The Discussion of 'Online News Allows Us to Know More and TrustLess ?'
Online technology has been regardedas the source of informationsincethe beginning of the twenty-first century,with over800 million separate web pages serving approximately 200 million regular computer-users (Hall, 2001).Moreover, theamount of online news has risen at an exponential rate, with the circulation ofWeb 2.0,sincethis news technology is characterized by interactivity, social networking, user-focused and collaborative learningon the World Wide Web (Flew, 2008), more and morecommon peoplecan gather, create and share the information with anyone with a computer.
Nevertheless,does the information provided by online news allows people to become moreknowledgeable?Is the public more doubting more the credibility ofonline newsas it increases dramatically? As Keen argued, the implementation of Web 2.0 offered an expectation of 'bringing more truth to more people', but then he also underlined 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, nowadays itseems likeit is audiences who manifest the decisive rolein news control rather than traditional news organization(Newman, 2009).While it appears that the authority and crediblyofonline newsis often questionedby professional journalists and media organizations,seldom hasresearch analyzedonline newsfrom an audience perspective.
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This essay will try toillustrate that onthe one hand, with the help ofunprecedented growth of news provided by the websites, peoplearebecomingmore informed than ever before.And a vast amount of newsmay beessentialforcitizens torealize their civic rights and built the awareness of citizenship. On theother hand, the flourishing ofonline news has been contributed by informed citizen journalists, in large part,and they arelikely to rely on Internet to 'make speeches' or be heard.Moreover,this essaywill arguethat 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 online newsis reliable does not meanall of themare infallible. Therefore, active citizensshouldgetting more access to timely information through Internet,andcultivateskills and knowledgeto compare and distinguish 'theright and wrong' on-line. Meanwhile, it may acquire the endeavor from both professional journalism and democratic government to develop a higher media literacy among the whole society.
In addition, a number of questions related to online news will be discussed in this essay, such as whatmakesthemdifferentiated from 'traditional media news'? What is the relationship between'journalists' and 'audience' on-line? 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, citizenship as well as democracy? How should governments,journalism and citizens do in order to build the trustworthiness of online news? To further analyze those questions two relative cases: the success of Ohmynew, anda 'white lie' or deliberate sensationalization, will be discussed.
TheGrowth of Online News
24-hour news cycle
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,audiences transform from 'passive consumers' into ' active participators', who would like to engagein creating, verifyinganddisseminating news (Currah, 2009). Itappears that therise of news websites and 'news participator' results in the growth of online news.
Three Main Online News Websites
1. Mainstream news sites
Recently thousands ofonline TVs, online newspapers, and online broadcasts have mushroomedandcountlesstraditional mediahave set 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 had 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 andallowed them to know more about others opinion as well as the feedback of the writers, whichwas 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 (cited in Thurman, 2007), somore and more people would like to access those free news online instead of buying a newspaper.
2. Search engines
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
Currah (2009) addressed that Search engines 'have user-friendly graphical interface, the classification of stories, the ability to compare headlines from multiple news outlet worldwide'. Histhoughtfulanalysis revealedthe extraordinaryplace 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 Googlehave 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 andcreate content, as well asshareand reuse freely (Cree and Martin,2009). The prevalence ofsocial network websites is allied to the emergence ofWeb 2.0; therepresentative ofthem is online users-generated video, like YouTube, likemy space, Facebook, andonline encyclopedia like Wikipedia (Flew, 2008) a well as personal blogs.
It is probably that those socialnetwork websites have disclosed stories and contained thoughtful analysis of events thatwere neglected by the traditional mainstream media. The majority oftheir news consumers regard social network websitesas credible, as it is independent from corporation interest and government.According to Currah (2009), citizens nowadays want to be the 'co-producer' and 'co-distributor' of the news, they do not want to relay on journalist's interpretative summary any more, instead they want to act as 'citizen journalists' and publish their 'diverse opinion' as directly as possible. Consequently, they set up websites like Ohmynews,Indymedia to'receive anyone's voice' all over theworld.
