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«IRISH COMMUNICATIONS REVIEW VOL 9 2003 Brian Trench is a Online news and changing senior lecturer and Head of School in the models of journalism ...»

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RTE.ie is the online service of the national broadcaster, RTE (Radio Telefis Eireann), established in 1997. Having for some time used its site mainly as a means to promote radio and television programmes, with a news feed from its teletext service, R TE revamped its presentation of news on the Web from 1999 and has developed original content areas, notably Ace, an entertainment e-zine with multimedia content. Luke McManus, a producer with RTE Interactive and head of News Online, explained that the service grew as a result of strategies developed in-house rather than through user interaction. Features of the site were streamlined to facilitate perceived user demand but user demand did not dictate the site content, McManus said.

The site is now dominated by content emerging directly from the broadcast newsroom. The broadcast journalists are expected to file their stories to the Web as well as to their normal working medium – TV or radio - although this does not always happen. Breaking news stories still appear on TV or radio first. Because it was a young department within an established high-profile media company, R TE Interactive considered it important to build relationships in the traditional newsroom. “We decided early on that someone [from the online division] had to attend the news conferences.

There is a much better relationship now between news online and the main R TE newsroom just because of relationships building up between our journalists and the main newsroom journalists.” There have been a number of subject-specific discussion boards, which are considered to have been very successful, for example, one on the foot and mouth disease that affected Ireland in 2001. McManus reported that these services were very costly to provide to the standard the broadcaster expected. Consequently, they are not a regular part of the site although they proved to be very popular. “It was a really good use of Web technology. It was perfect, there was a huge uptake. But we didn’t have the resources to manage it properly. It was really well done but just too expensive.” IRISH COMMUNICATIONS REVIEW VOL 9 2003 Conclusions The case studies indicate the uneven commitment to innovation in Irish online news publishing, particularly as innovation applies to interactivity between producers and consumers. While each of the sites surveyed for the MUDIA case studies included some interactive features, the selection and implementation of these features varied considerably. The model of journalism to which those owning or managing the site subscribed appeared to be the strongest driver of how interactivity developed. Net-native sites responded to user demand for interactivity more explicitly than those whose owners or editors came from a traditional media background. However, the Net-native sites surveyed include one in which the most influential person applied a traditional journalism culture acquired from previous experience.

All the senior editorial representatives interviewed maintained that accuracy and reliability in news - the core features of traditional news reporting, at least as journalists understand it – were still the strongest factors in building user loyalty and meeting user demand. The majority of the sites surveyed implement a traditional news production model, reinforcing the role of the editor, sub-editor and other established production roles in online news provision. Most of those implementing a more user-orientated strategy see this strategy as an extension of the model of professional journalism rather than a reinvention. They are not attempting to rewrite the rules of journalism, they are simply allowing the relationship between the user and the producer to become more active and allowing this to inform and reinvigorate the content carried on the site.

Participation in the EU-funded JetPilot project (1998-99) demonstrated how difficult journalist organisations found it to adapt to the new practices and possibilities in the online environment. The lead author of this paper led workshops with journalists in Britain, Germany and Ireland that indicated widespread concern that many of those performing editorial tasks in Web news services lacked appropriate editorial training and, thus, needed guidance from experienced journalists. But they also showed that many established journalists and their representative organisations were weakly aware of the changes taking place and of their implications for professional practice.

The training and education institutions may not be filling that gap adequately. In circumstances of uncertainty in the industry and among the professionals, uncertainty also affects in-service training and pre-entry education, and journalism research. In a review of research about online journalism it was noted that most of it is conducted by media institutions rather than in a university context, and most of it is privately funded.

The authors of this review wondered if public institutions were finding it difficult to “react to the pace of changes in mass communication” (Kopper et al, 2000). This may well apply to journalism education as much as, or more than, to research.

The uncertainty affecting the definition of the research agenda is deepened by the serious methodological problems; in research on audiences and content, for example, difficult issues arise about measurement and sampling in the online sector. In relation to content analysis, it has been argued, the issue of representativeness is “greatly complicated” (Stempel, 2000).





There may be good reason, however, to embrace this uncertainty as a source of renewal of journalism studies and of media studies more broadly. It has been claimed that, by the end of the twentieth century, media studies “had entered a middle-aged stodgy period and wasn’t really sure what it could say about things any more. Thank goodness the Web came along … the area of new media is vibrant, exploding and developing, and nobody is certain of the best way to do things” (Gauntlett, 2000).

