Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Digitizing the news

[Keyword: ]. I've just finished reading the excellent Digitizing the News: Innovation in Online Newspapers by Pablo Boczkowski, one of the best pieces of research into online journalism I've seen (with possibly one of the dullest covers).

Boczkowski spent time in the online newsrooms of three newspapers: the New York Times technology section; the Houston Chronicle's Virtual Voyager project; and New Jersey Online's Community Connection inititative. Whether by design or accident, the sample conveniently crosses three different types of online journalism - the transferrence of print to online; experiments in multimedia storytelling; and user-generated content.

Rather than adopt a strictly journalistic theoretical framework, Boczkowski draws on media theory, technology theory, and organisational theory to produce an analysis that steers refreshingly clear of the technological determinism that normally characterises writing on online journalism (e.g. the "citizen journalism will make all journalists redundant" hype).

In conclusion, Boczkowksi questions the assertion of Gieber (1964) that news "is what newspapermen [sic] make it":
"the news in the online environment is what those contributing to its production make it [...] at least two transformations appear to distinguish the production of new-media news from the typical case of print and broadcast media: the news seems to be shaped by a greater and more varied groups of actors, and this places a premium on the practices that coordinate productive activities across these groups. This, in turn, seems to influence the content and form of online news in three ways. The news moves from being mostly journalist-centred, communicated as a monologue, and primarily local, to also being increasingly audience-centred, part of multiple conversations, and micro-local.

"[...] studies of print and broadcast newsrooms ... have tended to focus on the work of editors and reporters ... it is reasonable to speculate that at least four additional groups of players may be having a growing degree of agency in new-media news production. First [...] two newsrooms, the online one and its traditional media counterpart [...] Second, advertising and marketing personnel [...] Third, technical and design personnel [...] Fourth ... users appear to shape what is seen as newsworthy, who gets to communicate about it, and how it gets covered.

"...Becker (1982) coined the expression "art world" to refer to "all the people whose activities are necessary to the production of [works of art]" Much as art is not only the product of artists, news in the online environment ... may be what emerges from "news worlds"" (p183-184)
A welcome contribution to the literature, and one we should be building on.

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