The article 'Paper Routes: The Geography of News in Digital Times' by Mike Gasher is an evaluation of the position of the Internet in the world of media today. He argues that the Internet has not only separated the message from the messenger, but has also made it important for people to do a serious consideration of what is 'new' and what is 'news'. He has established in his paper that online publishing is not just a revolution but an evolution of print media that has left the former methods of print journalism far behind never to be embraced again in the current age of globalization and technology. Online publishing has redefined the relationship between the reader and the news in a manner where the geographic boundaries of readership have been altered dramatically. Online publishing has the power to pull in a readership of millions of people to its single paper of a single days and this has been an unimaginable feat for the print media. Online journalism and news publishing has also increased the monopoly of those news sources that enjoy the hierarchy of the media spotlight by giving a greater number of people around the world news that they enjoy reading. This also contains news that these sources want the people to read. This is evidenced by the fact that while they G7 countries such as U.S, Britain, Canada, France, Japan, Italy, and Germany contain less than 10 percent of the world population, their news media controls 90 percent of the transcontinental news flows through agencies such as the Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France Presse. This is nothing short of an evolution of the print media and even though it is creating huge knowledge gaps and publishing temporally, round the clock, rather than spatially, around the world, the Internet is here to stay as an evolution of the print media.
How can on-line journalism be placed in the evolution of print, and in the evolution of the functions of the media?
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When trying to evaluate the position of online journalism as an evolution of the traditional print media, it is first important to understand what exactly are the composites of online journalism. Simply saying that online journalism is the news and information that is shared by millions of users on the Internet which is connected by computers is considered to be too limiting a definition of online journalism if its evolution is to be evaluated. In order to really understand the true nature of online journalism it is necessary to understand the reality of modern day news offerings and the potential that is held within the organization of news and information on the web. In reality despite having the news aspects of interactivity, multimedia, and searchability, online journalism needs to contain at its core all the tried and tested values of journalism including fairness, accuracy, sourcing, transparency, community, and independence. Despite being distributed to millions of readers at the touch of a button, online journalism still needs to contain all the old and traditional values of organizing, writing, reporting, and synthesizing news. So then one might ask what is the evolutionary aspect of online journalism in the print media? The evolutionary aspect of online journalism in the print media lies in its power to reach millions more readers continually around the world, its power to influence with news that is controlled and maintained by hierarchal news agencies, and within the manner in which publishes spatially rather than globally (Kolodzy, 2006).
During the initial years of online publishing, it was the major stories that laid the foundations of online journalism and it was a time when the common opinion was that online journalism is a revolution and not an evolution of the print media. Some of the major stories covered included the 1994 San Francisco earthquake, the Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, and the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal on the 'Drudge Report'. The story by the 'Drudge Report' turned the site into a household name and laid one of the major foundation blocks of online reporting and readership of news on the Internet. It also proved that by gaining the readership that it did on such a massive global scale, online print media was not just a revolution in online journalism but an actual evolution in which there would be no going back (McNair, 2009). Today the manner in which news is being transmitted online has completely replaced the traditional functions of the news and other media. In his paper even though Mike Gasher talks about the geographical limitations of dissemination of news through the Internet, he however accepts the fact that the Internet and online journalism is the next evolutionary step of the print media (Pavlik, 2001).
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Even if one was to present the argument that the nature of news in the traditional print media flows more formerly along the lines prescribed for absolute journalism and hence online journalism could not be considered an actual evolution of print, it still cannot be doubted that the greater technological advancements in online journalism where news is disseminated to millions continually with a touch of a button does indeed make it an evolution and not just a revolution. The number of people who get their news from online sources today transcends 359 million. Online journalism also offers far more advantages to its users as compared to the traditional print media. The mobility that is offers can be compared to the speed of light and news is also updated and accessed simultaneously by all users. The greater ease of accessibility in online journalism is serving to engage even those readers who were never before interested in getting their news online. This huge patron involvement is evaluated by John Pavlik in his book 'Journalism and New Media' thus, 'Some of us envision a kind of news that, as it upholds the highest journalistic standards, will allow news consumers to understand the meaning of the day's events in a personalized context that makes better sense to them than traditional media do now' . The personalized connection that online journalism offers to its users lies in the manner in which its interactive, customizable, and on-demand features gives the users greater mobility with their time. They also have never before envisioned options with the combination of texts, moving pictures, images, and sounds which makes news more interesting than ever before. They can also build communities of patrons on the Internet who share similar concerns, interests, and outlooks. In short, the manner in which online journalism offers a greater and deeper texture, context, and depth to news presentation in terms of reporting and news dissemination than any other news media before is not just a revolution but a true evolution of the print media (Pavlik, 2001).
