Thursday, November 22, 2007

The revolution might not be televised, but it will be online

Update: I got 27 out of 30 for the assignment. Yeah for me!

This was an essay handed in for a school assignment. Sorry to subject you to my homework

In the beginning was the word, and the word was on paper. And it was good. Not much changed for aeons. Then the came Arpanet, and it was better.

In the late 1960's American computer scientists began experiments in networking university computers, creating the protocols we take for granted today, such as packets and email, as a way to share resources. Because computers were scarce at the time, transferring data from one computer to another was more than going from one part of a building to another. It often entailed travelling to a different city or part of the continent. Fundamentally, they wanted to do what we do casually today, transfering data from one computer to another without having to move anything physically from one location to another. These protocols were created for Arpanet, the precursor to the Internet. [Hart]

Arpanet was created during the early 1960's to allow military computers to communicate with one another. Because there were so few computers, each with so little memory and processing power, the idea of writing software to standardise communication procedures was controversial. Packet switching; the ability to take data, break it into smaller components, send each of those components independently to find their own way to a remote computer and then have that computer reassemble the components correctly into a duplicate of the original data sent; was thought to be impossible by some, others believed if it was possible it would use too much of the already scarce resources available on an individual computer receiving or sending the information. The military felt the technology was worth pursuing, and supported the continued work into packet switching, which is fundamental to how data travels across the Internet today.[Hart]
Email was created as an afterthought. While people had been communicating via text on the early networked computers, this was only available while both the sender and receiver were online. The ability to send email to someone offline for later retrieval was not considered a high priority. Soon after the creation of email as we know it, it was recognized as the “killer app” of the Internet, something so fundamentally useful, one can't imagine doing without it. Without the ability to use email in the way we currently do, the Internet may not have had the growth it enjoyed before it was publicly accessible.[Hart]

Whether it is the story of the Hebrew people leaving Egypt told in the book of Genesis of The Bible, Acta Diurna from ancient Rome reporting on legal proceedings or trial outcomes, or the report of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam by the New York Times, journalism was a person finding information and distributing that information to a waiting public. When news went from paper to the airwaves the distribution technique was different, but otherwise the process was the same: a person gathered information and passed that information to a waiting public.
This type of news communication was one-way and the only control the consumer had was the on/off switch. The news consumer was forced to passively accept the information that was given, with no way to add information which might be valuable to other news consumers, or correct erroneous information presented. Newspapers would provide limited space for reader responses, “letters to the editor”.

Talk radio is the only exception to the one-way news distribution process. Talk radio relies on its listeners' input to create a compelling show. Listener input is a built-in part of the presentation of talk radio. For the vast majority of listeners though, talk radio is still a one-way medium. Talk radio has time limitations, listeners can only interact with the host and/or the guest, but not with other listeners; also, they can only respond while the show or segment of the show is being broadcast. Once the show or segment is concluded, there may be no further opportunity for listener involvement. If the show is rebroadcast, there is no interactivity at all.

In traditional media content access has been limited, or controlled. For print publications, access was through economics. Potential readers could only access the content of a print publication by paying for a subscription or buying an individual copy. For broadcast news, access was limited by time. News broadcasts happen repeatedly, but only for a limited time. This appears to have changed with the advent of 24 hour news on television and radio, but closer investigation reveals an individual story is only covered for a limited amount of time between commercials.

The New York Times, winner of 95 Pulitzer prizes, who's motto is "All the News That's Fit to Print." attempted to bring the economic model from their print product to their online product in 1995, using a subscription based service. But with competition from other major news organizations like the BBC and The Christian Science Monitor, which allowed free, unfettered access to their high quality news product subscription services faced challenges attracting paying consumers to their product. The New York Times recognized the subscription fees would not make up for the lost advertising revenue and on September 19th, 2007 allowed free access to their website. [Pérez-Peña]

Launched in 1997, the BBC News Online delivers content via text, video, still images and audio. As well, each story has Hyperlinks related to the story's content. Besides coverage of breaking news, the BBC does in-depth coverage of complex stories and subjects requiring greater analysis. Access is free, and until recently, had no advertising. The BBC is one of the most widely read news sites online.[BBC]

