Saturday, 14 May 2011

Web based journalism should strive to be much higher quality than instant gratification or a sound bite.

Freelance journalism may be the way to create cost effective new high quality web based editorial publications that have no relationships with the old print and broadcasting worlds.
The web enables journalists to inexpensively own the means of production and work from their home offices. They may be out of town but never out of touch.  The point is how does this fact translate into building new editorial forms on the web?  As the web develops its inherent cross promotional nature can be used to build editorial networks of freelancers who in turn cover issues and stories in depth. In turn they could create a daily or weekly virtual publications that they contribute to and with no old media parent medium as a base. 
The Huffington Post:  The Internet Newspaper is in some way the first publication of this type that has built a name for itself completely on the web. As it stands now as the form of a new medium  it lacks an impeccable reputation for accuracy and is it a web publication of record?  It is a strange combination of print, TV and social media hyperlinks. It has the tone of a trashy tabloid on its home page level. As you click on any story the user/reader goes deeper until you get the entire story is provided about the third level down. All the way to the full story you encounter advertising and promotions for products and services that pay the Huffington bills and also provide links to more Huffington stories both related and unrelated. It’s hyperlink heaven if you enjoy hyperlinks.  Take a look:
At the moment most innovation still remains in the realm of experimentation utilizing the web’s natural affinity for cross promote though social media sites and by imbedded links in the stories. However, most stories on blogs, and other sites vying for your attention are largely taken on faith as to their veracity.  Other journalism sites spawned from existing print or broadcasting entities resemble their parent print publications or are ancillary services to broadcast journalism that flesh out radio and TV news or regurgitate news and programs 24/7 rather than be stuck with one time broadcasting or publication date. 
Their reputations are derived from their parent media. These broadcast sites enable further narrow cast markets to be reached by using downloading especially MP3 radio, video of recent broadcasts.  These sites started as  an ancillary place to cross promote the old parent medium and vice versa. An example with some innovation that is emerging is:
New media always mirror old media
Mirroring the old media forms is not new. As new media are devised they carry the lore and forms of the old medium.  500 hundred years ago this old media mirroring phenomenon happened when movable type printing was invented. Printer-publishers did everything they could to make the new medium reflect the world of the hand lettered manuscript. The web forms are currently like that. Web sites mostly still look like print newspapers and magazines with the benefit that they can offer readers/users more  information than a story in the old medium. 
However there is another potential for using the web which might be much more interesting. That would get us past the mirroring of old media and into the development of completely new forms based entirely on the web. Here is one way to think about this situation.  Suppose a group of freelance journalists decided to provide a daily or weekly e-publication. Each contributor works from where ever they are located. Editorial control is maintained by email, social media, chat software or systems like Skype. This publication is a high quality web site executed at least the level of the Globe and Mail or National Post but has no antecedent in old media forms. It assembles each day (or week to begin with) and each contributor deals with a single topic such as the Canadian election from many directions.
There would be a synthesist on a topic through the eyes of perhaps 10 individual feature and opinion writers. The journalists would provide intense content on a topic getting past the sound bite and the simple reporting of what someone said. The objective would be to build trending events into an in-depth analysis. The site would also connect its stories to all its sources where they have a web presence or where documents used are published or can be obtained.   
An example of the type of story to cover.
An example of this type of web site could take on what has become a rather hoary topic larded with misinformation and propaganda such as Bill 393 an Act of the Canadian Parliament and a private members bill that enabled if passed HIV/AIDS drugs to be distributed to third world countries. This bill died on the order paper because of the election but it also died in the Senate of Canada after it was passed by the House of Commons. This story has a lot of tortured facts and emotion to sort through to really get at the truth.  The journalists committed to this web site would dig into a story like this in depth covering every aspect of the issue and what happened to it over the last three parliaments.
Done properly this proposed web site could become a site of record on any topics it covers. Its issues would become archives on the topic and always being updated.  It could also become an excellent teaching tool for training journalism students especially when all sources are intimately documented. Students could do some of the digging for documents and finding materials.  Readers examine the full story within one click of a mouse and the background information used to write the story is at the second level with hyperlinks to the original sources with an original document or  an unedited MP3 or video interview. Content on a site like this would always be the last word when it is published.   A site like this would master the web and its connecting systems. What do you think?
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved


  1. Looks like a plan. Implementation will expose what the plan demands. It would not be a repeat of the "Huffington" but a targeted exploration, as I am reading what you propose.

    The HuffingtonPost looks to demand many collaborators and a fair staff of technical wizards, no?

  2. The Huffington Post is the first real web publication of note. In my view it is still a tabloid style publication. What I am proposing is a web site with no old media (print, broadcasting) antecedents that maintains a very high standard for the content it provides and because of that becomes a first web site of record originating all its own stories done in depth. I think this is an opportunity and a natural evolution of web based technology. The technical part is not so hard. Figuring out a business plan that attracts good journalism talent would be the problem in need of a solution. Tom