catch phrase in journalism today is "the defining moment." Simply
put, the phrase means how has a story or an event defined a
specific medium or brand name. For print journalism, the defining
moment may have been the Vietnam War or the Watergate investigation.
For radio news, the defining moment may have been the crash
of the Hindenburg or Edward R. Murrow's reports from London
and Buchenwald. For television news, the defining moment may
have been the assassination of JFK or the crash of the Challenger.
at NBC News, for example, the O.J. Simpson story and the emphasis
NBC placed on the events catapulted the network's news programming
into first place in the ratings.
Internet and the World Wide Web, pundits have rolled out a variety
of defining moments: Pierre Salinger's uneducated use of an
apparently bogus document from the Internet about the crash
of TWA 800, the public mourning over the death of Princess Diana,
the millions of hits on NASA's Web site during the Mars probe,
and the report of Web gossip columnist Matthew Drudge about
the Monica Lewinsky incident.
moment, however, does not necessary mean that the Internet and
the World Wide Web have obtained the power to establish a specific
agenda for the rest of the media and the public. Only the Mars
probe and the Lewinsky case come close to having a significant
impact on the issues of the day. In the Mars case, it was only
after the huge interest signified by the Web that other news
organizations prepared extended reports about the scientific
venture. The Drudge report clearly established an agenda for
reporting on the Lewinsky matter, primarily by alerting other
news agencies that Newsweek had decided NOT to print the story
about the alleged affair between the White House intern and
the Internet and the World Wide Web cannot set an agenda, primarily
because the audience remains small, and many online publications
depend on major brand names as the primary sources of information.
Therefore, the broadcast outlets and newspapers that operate
the Web sites still maintain control of the setting of the journalistic
agendas and the public debate. Still, online journalism stands
to dramatically alter the traditional role of the reporter and
editor. First, online journalism places far more power in the
hands of the user, allowing the reader to challenge the traditional
role of the publication as the gatekeeper of news and information.
The user can depend on the gatekeeper to select and filter the
news in the tradition manner, or the user can drill down to
the basic documents of a story. In short, the user can look
over the shoulder of the reporter by researching the original
documents and easily comparing one reporter's story with those
of others by scanning news publications throughout the country.
Archives also become easily accessible.
online journalism opens up new ways of storytelling, primarily
through the technical components of the new medium. Simply put,
online journalists can provide a variety of media--text, audio,
video, and photographs--unlike other media. Data searching provides
a means to access information unable in other media.
online journalism can provide outlets for nontraditional means
of news and information. As A.J. Leibling once said: "Freedom
of the press belongs to those who own one." The Internet enables
everyone who owns a computer to have his or her own printing
let's look at the audience for news and information on the Internet
and the World Wide Web. The audience provides the basis for
any journalistic enterprise. The larger the audience, the more
a publication can charge for advertising. The more profitable--in
most cases--the enterprise becomes. Even though most surveys
show an expanding audience for online journalism, the number
of users for news and information on the Internet remains small.
remains Americans' number one source of news, according to a
recent poll from Roper Starch Worldwide. When asked where they
usually get most of their news, 69 percent of adults cited television
versus 37 percent for newspapers, 14 percent for radio, 7 percent
from "other people" and 5 percent from magazines, the study
noted.1 Only 2 percent
of the general public mentioned on-line sources for news. Among
households that have Internet access, television was still the
top source of news (59 percent) with on-line services mentioned
by 15 percent.
do other people go on-line? The most important reason for one
in three people who use the Internet is to send electronic mail.
It is the most popular form of using the Internet. But nearly
as many use the Internet and the World Wide Web for research.
One in six is looking for specific news and information. One
in eight wants business and financial information. One in 12
goes to the Internet for hobbies and entertainment.2
clear division, however, is emerging for those online between
younger users and older users with respect to what they seek
on the Internet and how they use medium. Nearly seven out of
10 people think it is important to know what it in the news,
mainly those over the age of 50. That falls to four out of 10
for those under the age of 30, and only three out of 10 under
the age of 30 follow the news every day.3
segment of the `news of the future' audience does not have the
basic level of interest to be engaged with the news," says a
recent survey. And those who do are turning to the Internet
while the traditional readers of newspapers and viewers of television
news are growing increasingly older.
