The development of online journalism presents a new challenge to news. As mentioned in the Style of News section, established news values are often adapted to suit the medium. The Internet is a interactive, dynamic medium that combines visual and textual elements in an environment that is virtually unrestricted by time and space. So what is happening to television and print news in the initial transition to the Internet?
In order to examine the transformation of news online, this project compares the and sites. Click on the MSNBC icon to see their site. If you would like to view the New York Times site, please open another browser to the URL "http://www.nytimes.com." Due to the site's design, the image explodes onto the full screen and does not allow the user to return to my site. There are also links to a few saved images scattered throughout the document, please note that these are not active links because of the constant updating of web sites. It is difficult to ensure that the same information will be available at a later date.
One of the largest differences between online journalism and news from the traditional print and broadcast mediums, is the readers' ability to define and redefine the structure of the news, which in turn alters the context.
For example, news can be retrieved from The New York Times On the Web in several different ways. The first is the same as in the print version, by labeled sections such as Business, Real Estate, and Politics. This style of retrieval encourages readers to associate the information only with the title it has been filed beneath. The information remains segregated like genres in literature, leaving news events unconnected. This is unlike the real world where, for example, politics and business are intertwined.
The on-line version of The New York Times also provides other less traditional ways of accessing the news. Articles are lumped into categories such as location (international, national, and metro) and general topics (e.g., science, arts, and sports). Although the sections and categories only vary slightly, the alternative construction does remove the information from one context and place it in another. For example, a New York Times on The Web reader could access Bruce Weber's article on the Kasparov vs. Deep Blue chess match either through metro or cybertimes links.
MSNBC also covers the chess match story. It can be retrieved from the front page or from the scitech section. If the reader chooses to access the article via the front page, the information takes on the quality of hard news associated with the front page. On the other hand, if a reader decides to look at the story in the context of the scitech or cybertimes sections, the slant becomes one of a technical nature. The choice of retrieval strategy changes the reader's relationship to the material, thus, the context of the article.
Retrieval strategies can further be enhanced by the internal search engines (MSNBC and New York Times) which allows readers to search for keywords. Readers are able to view the information outside the restraints of sections and reorganize the information for their own use. For example, if a reader is interested in the Whitewater hearings, they can enter the keyword "Whitewater" into the search engine and receive all the articles related to this topic whether they fall into the politics, business, or style sections. There are also internal links to related articles. One example, is the New York Times article on the Deep Blue/Kasparov chess match. The inclusion of supplemental articles helps the audience to see how other journalists view the news. They provide different viewpoints and place the information in an alternative context. This means the burden of interpreting the news is on the reader. Using the search engine or linking to related articles removes the boundaries that restrict the context of the news and allow readers to evaluate information outside of the paradigm dictated by the journalist, thus, reducing authorial control.
In addition to altering the context of news, the capabilities of the online medium minimize the differences that separate print and broadcast stories. As you may have noticed in looking at the MSNBC chess match article, the visual elements do not dominate the story. Since the online medium combines textual and visual elements, the narrative becomes important as well. Since the visual element is not the primary focus of the story, the angle is not skewed to suit one compelling photo or video. In fact, the text of the MSNBC story bares a strong resemblance to The New York Times article. The conversational tone that is common in broadcast news is eliminated in the online stories. In addition, although the Internet does have video capability, many users are not able to access it and the downloading time is still very slow. Therefore, quotes replace sound bites in television news online. While the use of visuals is lessened in online broadcast news, The New York Times site incorporates more visual elements than traditional print journalism. Many of the articles have photos and there are colorful advertisements on the majority of the pages. This is the result of the unlimited space that is not a luxury in print newspapers.
The nature of the Internet increases the value of timeliness. Due to production costs, print newspapers face severe time restrictions; once an edition is printed it cannot be updated until the next issue. Television is more flexible. News broadcasts are made at several times throughout the day and emergency updates can be made during regularly scheduled programming when dictated by the news. But online communication allows the news to be updated at a moments notice continually throughout the day without interrupting other communication. Both MSNBC and The New York Times sites utilize the dynamic capabilities and reorganize their sites to reflect the most timely news during the day.
In addition, The New York Times site supplies a link to breaking news that is updated every 10 minutes from the AP wires. This link may provide additional information related to static articles and change the reader's perspective of the news, as well as keeping the site more current than its print version.
AP is not the only outside link made from the MSNBC or The New York Times sites. There are links to advertisements, as well as relevant supplemental information. Traditional print newspapers and television broadcasts are self-enclosed entities that categorize information into dictated contexts. While they may make reference to other sources of information, they are unable to include these bodies of knowledge in their own product. The online version of The New York Times and MSNBC both send their readers to outside sources who present related information. Links to external sites permit readers to view the news through the eyes of another author and fill in any gaps they may see in the story with supplemental information. For example, look again at the chess story on the MSNBC site. Along the left hand side is a box of "chess sites" with supplemental information. Included among these links is the Grandmaster Technologies Incorporated site that presents background information on Deep Blue and the history of chess technology. a href="chess2.htm">The New York Times article also presents users with outside information from an advertising link to the IBM match coverage (unfortunately, you may not be able to view the link on the saved screen image, click on IBM to see the site). Allowing readers to temporarily leave the site in search of additional information reduces the amount of control journalists have over the audience. They must trust that the users will return.
While the function of online newspapers remains the same --to disseminate news to the public, the unlimited space available to online sites allows items that are less newsworthy to be included. These additional items tend to stress the traditional values of usefulness and proximity, as well as a new value, entertainment.
For example, The New York Times site includes forums and fun items such as trivia and photo exhibits.
The forums allow readers to contribute their own ideas to the site. They give minority opinions a voice in the media and expose the audience to ideas, values, and belief systems that may differ from their own. While the user may not choose to accept other users' views, they are forced to reevaluate their own set of beliefs and how the news fits in to them. Many of the forums are directly linked to the news articles, but the site also features forums on items of local interest or useful tips such as the best "eats" in New York. Since the New York Eats forum provides the New York community with helpful hints, it fulfills both the useful and proximity values. The forum also addresses an issue that directly affects the audience's lives as opposed to the Deep Blue/Kasparov chess match. The New York Times provides a list of questions and a host for each forum. Users can express their opinions and react to other points of view through e-mail. This service leads to a more interactive style of news dissemination and presents a variety of viewpoints from which the information can be evaluated. It also expands the boundaries that guard traditional news in order to include other useful items that have a more direct impact on the audience. However, since the questions are prescribed by the journalists, there is a limited amount of freedom enjoyed by readers.
The additional items such as trivia and photoessays further enhance the audience's experience and lend a playful element to the news. The trivia is primarily a diversion much like the well-known crossword puzzle. But much like the photoessay on Russia that provides the audience with a glimpse of another lifestyle, the information gained from these fun items can provide users with background for future articles.
The MSNBC site also provides playful items that help strengthen the public's general background knowledge. The popular culture dateline is one such example. While items such as Liz Taylor's marriages may seem like fun facts, they also provide helpful context for future articles.
The inclusion of these unusual items challenges the definition of news and places the traditional news in a new context. In fact, the additional information included in online news increases the knowledge of the public and the chances for the audience to place the news in a broader context.