To sum up, it seems that threecharacteristics of online newsmakes thempopular among the public. Firstly, online news is cost-effective andthe hyper linkingattached with in the websites offered acomprehensivebackgroundinformation for users, which contextualize the story and make iteasily understandable. 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 modelsprovidechances for more and 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 "playing 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 are equipped with a set of up-to-datetechnology like mobile phones, camera, and laptop to cover the events happening around them. Furthermore, an increasingnumber ofjournalists alsoseek outinformation and stories fromsocial media websiteshome and aboard (Jonson and Kaya, 2004), and they invest a large amount of money to stimulate audience to contribute their personal experience of major events. The video, photography and world of rapidly unfolding events reported by citizens 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). Why Ohmynews succeed and what threats it confronts will be discussed in the next part of this essay.
Case study: The success of Ohmynews
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',Ohmynewsinitiated common citizens into public news process and has a significantinfluencein Korea.Eventhe Guardian, one of the most famous British newspapers, described it as ' the words most domestically powerful news site'( The Guardian 2003, citied in Allan 2006)
‘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).'
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The success of Ohmynewsis attributed to three reasons. Firstly, it satisfied the needs of some knowledgeable citizens, who desire to know more news that was ignored by the mainstream media. Ohmynews offered ordinary citizen a new form ofnews reporting.Thus, an increasing number of ordinary peoplewere encouraged to act as 'citizen journalists', and engage in making 'their voiceto beheard'. In fact, ordinary citizens themselves are the main consumers, so theyknowbetterabout what the audience really want thansome professional journalists. The success of Ohmynews is a success of ordinary citizens.
Secondly, Ohmynews is a successfulnews website, 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 their most important tasks is fact-checking the news materials. Thus, it seems that the trustworthiness of Ohmynews result from the efforts of both citizens journalists and sophisticated editors.
Finally,theten preconditions, which have beenput forwardbyOh Yeon-Ho (the establisher and CEO of Ohmynews) to valuate user-generated news content, played anessential role toestablish its reputation. Among these,three assume importance;all the news published in Ohmynews should have the verity of material, its content shouldaim to meet the need of audience, instead of reporters, and content of the newsshould seek to affect the 'real world' withpositive contribution (Flew, 2008). 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, 2006) but consumers can still comment onthe news anonymously. In that case, the authenticity of the information can be guaranteed while the public can still voice freely.
Ohmynews hassucceeded remarkablyin 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 launched the English language version (http://english.ohmynews.com). It appears that Ohmynews aims to build a' world cittizen report' platform. However,nowadays it is onlylisted as 7,252in the ranking oftop sites on the web ( According to Alexa December,2009). It seems that there isa long way to goto reach its ambitiousgoal. First is the language barrier, and thenis how toinspiremore ordinarypeopleto engagein 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 corporate interest, how to keep itsprinciple as 'people's news source' is a vital question.
In conclusion, more and more citizens in Korea are informed through the alternative news provided by Ohmynews, which normally contributed by citizens themselves at the same time.Internet enhance the coverage of news among citizens,as well as initiates a revolution of journalism in favor of public interest.
Moreover, the collaboration between citizens and skilled
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 opinions fromconsumers 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 reason why the growth of citizen journalists and social media sites accelerate quickly,because they are sourced from citizens' daily life and satisfied consumers' expectation of news.
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 (cited in Newman, 2009) argues that the real question in a social media context is not the quality of the content, but whether it isrelated tothe audience.
Traditional media argued that news consumers concerned about the sources of information very much. Therefore, Iwillanalyzethe credibility of online news through two aspects, the credibility of technology and the credibilityof thesources, 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, 2004). Thus, it is obvious thatpeople, who would like to spent most of the time online searching for newsrather thanother media, have regarded the Internetisone ofthe credible channels toget access to the news.
Credibility of source ofnews
Although the credibility and qualityof newssource plays a fundamental role in traditional media, theyare notbeso importantfor computerusers to judge the trustworthiness of online news stories. As ainvestigation bySundar(1998) 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'.Therefore,readers' 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, cited in Abdulla, 2002)
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 Currah (2009), 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 —ASix-year-old Girlwas Cruelly Beaten by Her Step-mother' inthe Forum of Sina.com, one of the largest Chinese-language infotainment web portal. In this article, the author reported a girl, whose name was Hui, living inShangrao,Jiangxi Province. Her six vertebras were broken afterher step-mother's act of violence. Fromsome pictures attached in the article, the audiences could find Hui was vomiting blood, there are wounds and scars all over her body, and the citizens who wanted to see her crowding in the hospital.Furthermore, the article also revealed the complication of her family, the diagnosis of her condition, even from the description of Hui herself howcruelly her step-motherswatted her have been released. In addition, the author announced this news was sourced from the local TV reports in Jiangxi Province.
