One of the most exciting mediums to share news with the public today is now online news. One of the reasons why so many news organisations are creating an online presence is because of the Internet’s unique characteristics, writes Bridget Williamson in her academic paper for Journalism.co.za.
Bridget Williamson writes for Journalism.co.za:
One of the most exciting mediums to share news with the public today is now online news. Receiving news in this way, is also one of the most popular uses of the internet (Moore, 2002). Online news has also been described as being the future of news organisations (Sturgill et al, 2010). This is evident from examining different news organisations: they all have some sort of online presence. This applies to newspapers, magazines, radio, as well as, television.
Online news websites are increasingly becoming places of sociality and interactivity, it is a place where the public can form communities to discuss and debate topical issues that are covered in news stories (Diakopoulous & Naaman, 2011; Kayany, 1998). One of the reasons why so many news organisations are creating an online presence is because of the Internet’s unique characteristics, for instance, its interactivity (Folayan, 2004). This is what makes the internet different from other traditional mediums. The internet allows the audience to interact with the content a lot more, in the form of blogs, podcasts, videos, hyperlinks as well as a comment function.
There are many online news websites that have adopted such tools. An example of a South African website that has done well in adopting such interactive tools is News24. News24 makes use of videos on some stories as well as providing a blogging feature for the audience to submit their own content. News24 also provides a comment function for the audience to air their views on articles posted on News24. This comment function also allows users to share articles on other social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google +.
This interactivity has created a new role for the audience. The relationship between the news providers and the audience is no longer a one-way communication. The audience is able to interact with the content, they are able to share their opinions and make active choices in what type of content they would like to receive. Matheson (2004) states that the online environment has allowed for news that is unsatisfactory to be revised and renewed. This is because an “increasingly distrusting and alienated” audience has the power to give direct feedback to the news providers (Matheson, 2004). No longer does the audience just have to take what they get, they are able to directly give feedback to the journalists and news organisations about what they think about the content. If they are not happy with what they are getting they can complain. This keeps news organisations, and their journalists, on their toes. They need to constantly ensure that they are getting their facts right. The audience are now the watchdogs of the media, whereas in the past the media played the watchdog role of the public. Hong et al (2005) state that the new relationship between the news providers and receivers is creating a new era of journalism that needs to be understood in order to continue practising responsible journalism as well as maintaining a high standard.
MacGregor (2007) and Moore (2002) state that interactivity on the internet has allowed news providers to get more insight into their audience. News providers are able to track their audience and get a better picture of what they are interested in (MacGregor, 2007). This new form of communication between news providers and news consumers has been described as the ‘missing link’ in what journalism needs (MacGregor, 2007). Previously, the news providers may not have known what their audience really wanted and whether or not they were providing the content that the audience wanted. As there is now more contact between the audience and the news organisations the audience can say what they like and what they don’t like. This can be as simple as ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’ an article. The news providers will have a better understanding of whether they are making their audience happy. The news organisations are after all running a business, a business that needs to keep the audience happy in order to keep on going.
With the large diversity of content online, there is a great deal more choices for the audience. They have many different options of where they can go to receive the news that they want. Therefore it shows how important it is for the news organisations to make sure that they are providing their audience with what they want, as it is very easy for the audience to go somewhere else. This puts a lot more power in the hands of the audience.
Karlsson and Stromback (2010) state that interactivity opens up the possibility of having co-created online news content. It can therefore at times blur the lines between the creator and the consumer of online news content. Co-created online news content can refer to citizen journalism. This is when ordinary citizens send in content that the news organisations use. Such as photographs, videos or their eye-witness accounts of news stories.
How News24 works
News24 has a feature called MyNews24. MyNews24 allows for the audience to publish their own articles as well as photographs. This feature on News24 seems to be very popular, with several articles and photographs being uploaded every day.
The use of interactive features help to encourage audience participation promote an informed public, which is one of the traditional responsibilities of journalism. There are a great deal of political discussions on MyNews24 among the users. There have been several articles that have sparked great debate among the users, particularly surrounding racial issues.
One particular article that caused an uproar in the virtual world was titles How Mandela sold out blacks by a user who called himself/herself Youngster published on 17 July 2012. This article received over a 1000 comments, over 110 000 views. It also stirred up the twittisphere with much debate. Another MyNews24user, Veronica Cho, then wrote an article in reply to this article titled Dear Team “How Mandela sold out blacks”. This type of debate has its ups and downs. This particular example was responded to with a few very strong opinions – some helpful, some ridiculous and some harmful and offensive.
Not only on the MyNews24 section but also in their news articles. There is a vast diversity of opinions expressed through the comment function. The commenters often form their own conversation with each other. They debate issues. This can be seen as a healthy activity in a functioning democracy. Race, politics and societal problems are often the most popular topics among commenters.
There are, however, a few problems that come with this freedom. As with most good things, there are always some who take things too far and cause trouble. These trouble makers are called ‘trolls’ in the online commenting world. These ‘trolls’ post inappropriate comments online purely to cause havoc amongst the other commenters. There are many of these ‘trolls’ on News24 who comment on articles with bigoted, rude and offensive comments.
It becomes the responsibility of the media organisations to make sure that this ‘trolling’ does not get out of hand. One way to do this is to try as much as they can to take away anonymity of the commenters.
News24 has tried to do this by requiring all commenters to log in via their Facebook profile to comment on any News24 article. Their comment is then linked to their Facebook profile which removes their anonymity. To bypass this, however, some users have created fake Facebook profiles and go on commenting as they please as they are still anonymous.
It then comes down to some sort of moderation on the comments. News24 has a moderation system whereby users are encouraged to report a comment that they feel is inappropriate. An inappropriate comment could include racism, homophobia, blasphemy, sexism, violence, hatred, or any other offensive remarks. If a comment is reported then the editors at News24 will have a look at this comment and decide whether it should be deleted or not.
While freedom of expression is very important, the internet allows an inordinate amount of freedom. But it is still important to remain responsible. News organisations have to keep up their reputation, while practising ethical and responsible journalism. They need to know what is happening on their website and keep all the comments and citizen journalist articles appropriate. There will be times when it is good to have comments that will create a stir, however there should be a line drawn around what is acceptable and what is not.
News organisations need to have clear policies on what interactive tools they would like to make use of and how so. News providers should carefully select which tools to make use of and when. There are times where less is more. Just because these tools are available, it does not mean that they must all be used. News24 makes good use of interactive tools, in my view. They allow their users to participate in various ways on the website with a certain amount of freedom.
The audiences need to accept their new role as content contributors, media watchdogs, moderators and commenters. They are now more involved in the news creation process and must make use of the interactive tools while not taking advantage of their new found power. The good part is that they are the missing link in journalism.
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