#3: Adding Value

By | September 19, 2006

When I was asked to speak to an assembly of Hartford Courant summer interns recently about online journalism, I started my presentation with a question:

“Show of hands: How many of you subscribe to a daily newspaper?”

Not one hand went up. A second or two passed before a young woman spoke up. “I read the news online,” she said, matter-of-factly. Others nodded their heads in agreement.

Hardly a shocking revelation. Even college students who aim to become newspaper reporters and photographers do not subscribe to a daily newspaper. Why? Because they don’t have to. For these twenty-somethings and many others, the Internet has become the medium of choice for exchanging and consuming information, including news.

The web is easily accessible. Cost is cheap. The volume of news and information is unparalled. And the interactive elements of the web attract more and more users by reducing the distance between communicator and reader.

The 2001 essay, “Traditional News Media Online: An Examination of Added Values” by Nicholas W. Jankowski and Martine van Selm, discusses how electronic media are taking over the traditional functions of printed newspapers.

The traditional function of newspapers in society is to provide a forum for discussion and debate on issues of public concern, Jankowski and van Selm noted. Online news outlets are successfully luring readers to the electronic side with interactive widgets – a cache of “added values” that makes communication and participation easier.

The added values include:

  • hyperlinks to additional information sources,
  • discussion groups and online polls;
  • feedback to journalists and editors;
  • availability of archived news stories;
  • multimedia elements – integration of text, sound and video;
  • elimination of the traditional media newshole (no space restraints); and
  • updating and timely release of news stories (breaking news).

    But Jankowski and van Selm’s 2001 study also concluded that many online news outlets are not using these “added values” to their full potential.

    Their conclusion still holds true today. While talking with the Courant’s journalists-in-training this summer, I realized that none of them regarded the web as priority when writing and reporting their stories. These journalists of the future did not attempt to provide any “added value” elements with their print stories. Although these young people personally consumed their news solely online, the web was an afterthought, if thought of at all, while they worked as professional journalists.

    This may be a reflection of the priorities of the newspaper’s editors, or the students’ college professors, or the rigidity of journalism’s practices in general.

    The stubborness of the industry to fully embrace the web as another legitimate outlet for publication has made it difficult to renegotiate the standards of daily journalism. This has proved to be especially frustrating to me, a former print journalist, now working as a senior online producer for the newspaper.

    By making added value elements a priority online, “journalists will do a better job, content will increase and improve, readers will become better informed and active in their news processing habits,” Jankowski and van Selm observed.

    Another study, conducted in 1997 by Sheizaf Rafaeli and Fay Sudweeks, surmised that if an online information site had little interactivity, it was not likely to garner a stable audience.

    “Individuals may come, but they will not tarry. While less interactive groups may be or even grow, they may be doomed to a rotating-door, shifting existence. In such groups there could be many who stop to visit, but few would be “netted” to stay because the content offerings are reactive at best. Interactive groups are more likely to sustain their memberships, and yield other desired outcomes, such as symmetry in contributions, creativity and productivity, agreement, humor, and sense of belonging.”

    Public participation in the gathering, consumption and discussion of news content online is also a boon for democracy. General interest online news sites can evolve into conversation leaders by providing citizens with range of material about important issues, and giving them a forum for debate. Online news sites can utilize added value elements to engage the public more than ever.

    “People should be exposed to materials they would not have chosen in advance,” wrote Cass R. Sunstein in the 2004 essay, “Democracy and Filtering.” “Unanticipated encounters, involving topics and points of view we have not sought out and perhaps find irritating are central to democracy and even to freedom itself.”

    Increased citizen engagement is an ideal to aspire to, both for the future of the traditional news media and the future of free society.

    I can’t say it enough. News organizations need to consistently use the tools and technologies of interactive communication to make the news gathering and delivery process more transparent, responsive and inclusive. Because if we don’t, someone else will.

    Citations:

  • Jankowski, N. & van Selm, M. (2001). Traditional news media online: an examination of added value. (pp. 375-392). Television News Research: Recent European Approaches and Findings. Berlin, Quintessence Publishing Co.
  • Rafaeli, S. and Sudweeks, F. (1997). Networked interactivity. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 2(4).
  • Sunstein, C. (2004). Democracy and filtering. Communications of the ACM, 47(12), 57-59.

  • 1 Comment

    Ed on September 20, 2006 at 5:34 pm.

    I’ve taught a 300-level journalism class at Southern for several years now and I’m always astounded at how many students, most of them journalism majors, are not newspaper readers, or even regular news consumers.

    Last year I used a survey to gauge their news knowledge: Every single one of them could name the latest American Idol winner; maybe 5 percent could name two members of the Supreme Court.



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