Although Hui's step-mother asserted that she had never hurt the girl, neither Hui's father nor her neighborhoods thought this crime has been done by her, the public still regarded this as a domestic violence, and ascribed Hui's illness to her step-mother. Overnight, this news was acted as a special coverage, and has been reported bynearly allof Chinese majoronline websites and forums, such asCCTV.com (China Central Television websites),Tianya, QQ.com, China.com.cn. Even a vast amount of newspapers published this 'horrible crime'.Alot of audiences taunted and insulted the step-mother; they called her vile names andrequired the police put her into jail.Thiseventsraised 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, Local police office announced that they will survey this issues exhaustively, Charitable Union of Jangxi Provinceclaimed that theywould donatemoney to this 'poor girl', even Chinese Women's federation addressed thatsomeassistance would be offered for Hui againstfamilyviolence.
However, on 24th July, pediatricians of Hui came forward and addressed the girl was 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 beenbeaten by her step-mother, and she was innocent. Nevertheless, there arestill some comments insisting 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 publicized the news thatshould be blamed? Or it is the sympathy and unreasoning impetuosity of the public which lead to the pity of Hui's step-mother? Those questions will be discussed subsequently.
Linksamong Online News, Democracy, and Citizenship
The development of deliberative democracyoffers citizens the opportunity to participate in news, and vice versa; citizens neednews to informas well asenhance deliberative democracy. Article 19 United Nations Declaration of Human Right acknowledged that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of opinion andexpression; this right includes...receiving and imparting information and idea though any media and regardless of frontiers (Birdsall, 1998).' In view of this, Buckingham (2000) held anopinion 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'. Thus, without news, political powertends to be abused, and citizenstendtobecome apathetic andisolatedfrom otherseven the whole society.
Online newsprovidesa good chance fortheexchange of knowledge and the forming of long-term community networking (Coleman and Blumler, 2009). Correspondingly, Wilson(2002)underlined without discussion and deliberation, democracy cannot be sustained. In the online environment, citizens can engage in political issues, decentralizeauthorities' power and equalize their right to advance democracy. (Coleman and Bumler 2009), they also added that politicians arelongingto findmeans 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 a better public policy.The case of A 'White Lie' or Deliberate Sensationalization demonstrate thatthe netizen built an invisible form of community, their comments and actions have drawn the authorities' attention, both government as well as social organization entered into the alliance of citizens, they took a set of steps to protect Huifrom domestic violence.
The revolution of digital technology tends tooffer a chance tocitizens that theycanparticipate in the political system directly, as well as strengthen their democratic engagement. According to Currah (2009) it is citizen enthusiastswho spent most of the time online compared with other consumer segments. Sincecitizen enthusiastsconcern more for community and public interest, they desire tosearchalternative newsfrom the wide range ofinformation on-line, which at the same time allow them comparatively moreinformation than the general public. Moreover, it appears thatcomputer 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 harmonious society building.
Form the case of A 'White Lie' or Deliberate Sensationalization, we can see thatnetizens' 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 hisappealhave attracted attentions from a 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 spreadthe newswithin the nation. Itseems that online news is more powerful thanother 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 Essentials of Media Literacy
Consumersconfronted with abewildering choice of information source online. Although ittends toadmit that peopleneed online news toenhance their civic right and promote deliberative democracy, and computer usersseldom question the Internet as a reliable medium to get access to information,it can never randomly draw a conclusion thatall the news online are infallible.
The majority of online news is lively and timely, but some chaotic and fragmented informationmay alsoexiston the Internet. It is possible for some unsubstantiated gossip and rumors, which lacksufficient verificationand source attribution,to betransmittedin the internet and widely spread(Sunder,1998). Correspondingly, some websites lack professional editorial supervision and do not have socialtensions to offer accurate and impartialnews (Finberg and Stone, 1996cited in Jonson and Kaya,2004).Moreover, netizens who use pseudonyms may not be bound by ethical codes of conduct and lack the standards of journalists' training.
