Mon, Apr 03, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Internet news faces question of identity

By Lin Ho-lin 林鶴玲

As the Internet sweeps the world, many domestic news media have set up Web sites to provide online news. They have also tried to apply realtime interactivity to their news reports.

The first newspaper to publish exclusively on the Internet, T Times (明日報) was launched in February, and Eastern Multimedia (東森多媒體) joined the online news competition with an Internet newspaper in March.

John Pavlik, a scholar at Columbia University, divides the development of Internet news into three stages. The first stage, consists of simply uploading to the Internet the news content of traditional media.

In the second stage, online news reporters start to develop news content taking into account the characteristics of the new media -- utilizing hyper-links, search engines and other interactive tools. Furthermore, they begin to "personalize" news content.

In the third stage, news Web sites would design their news content based on the features of the Internet; stories would be reported in new ways, developing the concept of "online communities."

This analysis, however, does not take into consideration one important factor in the process of news production and broadcasting -- the role of readers.

A very interesting aspect of the Internet phenomena still persists as usage rapidly expands: Internet users are neither the most powerful people or people who have the most resources. Students use it more than their teachers, and teachers do so more than their supervisors. Despite the fact that many surfers are the well-educated elite, they usually are not important policy-makers -- in other words they are not the type of people whom reporters usually interview.

In other words, the question facing the Internet news reports is no longer "how many people visit our Web sites?" or "How many people read our newspaper?" Rather, it is "Who reads online news?"

The reward for being a journalist is far more than the paycheck, and social status of a journalist usually does not match his influence. When journalists are doing their job, they not only use their reports as a bridge to interact with their interviewees, but also to develop a sense of power, growing out of awareness that their reports could influence social development and policy-making. All these are closely related to the readership of online news.

When journalists cannot help doubting whether their news is being read by their parents, interviewees and people in positions of power, how to make their reports meaningful poses a challenge. Unless online journalists realize that they write for readers rather than interviewees or specialists, they will inevitably feel lost.

Moreover, with their weaker influence, interviewees might discriminate against them in favor of traditional media reporters.

For online news media established by traditional media groups, the problem may not be as serious as for media which only publishes online news. On one hand, the reputation of traditional media would help their online news edition reach powerful readers. On the other hand, as long as the content of their online news also appears in the traditional news media, the anxiety about who the readers are can be easily resolved. For those journalists who work exclusively for online news, this anxiety over uncertain readership can be difficult to dispel.

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