The online journalism evolution can also be proven by the statistics on the extraordinary surge in the number of journalists, newspapers, and readers who are accessing online journalism sources. A Middleberg/Ross study of 1998 titled 'Media in Cyberspace' showed that among a number of other trends of online publishing was the fact that over half of the journalists in the study claimed to use the Web as the main form of news distribution. Fifty-five percent of the publications of these journalists were online in 1998 and this was an increase of 25 percent from the number reported in 1995. With this rate of growth it can easily be imagined what these figures are like at present time. Also even at that time only a slight 9 percent of the journalists in the study had said that their publications had no plans to go online at all. Not only has there been a tremendous surge in the number of news patrons of online news and journalism sources but also a great increase in the original news that is used by all the online distribution channels. The amount of news lifted directly from print sources has seen a continual decline while there has been an increase in the original news that is created specifically for online media and journalism sources. In 1996 there were only 7 percent news papers online that claimed that half of the news content on their site was original and not lifted from the print versions. In 2001 the number of news sites with original content had gone up to 20 percent. Similarly the original content for online magazine editions was nearly 50 percent for 48 percent of the online versions of the print magazine and this number has shot up from just 17 percent in 1998 (Pavlik, 2001).
It is also the view of many researchers that online journalism is not simply an evolution of the existing form of media just the creation of a whole new form of media. According to Samoriski (2002) this new form of media has the complete potential to transform the existing media and therefore can be considered to be a step further than just 'evolution'. Perhaps even more importantly in this evolutionary and new process is the fact that this new media and form of journalism not only creates a destabilizing effect on all the existing forms of media but that all the traditional forms of media are actually showing a tendency to embrace this trend. This is the main reason why online journalism has been embraced so swiftly globally in the area of media where everyone now has or is quickly seeking a Web presence as more and more patrons seek their news and information online than in print. If there had been a less keen tendency of the traditional print media to adopt this new online publication wave of print journalism, there would not have been such a sharp rise in the number of publications going online nor a greater amount of original content that is created for these online sources. In the words of Samoriski where he uses the example of the television to explain this interest, '....the development of television brought on change in movie newsreels and, ultimately, their disappearance in theatres. However it is also common for new media to complement and benefit existing outlets' (Samoriski, 2002) (Bidgoli, 2004).
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To surmise it can easily be established that online journalism is not just a revolution but an evolutionary form of both the print media and of the functions of the media altogether. This new form has brought with it a change that cannot be deemed temporary in any way but of a permanent nature that will continue to evolve and refine with the passage of time and with new technological advancements. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. writes, 'In traditional societies, where change was imperceptible and each generation lives as its parents and grandparents had lived before it, the passage of generations made little difference. But, with the acceleration in the velocity of history, new generations began to undergo novel experiences and thereby to achieve distinctive outlooks' (Merritt, McCombs, 2004).
The 'distinctive outlooks' that Schlesinger is referring can be applied to the outlooks that the general public has achieved for online journalism and the new and novel manner in which news has started to be obtained and perceived. All these new outlooks have in turn only been made possibly through the advent and growth of online journalism as the ultimate news and media source of the future. Hence there is little doubt that online journalism is the indeed the next evolutionary step in media and print journalism.
Kolodzy, J. (2006) Convergence Journalism: Writing and Reporting Across the News Media. Pp. 187 (Rowman and Littlefield, 2006).
McNair, B. (2009) News and Journalism in the UK. Pp. 139 (Taylor & Francis, 2009).
Pavlik, J. V. (2001) Journalism and New Media. Pp. 28 (Columbia University Press, 2001).
Bidgoli, H. (2004) The Internet Encyclopedia. Pp. 755 (John Wiley and Sons, 2004).