"The habit of picking up the daily newspaper religiously is
found only among those over 50," the survey also says. "Network
television news is joining newspapers as a medium for older
citizens.... TV network news may be in danger of becoming an
anachronism in the next century."4
do people want to know about?5
Crime stories interested all age groups in recent surveys, and
these reports received the highest rating among all age groups.
All groups have roughly the same interest in sports and science,
but after that the taste in news varies widely between those
under 50 and those over 50. Many media outlets cater to the
older audience. For example, less than two out of 10 of those
between 18 and 29 ranked local government news as important,
while more than three out of 10 of those over 50 ranked local
government as important. Those over 50 ranked health, local
government, religion, politics, and international news as important
far more often than those under 50. Younger people, particularly
those 18 to 29, showed greater interest in entertainment.
News Interests by Age
--Pew Research Center for The People & The Press
|2. Local community||35||28||36||39|
|5. Local government||24||14||22||32|
|6. Science & technology||20||19||20||19|
|8. Political news||16||10||13||22|
|9. International affairs||15||10||11||24|
|11. Consumer news||14||12||12||18|
|12. Business & finance||13||10||13||15|
|13. Famous people||13||16||10||15|
|14. Culture/the arts||10||9||9||11|
recent Gallup survey found that Internet use pervades almost
every aspect of the lives of people age 18 to 24 in contrast
to an older generation classified as 35- to- 54-year-olds.6
age group looks to the Web for many aspects of their private
and personal lives, including entertainment, socializing (via
online chat rooms), recreation, plus news and information.
found that 82 percent of 35- to 54-year-olds used the Internet
for news and information versus 65 percent of those in the 18
to 24 age group. By contrast, 75 percent of the younger group
turned to the Web for entertainment versus 45 percent of their
with two experts about what people expect from news services
and how effective Internet news services were. At Individual
Inc., a Boston-based news service with an estimated 400,000
readers, president and chief executive officer Michael Kolowich
sees some systematic guidelines for providers of news services.
want filtering. "It's defensive. Make sure I don't miss anything
important," he says. Newspapers generally do a relatively good
job at this requirement, while radio and television do not provide
enough specific information.
or the ability to search for data, is important. One day some
information may be unimportant, but the next month that story
may be critical to a decision. Newspapers have archives, but
they often are not immediately available to readers except via
expensive computer databases such as Lexis-Nexis.
"I put myself in the hands of someone else whom I trust," Kolowich
says. "I trust this editor or this news organization to inform
me or tell me what's important or entertain me. A gatekeeper
and a guide." All media can perform this function, depending
on the individual.
"Put me in a community that shares an interest," Kolowich says.
"Sales people almost inevitably use a general interest topic
as a conversation starter" such as the weather or a news story.
who oversaw most of Starwave's creations as senior vice president,
now heads ABC and Disney's cyberspace news and information
operation. "We can't replace Peter Jennings because people still
want the comfort of that image and that voice," Phillips says.
Neither can cyberspace replace the editorial quality of the
New York Times, he adds. "We can't do video as well as
TV, audio as well as radio, or images as well as magazines."
strength of digital journalism, he argues, is the ability to
integrate various media. The World Wide Web can provide news
stories, photographs, audio, and video. "This medium does a
reasonable job at everything," he says. In addition, the Web
can provide data that are searchable and immediately available.
Phillips sees digital news and information taking away reading
time from newspapers and viewing time from television. More
important, however, is that the World Wide Web can reach users
at work, a place where few have access to a newspaper or a television.
