seems that online news is more powerful than some other forms of media, which can enhance public interest quickly and broadly. Furthermore, neither Vera_19851118 nor the public should be blamed; all of them are just participate in news contribution and involving the compassion of a poor girl.
The Essential of Media Literacy
Consumersconfronted with abewildering choice of information source online. Although it is admitted that online news is significant for people to realize their civic right and promote democracy. Besides, computer usersseldom questioned the Internet as a reliable medium to get access to information,it can never randomly draw a conclusion thatall the news online are infallibility.
The majority of online news is lively and timely, but some chaotic and fragmented information are still exited in the Internet. It is probable for some unsubstantiated gossip and rumors, which lacks appropriate verification or source attribution, been transmitted on the internet and spread widely(Sundar ). Correspondingly, some websites lacked professional editorial oversight and did not have social pressures to offer accurate and impartial information.Moreover, netizen who use pseudonyms may not bound by ethical and lack the standards of journalists training.
Take the case of Hui for example, this news have been report in the major news media, moreover, the pictures and videos as well as the description of the whole events seemed very convinced. Because in China, the step-mother always in accordance with cruel, so the public maintain that it is the girl's step-mother who made the crimes. However, the latter evidences showed she was treated unjustly, it is the public and media who should made apologize for her. Consequently, we can draw a conclusion that without critical thinking and fact-verification, we cannot simply follow the media and so called ‘common sense'.
Therefore, it is significant impotent for all computer users know how to select proper information among the flood of news. Social media expert Clay Shirky acknowledged that mistakes onlineseems to be corrected quickly when other users contradict this misinformation (citied in hui). Yet this does not go far enough, since a large number ofusers are exposed to the internet every day,especiallyfor children and youth. We cannot wait the correction of news until a lot of false information have greatly influence their daily life and numerous mistakes have been made by them. Finally, form the case of Hui, we can see that not only the Internet but also the authority of newspaper and TV showed be challenged. Therefore, appropriate news education is crucial beforenews consumption, and that is media literacy.
Media literacy, as Potter (2009) defined, is ‘a set of perspective that we actively use to expose ourselves to the media to interpret the meaning of the message we encounter.' Potter asserted that the public need cognitive, emotional, aesthetic and moral skills as well as information from the media and the real world to build they own knowledge structures.
With the development to media literacy among people, firstly, the public can cultivate their owntaste for a vast amount of media message. Secondly, people have the knowledge about 'how to program their own mental codes. Last but not the least, it allows people control over the media rather than been controlled (Potter, 2009). All of functions of media literacy are required for modern citizens facing with information overload. Otherwise the public may be confused by themselves about right and wrong, let build awareness of citizenship and create a democratic society.
According to a survey done by Jonson and kayain 2003, internet consumers may not heavy users of traditional media, so Jonson and kayaspeculated that because of their limited experience with traditional media, they were not well trained to judge which internet source are reliable. However, they also added ifinternet consumersspend more time online, and engage in more activities, that experience may help them judge which sites are credible and which ones are not. Similarity, Potter (2009) also put forward five strategies to make people literate with news content, like 'analyze the news perspective, search for context, develop alternative sources of information, be skeptical of public opinion and expose oneself to more news.' It is evident that both of them have a positive view on the future of media, and media literate requires us to search out a wide range of information and build our own knowledge structure, additionally, the whole society should cultivate such awareness with the help of professional journalists and government.
We should be aware that information is far away from news, and there is an obvious boundary between become informed and act knowledgeable. The professional journalism, the news organizations, the government as well as citizens themselves should collaborate together to built the credibility of the media.
As for the professional journalists and news organizations,although the development ofInternet change the traditional definition of journalism,as Internet makes it technologicallyeasily for websites to display content gathered from a wide variety of sources, most of which come fromcitizens who actthe role ofjournalists. Nevertheless, online publishersshould still help pubilic to cope with the fractured and fragmented sources of information, separate out facts form supposition, by build a framework of linksamong different news sources, providing rotes for readers to follow. Moreover, if turning to the webfor information, they should concern particularly as well as verify whether the given source could be trusted, especially where evidences were difficult to establish.
As for Government does have an important role to play both in safeguarding the accuracyof news publishing and in trainednot only informed but also knowledgeable citizenry, such as teaching of new forms of digital media literary and improving of data accessing for the public (Currah, 2009).
There are more than one billion people who suffer about 150 millionwebsites today.According to the predication of Coleman (2009) 'the future of the news industry lies with trusted aggregators rather than authoritative originators.' Actually, in order to fulfill this utopian dream, media literacy is crucial through the whole world. When a day that everyone in the world isbeing informed from news, and thinking critical with news, becoming knowledgeable by news, as well participate in news contribution to enhance the awareness of citizenship and democracy society, and then we need not doubted about the credibility of any forms of news anymore.