The adaptation required to realise the opportunities of the changed, and changing, media scene relates to the depth of prospective change as much as to the pace of current change. One writer has argued that received theoretical models such as gatekeeping and agenda-setting need to be reviewed in order to “synthesise a theoretical approach … that explores the role of journalism as a community builder” (Singer, 1998).

ARTICLES She concluded that “the issues raised by this new form of communication in general and journalism in particular invite us not only to make better use of what we already know but also to be open to new ways of asking those vital questions”.

Perhaps the most vital of these questions is one that traditional journalism theory has hardly asked: the question of relations between producers and users (and users who become producers). Textbooks of journalism are revealingly reticent on the role of the reader, or audience, presenting journalism as essentially one-way communication with weakly defined target groups. Discussions of the potential of online journalism, and the observable practice of Web news services such as the case studies presented here, throw this reticence into high relief. In this way, the experience of online journalism – including, and specifically, the uneven and uncertain experience to date in Ireland and elsewhere – has lessons for all of journalism.

References Bardoel, J. (1996) ‘Beyond Journalism: a profession between information society and civil society,’ European Journal of Communication, 11 (3): 283-302.

Black, J. (1998) ‘Journalism Nethics,’ Convergence, 4 (4):10-17.

Demers, F. (1996) ‘Impacts des nouvelles technologies de l’information et communication: déstructuration (et restructuration?) du journalisme,’ Technologies de l’Information et Société, 8 (1): 55-70

Gauntlett, D., ed. (2000) Web.Studies: rewiring media studies for the digital age, London:

Arnold.

Hall, J. (2001) Online Journalism – a critical primer, London: Pluto Press.

Hiscock, J. (2000) ‘Earl of URL’, The Guardian (9 October) Houston, F., (1999) ‘What I Saw in the Digital Sea’, Columbia Journalism Review (July/August) Houston, F. (2000) ‘Enjoy the Ride while it Lasts’, Columbia Journalism Review (July/August) International Labour Organisation (2000) ‘Symposium on Information Technologies in the Media and Entertainment Industries: Their Impact on Employment, Working Conditions and Labour-management Relations’, Background Document.

Katz, J. (1997) ‘Raging Old Farts’, posted at http://www.hotwired.com, reprinted in The Guardian (8 December) Katz, J. (2000) ‘Would You Ever Read a Newspaper Again?’, posted at http://www.slashdot.com (23 February), reprinted in The Irish Times (13 March) Kees, B. (1999) ‘Jon Katz: we still need journalism online’, posted at http://www.freedomforum.org (3 January) King, E. (1998) ‘Redefining Relationships: Interactivity between News Producers and Consumers’, Convergence, 4 (4): 26-32.

Kopper, Gerd, et al (2000) ‘Research Review: Online Journalism – a report on current and continuing research and major questions in the international discussion’, Journalism Studies, 1(3): 499-512.

Mackintosh, H. (2000) ‘The Revolution will not be Televised’, The Guardian (24 February) Negroponte, N. (1995) Being Digital, London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Pavlik, J. (1997) ‘The Future of Online Journalism: a Guide to Who’s Doing What’, Columbia Journalism Review (July/August)

Pavlik, J. (2000) ‘The Impact of Technology on Journalism’, Journalism Studies, 1 (2):

229-37.

Power, C. (1999) ‘Internet grabs headlines from traditional media’, The Irish Times (22 October) Preston, P. (2001) ‘Was the Web miracle cure actually poison?’, The Observer (25 March) Schudson, M. (1995) The Power of News, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Schultz, T. (1999) ‘Interactive Options in Online Journalism - a content analysis of 100 U.S. newspapers’, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 5(1), September 1999, posted at http://www.ascusc.org/jcmc Schultz, T. (2000) ‘Mass Media and the Concept of Interactivity: an Exploratory Study of Online Forums and Reader Email’, Media Culture and Society, 22: 205-21 Singer, J. (1998) ‘Online Journalists: foundations for research into their changing roles’, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 4 (1) (September), posted at http://www.ascusc.org/jcmc/vol4/issue1/singer.html IRISH COMMUNICATIONS REVIEW VOL 9 2003

Stempel, G. et al (2000) ‘The Internet Provides Both Opportunities and Challenges for Mass Communication Researchers’, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 77(3): 541-48 Yelvington, S. (1999) ‘What Every Editor Should Know about Online Reporting’, presentation to NetMedia conference, posted at http://www.yelvington.com

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