"We are already expanding the reach of media into the workplace
in a way the media were unable to do before."
a look at how one newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, has put together
its digital publication. The Tribune is one of the few newspapers
in the country that has reporters who work exclusively for the
Internet edition. The reporters write stories, take pictures,
operate video cameras, and create digital pages. The Tribune
Internet edition, which debuted in March 1996, contains most
of the information from the print version--news, sports, job
listings, real estate and automobile advertisements, weather,
stocks, and television listings. For its readers, the Internet
edition offers in-depth stories, special technology reports,
games, discussion groups, and everything someone would ever
want to know about the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Bulls.
The Internet edition also provides audio interviews and information
from the company's radio station, and video from the Tribune's
24-hour-a-day news service, Chicagoland Television.
Tribune is one of a growing number of commercial on-line newspapers
in the United States, which stood at nearly 1,300 in April 1997.7 Of these newspapers, four out of 10 are specialty
publications that concentrate on subjects such as business.
Three out of 10 deliver a full range of news on a daily basis.
One in 10 is a non-daily publication, and about the same number
offer only limited services, meaning that the publications do
not update stories as frequently as the printed newspapers or
provide a limited range of stories. Slightly less than one in
10 are promotional sites with no regularly updated news.
past 20 years, Tom Cekay has been what's known as a "gatekeeper,"
a critical role in the way a medium sets agendas. That means
Cekay is an editor who determines what gets through the "gate"
into the newspaper for the reader to see. For years, the gatekeeper
has been one of the most powerful people in the media, highlighting
particular stories, promoting trends, sorting the journalistic
wheat from the chaff, and some would argue restricting the flow
of information. Will that role change in the digital age?
role of the editor stays the same. Do the readers need to see
this? Is it intelligently done? Is it sophisticated reporting?
Is what the newspaper wants? So, in many respects, the role
of the editor is very much the same as the printed edition,"
says Cekay, who has worked for newspapers in Oregon, Ohio, and
research on journalistic gatekeepers began in 1949 when David
Manning White of Boston University persuaded a small city news
editor to keep all of the copy from the Associated Press, United
Press, and the International News Service from a one-week period.
The editor, who was given the name "Mr. Gates," agreed to provide
written explanations why he had selected or rejected items from
the newspaper. About one-third of the time, Gates rejected stories
because he did not think the story
was true. Two-thirds of the time, the editor rejected stories
because there was not enough space in the newspaper, or he had
already chosen similar stories for publication.8
The editor did allow that he had a few personal opinions that
could influence his decisions. "I have few prejudices, built-in
or otherwise, and there is little I can do about them. I dislike
Truman's economics, daylight saving time, and warm beer, but
I go ahead using stories on them and other matters if I feel
there is nothing more important to give space to. I am also
prejudiced against a publicity-seeking minority (Roman Catholics)
with headquarters in Rome, and I
don't help them a lot. As far as preferences are concerned,
I go for human interest stories in a big way. My other preferences
are for stories well-wrapped up and tailored to suit our needs."9
a second study showed that Mr. Gates made roughly the same decisions.
He used fewer human interest stories in 1966 than in 1949, but
the editor used more international stories. Asked
for his definition of news, Mr. Gates replied, "News is the
day by day report of events and personalities and comes in variety,
which should be presented, as much as possible in variety for
a balanced diet."10
found a set of factors that often determine what news gets into
the media. Cekay finds some--but not all--of the gatekeeper's
role applicable to digital journalism.
of threshold value. Events are more likely to pass
through the media gates if they are of great magnitude or
if they have recently increased in magnitude. Cekay says:
"That's one thing we do very well. When it's a major breaking
story, this is a perfect medium to put out a lot of information."
Cekay agrees that unexpected stories provide interesting material
for any medium, including a digital one.
values. Values of both the gatekeepers and their readership
can also influence selection.11
"I think news judgment is affected because you appreciate
the importance of a story. If you had a serious illness, you
realize how people are affected by it. If you're 24, you may
not appreciate that people have to deal with things like that.
If it's model rocketry, you know there are people out there
who care about model rocketry. Otherwise, you're taking your
intelligence out of the mix."
