Porting their daily content over to the Web meant that they could meet our need for immediacy and portability, and as the name denotes, the World Wide Web is accessible worldwide which means that regardless of the location we are at, we can access content that was previously only available locally. We no longer have to be on location in order to buy a newspaper and read news from a particular area or region; we can access it online.In the same way that TV changed to meet our demands, by moulding itself around us, we can choose what types of news we want to read, and which we don’t want to, by selecting the filters provided in some of the news sites available. Newspapers now need headlines that have a newsstand appeal, whilst the online version can be updated throughout the day and refreshed as many times as necessary. “The digital age journalist has to become a specialist who knows how to search for information on the Web and turn it into news” (Herbert, 2000: p. 3).Gone are the days of spreadsheets and heavy word processing, as the Internet provides journalists with endless possibilities for research, from different news sources, to highly customizable search strategies.
This is particularly useful when publishing digitally, as the turnaround times need to be shortened in order to meet demands, however, facts must be checked and verified, as the Internet is open to anyone, and they can write just about anything. Social networks are another important source of information, as people tweet anything they have seen or heard hroughout the day, sometimes even rumours, and journalists are challenged by the immediacy in which information is exchanged online, and its accuracy or veracity. The Web presents a different approach to issues in which there are no strict regulations, making it more malleable and prone to speculation, whilst the press is regulated (PCC, NUJ), and this presents different challenges. An example of one of these challenges was the famous super injunction case between the footballer Ryan Giggs and a reality TV star, barring the press from taking this to the headlines and online, and gagging the TV star from talking to the press.Initially, The Sun published some of the super injunction stories, omitting the details that they were not allowed to disclose, with stories including several celebrities, and details of their sexual escapades. Other newspapers followed on this and cleverly presented it to the public, giving us an idea of what was happening, without disclosing too much information. In the meantime, the blogosphere was awash with rumours, and names were being exchanged throughout different sites.
It wasn’t until a user called “Billy Jones” (Jones, 2011) named the footballer through Twitter (among many other celebrities who had taken out super injunctions) that the whole case fully took off in the press, making it one of the most talked about topics of 2011, mainly with the press questioning freedom of speech, and later developing into a more serious discussion over a “two-track” legal system- one would be for the mainstream media and the other for social media. “Twitter leaks” have happened before, with anything ranging from leaked photos of products prior to their launch, to celebrity gossip.The super injunctions leaks were different; the Internet clearly had a lead over the press, as social networks propagate rumours and speculations, via status updates or re-tweeting. This, in turn, also makes it difficult to control, as we saw when the footballer decided to take legal action against Twitter (Telegraph, 2011); as so many people re-posted the story online it was difficult to find out where it actually started, and when this was eventually discovered to have been posted from an American twitter account, there was nothing that could have been done, as the gagging orders were only effective in the UK.Scottish newspaper The Sunday Herald printed a photo of the footballer in their front page, using the word ‘censored’ to cover part of his face, proving once again that by not being in England they were not under the injunction (Hill, 2011). Also, taking legal action against Twitter would have meant taking legal action against everyone that reposted the story, which would prove to be rather difficult. But could this have been a carefully orchestrated manoeuvre by the press to indirectly expose the people involved?Maybe, since the press are not allowed to talk or write about it, they might have to resort to different strategies.
In an echo of Jeff Jarvis’s words “Give the people control and we will use it” (Jarvis, 2009: p. 11), we can see that by exposing the story to the public and at the same time making it sound taboo, it will encourage people to speculate about it, and take the debate online, where things can very easily go viral. With the arrival of the Internet we also have a new community of readers, who like to express their opinion in real time on a written article, given the option to do so.They can interact with the journalist who wrote it, comment, argue their point of view, and sometimes even insult. Journalists now have to take these factors into account when writing an article online, and perhaps one of the best examples of this would be the article of the Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir about Stephen Gately’s death, entitled “Why there was nothing ‘natural’ about Stephen Gately’s death” (Moir, 2009). The article was considered offensive and homophobic, and very poorly timed as it was published in the eve of his funeral.Readers took to the social networking sites to debate it, organized a campaign against the columnist, and spread links to the article over several Websites.
This resulted in over 22. 000 complaints before the PCC website crashed due to heavy traffic, and some advertisers demanded that their ads and campaigns were removed from the newspaper’s webpage. The headline was later changed to “A strange, lonely and troubling death” for the print edition, but the comments online kept coming in strong and demanded for the columnist to be held accountable for what was written, and questioning her journalistic skills.This is, perhaps, one of the best examples of how the social media, along with digital publishing, allowed for the public to express their opinion and protest against the column. Such a fast turnaround would have been impossible without the technology we have nowadays, and underestimating it is not an option, which was probably what Jan Moir did. Another point to consider would be the sales of print edition newspapers. As content is free and easily obtainable anywhere on the web, newspaper sales have declined and jobs are at risk.
Newspapers now have fewer staff, and one glance at a daily edition can tell us that the same writer is doing several pieces on different subjects. This, in turn, may have an impact on the overall quality of the printed content, as writers are going outside their comfort zone. On the other hand, online sales and content subscriptions have gone up an estimated 47% year on year, according to information released by ABC, and the daily average browsers for some of the online editions surpasses the 5 million figure (Sweeney, 2012).The advances in technology have turned us all into the occasional reporter; even if we don’t want to be a reporter, we might at times act like one. The July 7th bombings were a clear example of citizen journalism, where photos from amateurs taken with their mobile phones were published and even televised, giving us an insight into the full horror of the situation. Journalism has indeed changed, and it’s still adapting to the latest technological advances. In fact, the same thing is happening to television, where we can see that content can now be accessed on many platforms.
The Internet has taken away the need for local presence and unified content in a way to suit our daily needs, making it practical and allowing it to be personalised. Journalists can now have near real time feedback on their articles, as the public takes full advantage of the comments section, or social networking sites, enhancing the statement “facts are sacred, comment is free” (Scott, 1921). But this interaction comes at a price, as the public opinion is now seen to be of a greater importance than ever before, sometimes even overshadowing the opinion of the journalists.Journalists can still express their opinion on any subject, but the consequences will be almost immediate should anything go against the public opinion, as we have seen in the Jan Moir example above. Freedom of speech is a factor that online users prize the most, and, on the contrary to the press, there isn’t a regulatory body watching over them. When these are threatened, people are quick to respond, as we can see in the Ryan Giggs case, where people repeatedly named the footballer and spiralled the whole issue into an online battle.Job cuts and a decline in sales on the print editions are also another consequence of the digital age, as people are increasingly looking for free online content, but journalism will continue one way or another, whether it’s an amateur, a professional, or an “occasional reporter” with a camera phone.
In the same way that the fax and the pager were replaced, or several media formats now obsolete (Betacam, VHS), the newspapers are now moving towards a different delivery method, and we can see that with the increase in news Apps, for different smartphones or tablet computers.