Thecase of A 'White Lie' or Deliberate Sensationalization is an obviousexamplethatdemonstratedthe influence of faulty information to the public online. Since this news come from a major news media report, the pictures, videos and the description of this whole events publicized online seemedquite truthful, as well as the step-mother always been considered as cruel people in most Chinese opinion, themajority of peopledid not doubt theaccuracy of this news, instead they maintain that it is the girl's step-mothermade the crimes.Although the latter evidences showed she was treated unjustly, and it is the public and media who should made apologize for her, the harmsuffered bythis step-mother can not be compensated. 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 significantthat all computer users know how to selectand filter information among the flood of news.
Social media expertShirky (2009)acknowledged that as long as other Internet users contradict a faulty information, themistakes ofitseems to be quickly corrected(citied in Newman, 2009).Whereas this does not go far enough, sincea faulty news canspread out within a minute online, whilethe correction of news takes a long period of time,because it takes time for people to accept a counterfactualfact.Moreovera large number ofusers are exposed to the internet everyday,especiallyforlot of children and youth, theyareeasily distracted by the overwhelming number of misinformation in the internet. Sometimes,enormous negative influence of the misinformation have been made before the verification and correction of news.Furthermore, the case of A 'White Lie' or Deliberate Sensationalization showed the websites and some traditional media, like newspaper and TV, may release the identical news, an errors in the online news may lead to 'butterfly effect'.Thus, wherever the public gets access to the news,from theInternet or some authoritative newspaper and TV,thecultivationof newsliteracy is crucial for the public beforenews consumption.
Media literacy, as Potter (2009) defined, is ‘a set of perspectives that we actively use to expose ourselves to the media to interpret the meaning of the message we encounter.' Besides, Potter asserted that the public need 'cognitive, emotional, aesthetic and moral' skills as well as information from the media and the real world,in orderto build they own knowledge structures.Theexpansion of media literacy could at least bring three kinds ofadvantages: firstly,itassists citizens to cultivate owntastetoselect proper news amonga vast amount of information. Secondly,it offerscitizens the knowledge about how toutilize their own 'mental codes' to analyze news. Last but not the least, itentitlespeople the powerand control over the media rather than been controlled (Potter, 2009). All of thesefunctionsof media literacy are required for modern citizens faced with the overload of information, otherwise the public may be confused by themselveswhen judging 'the right and wrong' of information, let alone building awareness of citizenship and creating a democratic society.
According to a survey done by Jonson and Kayain 2004, internet consumersare not heavy users of traditional media, so Jonson and Kaya (2004)speculated that because internet consumers 'have limited experience with traditional media', theylackadequate skills and knowledgeto judge which source aretrustworthy or not in the internet. Additionally, they also addedthat the experiences,liketaking more timeon the Internetas well as participating in more online activities, maybe useful, toevaluate which websiteis credible and which one is not. Similarity, Potter (2009) also put forward five strategies for people to allow them tobecome literate with the content of news, like'developing alternative sources of information, be skeptical of public opinion and exposing oneself to more news.' Itsuggested that both of these authors mentioned above have a positive view on the future of media, and for the purpose of becoming more media literate, citizens need to search out a wide range ofnews from various kinds ofmedia in order to be informed,while buildingtheir own criticalperspective when readingnews.
Access to dramatically increased rage of online news erroneous information opportunities, risks encourage media literacy
We should be aware that information is far away from news, and there is an obvious boundary between becoming informed and acting knowledgeable. The professional journalism, the news organizations, the government as well as citizens themselves should collaborate together to built the credibility of the media.
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 building 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.
Government does have an important role to play both in safeguarding the accuracyof news publishing and in trainedingnot 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 prediction 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 throughout the whole world. Only when a day that everyone in the world isbeing informed from news, and thinking criticallyabout news, becoming knowledgeable by news, as well participating in news contribution to enhance the awareness of citizens and democracy , that we need not doubt about the credibility of any forms of news anymore.