If an event or news story passes through the media gate once,
it is likely that it will pass through the gate again. Cekay
agrees: "That's why it's important to think about what you
do the first time."
proximity or relevance. The media are most likely
to accept news events that have close cultural relevance for
the audience. "I want to be very careful about creating a
self-fulfilling prophecy where we are saying what the people
say they want and in doing so we become an exclusive site
that is not for the public at large. I want to make sure we're
not narrowcasting. I want to make certain my mother is interested
in what we put on this site, and my little boy is interested
in what we put on this site. And I want to make sure my neighbor
does and the guy on the other side of the state who's a farmer."
are the elements that Cekay said he believes do not apply to
span. Events that coincide within the time frame of
publication are more likely to pass through media gates. Digital
journalism allows constant updates, so timing plays a limited
role in his decisions.
or lack of ambiguity. Events whose meaning is in doubt
are less likely to pass through media gates. Cekay thinks
this tenet plays virtually no role in digital or traditional
journalism. "I think that there are few things that are that
clear cut that we cover in the news business."
Events that are congruent with an expectation are most likely
to pass through media gates. "I am much more interested in
the unexpected," Cekay argues.
Because gatekeepers look at the day's news in its entirety,
some news items are selected merely because they contrast
with others. "I don't really worry about that," he observes.
digital journalism has not developed its own rules and procedures,
Cekay says, simply because the craft is too young. "I think
the instincts we follow are the instincts we learned at the
newspaper. I think we are very close to following those patterns,
which are tried and true and lead to a good package and a report.
But it's clear to me that as we grow with this, we're going
to have to stretch that model because we're dealing with a lot
more. This is just the infancy of this medium. Right now, we're
taking the old formula how do they do it in newspapers, how
do they do it in radio, and how do they do it in television."
advantage of this new medium is the ability to let the reader
into the process. "We can come up with conclusions on what we
see and intelligently report that to you," Cekay says. "What's
even better is we can say we're so sure that we are interpreting
the news in a fair, unbiased, and proper way that we feel confident
that we will give you all the documentation and you can check
us. You can see for yourself."
Tribune, computer consultant Leah Gentry forged the design of
the on-line edition. Gentry's passion is what she calls "nonlinear
story telling." What kind of journalist will make it in this
brave new world? The year 2000 conjures up an image of a cross
between Buck Rogers, Bob Woodward,
and Bill Gates. "Buckbobbill is a geek of the first order, who
each day intrepidly climbs aboard his spaceship, jets off to
probe the inner workings of the high command at Galactic Central,
and writes it up in HTML to file it via e-mail," Gentry says.12
"They (journalists) see his coming as either the downfall of
the free press or the heaven-sent salvation of a dying medium."
rejects this paradigm and insists that journalists must embrace
traditional news values. "The myth of the new media geek, who
has no formal print experience, and who writes computer code
in his sleep, scares off many who would otherwise aggressively
pursue an exciting new journalistic forum. If you examine the
evolution of journalistic mediums, then the Web becomes a much
less scary place. It took awhile for radio and TV journalists
to discover how to use the strengths of their particular media
to tell stories. On the Web, we have that same challenge."
non-linear storytelling? On the World Wide Web, you have the
ability to link from one computer page location to another.
Sometimes, stories must be broken into their component parts.
Sometimes, the same story must be told from several points of
view. That means the reporter may provide a smorgasbord of viewing
options. "Journalists who succeed in 2000 will do solid reporting,
careful editing, compelling writing, and visual storytelling,
using the latest tools available. They'll tell their stories
in whatever medium people use. But the tenets of the industry
will remain the same."
the 1996 Democratic convention in Chicago,reporter Darnell Little
conceived a historical tour of some of the 25 previous political
conventions in the city, starting with the one that nominated
Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Little, who received both a master's
degree in engineering and journalism from Northwestern, went
to the Chicago Historical Society to get a visual sense of how
to conduct a tour on the World Wide Web. "The idea was to take
people on a tour that was a virtual museum," he explains. There
were three parallel streams. There was a tour through six conventions,
a behind-the-scenes look at what was happening in Chicago at
the time, and archives and political cartoons. "The reporting
is the same as working for a standard newspaper--gathering the
information and talking to people. But you put it together and
write it are differently."
