Friday, 15 March 2013

A New Journalist Is Born: Digital media has brought about a sea change in the way news is presented and perceived

Anand Vaishnav 

“I am still an oldfashioned pen and paper person!” Ask a young online media reporter and he will tell you how often he has heard this remark from seniors or colleagues from the world of print. 
    These days, there seems to be a generation gap in journalism between mainstream and new media. The world of digital media is dominated by a generation that eats, sleeps, breathes and, most importantly, thinks online. For them, their tablet is the writing pad and the internet is pretty much the one-stop source for research. They do not labour over an article for days or rewrite endlessly in search of that perfect introduction. 
    As mainstream media houses expand their digital business units, there is now a clear difference in how these teams are approaching content. For one, as far as the digital medium is concerned, the perspective is product-centric; the content is totally interlinked with the product. 
    Reporters at a newspaper are not really expected to know how a printing machine operates! But in the digital space, content teams are expected to have knowledge about how search engines work, be receptive towards trending topics, drive the site’s interactive elements, use multimedia tools for better packaging and in general be aware of what goes into the 
management of the site. 
    While a print journalist will focus more on the language while framing a headline, a digital media person will think in terms of keywords, trending topics and ease of discovery for the user. 
    Writing style is another point of difference. Given that digital content today is not only consumed on the computer but across multiple platforms, writers are conscious about attention spans. While a print journalist may take pride over an elaborate article that spans pages, brevity is the name of the game in the digital arena. Writers are conscious of the fact that their stories are often 

being read on screens smaller than five inches. 
    Some of the clever expressions that would be a pleasure to read in print might not gel well with the digital consumer. Use of complicated phrases is also bad for content discovery, as the average user searches using terms from spoken English. For writers who switch from print to Web, this is usually the aspect they find hardest to unlearn. 
    The metric by which an article’s worth can be judged – feed
back from readers – is another point of differentiation. Due to the two-way nature of interaction on the Web, online reporters are far more used to feedback than their print peers. 
    Web writers are accustomed to regular reality checks from users in case of errors or potentially polarising points of view. And due to this continuous stream of author-user interaction, Web writers are far more detached from their copy, flexible in style and less emotionally invested in their story. 
    Background research is of top priority to any good journalist, but online writers do not always have the luxury of time. In the era of phablets, digital teams have 24x7 access to their site. And page line-ups change several times in response to trending topics. So content that may be ‘hot’ in the morning might be totally irrelevant by 
the afternoon. 
    That is why there are more cases of irresponsible reporting based on Twitter rumours appearing in the online space. While basic rules of journalism do not change, content writers in the digital space have to have a strong sense of quality check and constantly filter the information overload. 
    Convergence of content and form also happens to a far greater extent in the digital medium. While traditional media still has the advantage of infrastructure, digital has the power of speed and multimedia presentation. Whether it is using a video from a TV bulletin or a slideshow of images, there are various engaging tools that digital journalists can use to hook the reader. The packaging and aesthetics of the content are of supreme importance. 

    Another differentiating factor is user-generated content; the internet exposes journalists to a plethora of it. At a time when camera-phones and social media have made citizen journalism a reality, reporters have to pay attention to the voice of the reader. So while purists may find ‘Kolaveri Di’ trivial, news websites cannot ignore viral content. A print journalist may wait for viral content to become a rage, before considering it for a story – but his online counterpart has to identify a trend way in advance and sense its potential. 
    Given the dynamic nature of the medium, and real-time access to analytics, digital content writers have to keep an eye on the performance of their story and make tweaks based on traffic rankings and search results. These reporters have earned their stripes in the age of social media, where headlines are driven by trending hash-tags. And the speed at which you publish your story, is almost as important as the story itself. 
    So while the internet still reports the same facts as traditional media, the ones writing for the Web care a lot more for user engagement than literary indulgence. 
    The digital journalist is more in tune with what’s on people’s minds, and is perhaps more of an opinion moderator/ aggregator than an opinion generator. News has become totally democratic and the digital medium is where journalists are truly talking to the people and not ‘at them’.

Sourced:, March 15, 2013

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