The Christian Science church believes “the unblemished truth is freeing (as a fundamental human right); with it, citizens can make informed decisions and take intelligent action, for themselves and for society,” and following this principle has published a newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor, since 1908. The Pulitzer prize winning Christian Science Monitor went online in 1995 as part of its mandate to provide news as a public service.[The Christian Science Monitor]

The Christian Science Monitors' mandate is similar to the role Al Gore believes the media should play in a democratic society. In his book The Assault on Reason, he argues for America, the Founding Fathers envisioned a society where voters receive useful, practical information from a free, active, inquisitive press to inform public decisions about who to vote for, or what programs or initiatives to urge their political representatives to support.[Gore]

As western society increasingly goes online for recreation, business and creative expression, it is natural journalism should go there too. In the early 1990's online journalism was simply the print version of news publications posted online. Radio stations were among the first online to provide multimedia content by streaming their live audio broadcast. Radio stations give an example of the major advantage of online news delivery: the ability to deliver news in multiple formats. The greatest difference online journalism has, from traditional forms of media, is its ability to present information in whatever form is best for the communication of that information. If a story is best told with text, online it can be presented that way, traditional broadcast media has little ability to duplicate this. If a story is best told with video or audio, online journalism can present a story in that manner too. Traditional print media, similar to broadcast media, does not have that type of flexibility. Organizations like The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Globe and Mail all old, well respected traditional print media are starting to blur the ways information is presented by media outlets. The Washington Post and The New York Times have video podcasts available, the Globe and Mail has video available on its website. They are not presenting the majority of their content in video format, like a television station, but they are making choices about what stories can best be presented with video as opposed to text alone or text with still images.

The strengths of online journalism for the content provider are ease of distribution, ease of correction, and ease of update compared to traditional forms of media. Additionally, with ease of update, there is the opportunity to create a sense of need within consumers to keep coming back to your site for the latest news, or the latest user responses to a story throughout the day. For traditional and new media, content must be gathered, edited and distributed. It is in the distribution step where new media has an advantage in timeliness and cost. Except for server and bandwidth charges, there are no costs for distributing online media. Server and bandwidth charges do not change if a story must be updated or corrected, no matter how many times. For traditional print media redistributing content in prohibitively expensive due to labour, printing and transportation costs, and is only done in the most extreme circumstances. For broadcast media redistributing news content may mean breaking into already scheduled programming which may cost advertising revenue. 24 hour news channels redistribute their news constantly, but if there is nothing new to report, the stories quickly become redundant, monotonous and worst of all uninformative. If there is no new information for an online journalism story , nothing need be done.

An advantage of online journalism is the ability to direct users to original source material. Whether it is the unedited audio of an interview, PDF files of meeting minutes or the official website of a person or entity involved in a story, traditional media have no capability of providing this information on a regular basis within their traditional forms. Traditional media is only starting to take advantage of its ability to post information online supplemental to the story presented for the benefit of news consumers.

Another advantage of online media is interactivity. Traditional media is a one-way communication where the only user control is to completely disengage either by turning it off or putting the newspaper away. Within online culture interactivity has always been assumed, online culture has rarely been about passively accepting what is presented. Forums, chats, time shifting and posting responses directly about a story on the website where it is presented are all ways online media encourages interactivity. The forums, chats and postings also allow news consumers to help inform each other about aspects of a story which may not have been covered, point out errors which may have been missed, but best of all, these forms of interactivity can foster a sense of community.

At a time when we are starting to recognize the different ways different people process information, the ability of online news to present exactly the same information in multiple media types means the information conveyed can be presented in a way which is relevant to each individual online user. As well, in a multicultural country like Canada, the ability to present the same information in multiple languages easily and quickly is an advantage as we try to serve diverse communities of new Canadian immigrants is important. Traditional forms of media were never capable of responding to their consumers in these fashions.

Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired Magazine wrote a book The Long Tail. He advises the future marketing strategies for online business is “to sell less of more”. In his book he says future business growth can be found within niche markets ignored by larger organizations. For a large organization focussing on and responding to a niche market can be greater effort than the return on investment justifies if it means changing practices, revising policy or developing new marketing strategies. However, for smaller organizations, niche markets can provide communities large enough for profit, but small enough to be overlooked by larger otherwise predatory organizations. For new-news outlets, rather than trying to compete directly, it may be best to let the BBC, CBC, ABC and NBC serve mass markets. New-news organizations will find their future within niche markets. Whether this is in the form of hyper-local journalism, second tier or amateur sports, or covering the same stories as large media but from their niche's perspective, smaller news organizations will have success in finding niche markets, serving them well and developing a following.[Anderson]

New-news organizations can also experiment with how their stories are gathered. Citizen journalism, where news consumers are encouraged to be news creators, can find a home and a place to grow within new-news organizations. OhmyNews, Wikinews, and Independent Media Center are new-new media organizations which have unpaid citizens providing their content. OhmyNews' motto is "Every Citizen is a Reporter". Although unpaid reporters may seem exploitative, the economic model also means these media outlets are not dependent or beholden to commercial interests. They are free to present any information received without having to justify their editorial choices to anyone but their consumers.[OhmyNews]

While it is generally agreed Web 1.0 was about creating a user friendly environment online by creating formal technical standards for functionality like HTML, CSS and web standard colours, as well as informal conventions like left-side navigation, we have already graduated to the next iteration of the Internet. The wide reaching, vague, nebulous definition of “Web 2.0”, in most cases, includes the prevalence of user generated content viewed by the online world. Examples of Web 2.0 are video posting sites like YouTube, Revver and Dailymotion; blogs like and Wordpress; social networking sites with user generated content like MySpace and Facebook. Citizen journalism falls well within the most broad understanding of Web 2.0. Blaise Aguera y Arcas, an architect at Microsoft Live Lab, presented Photosynth software which allows multiple still images to be woven together to create a multidimensional, dynamic environment. During the TED 2007 conference in Montery, California in March 2007 he presented this software and demonstrated it woving pictures taken from Flickr tagged with “Notre Dame” into a representation of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. As he manipulated the presentation, he suggested a pattern of web development where Web 1.0 was about technical issues, Web 2.0 was about user issues and Web 3.0 would return to technical issues. He believes Web 3.0 will be about connecting information online to create new ways of understanding, in the way that Photosynth took pieces of tagged information to create a new way of seeing the familiar Notre Dame. For us, as journalists, this means that we will have new tools to gather information, but more importantly, we will have new ways to present information to users which is compelling, practical and immersive.[Arcas]

We, all of us, not just journalists, not even just people who work online, are on the verge of a technological revolution. Blaise Aguera Y Arcas has an optimistic idea about what the future may hold. Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur, is less optimistic, about a future which he sees as not clearly defined or delineated by authority. What he does not acknowledge is there are no authorities on what our future may hold. Some may be able to make more educated guesses than others, but these are still guesses based on past experience which may not be relevant or applicable to our future. The technological revolution can be relevant to the majority of people on earth who are not online and may never ever be online, because if the rest of us can find new ways of seeing and understanding each other perhaps we can all work together for a future which is consistent with our highest ideals.[Keen]

Works Cited
Abbate, Janet. Inventing the Internet. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1999

Anderson, Chris. The Long Tail: Why the future of business is selling less of more. New York, NY: Hyperion, 2006

Arcas, Blaise Aguera y “Blaise Aguera y Arcas: Jaw-dropping Photosynth demo” TED Conferencences LLC. March 2007

“News sources.” BBC News Online. November 20, 2007. British Broadcasting Corporation. November 20, 2007

“About the Monitor”. The Christian Science Monitor. November 20, 2007, The Christian Science Monitor, November 20, 2007

Gore, Al. The Assault on Reason. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2007

Hart, Michael. A brief history of the Internet the bright side : the dark side. Champaign, Ill. Project Gutenberg, May 1995

“International About OhmyNews.” OhmyNews. November 20, 2007. OhmyNews November 20, 2007

Keen, Andrew. The Cult of the Amateur: how today's Internet is killing our culture. New York, NY. Doubleday Publishing House, 2007

“Times to Stop Charging for Parts of Its Web Site.” Ricard Pérez-Peña. September 17, 2007 The New York Times Company. November 20, 2007

“Independent Media Center's Frequently Asked Questions”
Compiled by Indymedia volunteers on many IMC working group lists. July 25, 2007 Indymedia Documentation Project. November 20, 2007

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