writing the story, Little designs a series of storyboards for
what each of the main pages will show--a practice used extensively
in the film, television, and advertising industries. The storyboard
contains an outline of a page's content, graphics, and computer
links to other stories. After Little reports a story, he then
follows his original storyboards--with adaptations--to make
certain that the reporting, photography, headlines, and navigation
make the stories easy for the reader to enjoy.
tends toward the storytelling of the Wall Street Journal feature
articles, which he says works well on the Web. The first page
uses an anecdotal lead to draw the reader into the story. The
second page broadens the story with the "nut graph"--the paragraph
that explains the main points of the story. The other pages
flow from these first two pages to allow the reader to follow
a variety of links that expand on each report.
is called "layering." Because a computer screen contains much
less space than the front page of a newspaper, the first layer
or page of a digital story contains a headline, a digital photograph,
and text that makes the user want to continue to the next layer.
The pages are usually less than 500 words with the option for
the reader with a click of a computer mouse to follow a highlighted
path set out on a guide. But you may want to follow another
path. You could read about the 1860 convention and want to learn
more about what was happening in Chicago during that period.
After searching through the archives of that time, you can proceed
to the next convention or even skip ahead to another convention.
The layers provide a logical way to proceed, but the layers
can also enable you to read the digital page in any order.
the story in chapters," Little says. "What works the best is
when you have a design on the Web that is the equivalent of
the layout of a magazine. Your eye and attention are focused
on one part, which is easily digestible, and it flows and leads
you into other parts."
Stephen Henderson noticed a story about the murder rates in
the city. He put together all the information about the murders--the
times, the neighborhood, the cause of death, and a variety of
other statistics. He designed a map of the city and allowed
every citizen to look for information about his or her neighborhood--again
with a click of the mouse rather than a visit to the records
office of the police precinct.
devised a database for each Chicago public school, allowing
a parent or student to determine how his or her school compares
with the rest of the city from spending to reading scores. "The
medium really shapes the writing. It makes you write shorter
and sharper," Henderson says. "When I worked on the city desk,
I would go do my story and I might assign a photographer. Then
I'd just pass the thing on. Somebody else edits it. Somebody
else copy edits it. Another person would read it and decide
whether it would go on page one. Someone would decide where
the photos would go. Here it's so much more important for me
to be there through the whole process, shaping the thing so
that it make sense in the medium."
Tribune and elsewhere, there are differences in how reporters
react to digital journalism and the future. Researchers have
found that reporters follow three different tracks concerning
their views about the use of computers in the newsroom. The
first group, called the "the benevolent revolutionary,"
is enthusiastic about new technologies. The second group, described
as " the nervous traditionalist," is not. A third group, known
as "the serene separatist," does not fear technology but sees
little impact on the role of the journalist.13
results are not exactly what you would expect. For example,
the so-called "revolutionaries" strongly supported the notion
that journalism "will depend on good writing, good interviewing,
and thoughtfulness." Among those described as "traditionalists,"
a 53-year-old editor interviewed for the survey said he finds
new technology "hardly intoxicating--more a pain in the ass
with the constant rush of forcing on journalists more than they
possibly need or can use." One traditionalist describes his
concern that new media will emphasize presentation over information.
"Writing is almost irrelevant now." Another reporter complains:
"As media become more dependent on high-tech inventions, speed,
I fear, will outweigh quality."
