What is online journalism?

What is online journalism and why should we study it? Can’t anyone with access to a computer and the internet create a website and call themselves an online journalist?

The answers to these questions are at the centre of the biggest revolution in news since the invention of live television. Over the past ten years online news has gone from being an after-though in most newsrooms to the mainstream.

It is likely that these days more people in Canada get their news from Facebook than any other single source. And as viewers move online, advertisers follow them.

Free online services like Craigslist have meant traditional advertising sources like classified ads are nearly gone.  As a result most traditional news platforms such as newspapers and supper-hour newscasts are facing big financial challenges

And because website are cheap and easy to create, the online news has challenged the dominance of traditional media organizations, both in terms of revenue and audience.

Anyone with a computer and access to the internet and create a website and start posting.

So why do we need journalists online? Why can’t anyone just write and post the news?

What is news?

Many people think news just happens and reporters just tell you about it. But in this course we going to look at what news is and how it is researched and created.

In truth, news is created by the news industry, which takes the raw events of everyday life and captures using various tools and turns them into a story for mass consumption.

According to the Free Dictionary Online, news is:

  • a. Information about recent events or happenings, especially as reported by newspapers, periodicals, radio, or television.
  • b. A presentation of such information, as in a newspaper or on a newscast.

According to Wikipedia, news is:

  • the communication of selected information on current events. It is shared in various ways: among individuals and small groups (such as by word of mouth or newsletters); with wider audiences (such as by publishing, either in print or online, or broadcasting, such as on television or radio); or in ways that blend those traits.

These are good basic definitions, but  I would say they leave out some important elements that we expect in our news. Some of the important values that we expect to find in news are:

  • Answers basic questions – the six W’s – who, what, when, where, why and how.
  • Is reasonably objective and without strong bias or opinion.
  • Is accurate and informative.

Without these elements, news has much less value to us. And that’s why we train as journalists — so the public will trust us to give them the news.

But that points to another important element in news — the human element.

What is important to one person can be irrelevant to another. What is fair and balanced to one can seem biased to another.

As part of this course we will also look at how our own attitudes and interest can shape the way news is told.

What is online journalism?

When we talk about news these days, we often talk about the news platforms.

The traditional news platforms are newspapers, magazines, radio and television. They all use different tools to create news in different ways.

Online news uses the internet as a platform for the broadcast and distribution.

It is different from traditional newspaper and broadcast reporting in several ways:

  • It is not limited to a particular format. It can be written copy, video, audio, photos, slideshows or data visualizations and interactives.
  • There is no single deadline. It is always live now around the world to almost anyone at anytime.

Recognizing news

Most people recognize news when they see it, but how do we really know when we are looking at it?

Ask yourself, what do you look for when a link takes you through to an unfamiliar website, and how do you decide if it is a trustworthy news source?

Often we look for familiar elements, like:

  • Reporters’ names. Do I know and trust this reporter?
  • Brands like CNN, Vancouver Sun, and CBC.
  • Dates. Is it recent or up to date?
  • Sources. Are they provided for photographs and material.

What is a blog?

Another important distinction in online news is the difference between blogging and online news. There are three main differences.

The word blog comes from a combination of web and log. The idea is that you log your ideas on a single webpage, putting the most recent posts are at the top, giving them a simple reverse chronological order. As you scroll down the posts get older.

Blogs can be a part of a website, or all of a website, but they are usually the work of one individual or a small number of people with the same views.

Blogs are often the online version of being a newspaper columnist, and can often embrace personal opinions, rather than attempting to be objective. The writing style does not always separate opinions from facts, and they might not have the same amount of research backing up stories.

In comparison, on a news website, there is normally a homepage, with links to individual stories on their own pages, which might come from a range of contributors. Stories are presented in an objective manner, and when personal opinion is published, it is presented as such.

Take a look at these website and decide which ones are news, blogs or something in between. Which ones are are written by journalists you would trust?

Group 1

Group 2

Group 3

Group 4

Class Presentations

During the next four classes, everyone will have to do one quick online presentation about an interesting online news story they admire.

I’ll bring it up on the screen and you can tell us:

  • Why you like that particular story
  • What you think about the website in general
  • What are weaknesses of the website or the story.
  • Write down what you want to say.
  • You have 3 to 5 minutes max!!

About Mike Laanela

Mike Laanela is journalist, photographer and instructor based in Vancouver, B.C.
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