A key aspect
to setting any agenda is survival. Simply put, how will the
Tribune's new media operations make money? It's difficult to
pry much specific financial information from anyone. So far,
the Internet edition has cost several million dollars since
its inauguration. Owen Youngman, the director of interactive
media for the Tribune Corporation, seems like a high school
science teacher behind his glasses, and his nasal-dominated
cadence can put some people to sleep. But his zeal for the future
makes this son of an evangelical minister come alive. "My neighbor
on one side buys the Tribune because he's a stockbroker," Youngman
says. "My neighbor on the other side doesn't. Why? It's not
really fulfilling for someone with two kids in school in suburban
Chicago. She cares a lot more about what affects her kids. It's
not her fault. It's my fault."
has a specific business plan that he thinks will make the digital
operation a profit center after a few years. "The newspaper
business is really good at charging a token amount of money
for an expensive product. Fifty cents doesn't cover the paper
and ink, let alone the transportation, the gasoline," Youngman
says. People won't have to pay for items the newspaper wants
them to read; items people want to read may cost them. For example,
a report on the City Council won't cost a subscriber. A complete
year-by-year description of Michael Jordan's career may cost
metropolitan newspapers, about 40 percent of the budget goes
for gathering, writing, and editing the news. The other 60 percent
goes mainly for printing the news, marketing, and delivering
the paper to the subscribers. Many production costs could be
eliminated if the story on the computers of the reporters and
editors went directly to the computer of the subscribers. "I
could see a day rather than run those big old printers out there,"
says Youngman, pointing to the press room, "that if you want
the Tribune, I will buy you a laser printer and put it on your
kitchen table and deliver a highly customized version on paper
every day if you don't want to go on-line."
advertising--long a key revenue stream for newspapers--may abandon
printed publications. Simply put, information can be far more
easily found on line about the right job, apartment, or roommate
than in print. Just go to the classified ads of an on-line paper
and enter a search word like "engineer" or "bus driver." The
computer will provide a list of possible jobs by city, state,
or even nationwide within seconds. An apartment? Simply type
in number of bedrooms, square footage, location, and price range.
"Newspaper print classifieds are at their peak," a recent study
reports, "and from here on out we can expect to see growth slowed
each year as new competitors--fueled
by emerging new technologies--chip away at newspapers' long-held
lock on the classifieds business."14
In five years, newspaper classifieds may see no growth. That
would be have a dramatic impact because classified advertising
accounts for nearly 40 percent of a typical newspaper's revenue.
If revenues from classified advertising should fall by 25 per
cent, the industry's profits would drop from today's 15 per
cent to nine per cent. If revenues drop 50 per cent, the profit
margin for newspapers would be three per cent. That means a
number of printed newspapers would face serious cutbacks, and
some papers will go out of business.
can see a variety of defining moments lie ahead for online journalism.
Even though the expectations for this new medium remain high,
it remains to be seen whether the Internet can become a true
agenda setter in the years ahead.
1 "TV Remains Dominant News And
Product Information Source, New Poll Reveals." Roper Starch
Worldwide. 28 March 1998. <www.roper.com>. return
2 "TV News Viewership Declines."
Pew Research Center for The People & The Press. 13 May 1996.
3 "Profile of the American News
Consumer." Radio and Television News Directors Foundation. 1996.
4 Ibid., 24-25. return
5 Pew. return
6 "New Survey: Generation Gap
Online." Reuters. 23 March 1998. <www.reuters.com>. return
7 Eric Meyer. "Online Publishing
Continues to Grow Rapidly." NewsLink. April 1997. <www.newslink.org>.
8 Pamela Shoemaker. "Gatekeeping."
Sage Publications: Newbury Park,1991. return
9 Ibid., 46. return
10 Ibid., 11. return
11 Ibid., 52. return
12 Leah Gentry. "Buckbobill."
Newspaper Association of America. December 1996. <www.naa.org>.
13 Jane Singer. "Changes and
Consistencies: Newspaper Journalists Contemplate an Online Future."
Paper delivered at the Association of Education in Journalism
and Mass Communication. August 1996. return
14 Hoag Levins. Editor &
Publisher Interactive. "The Online Classified Reports New
Cyberspace Advertising Technologies To Impact Newspaper Revenues
in 3 Years." 21 November 1996. <www.mediainfo.com>