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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Online Journalism: An Introduction

(This articles was written by S.M.Mehdi Hassan and Razib Ahmed and published in June 2012, in The Monthly TechWorld Bangladesh Magazine)
Since the Second World War, most people around the world more or less got used to getting their news from newspapers, radio and television. In the last few years, there is a gradual shift in this matter as people are spending a lot of time in Internet in almost every corner of earth. As a result, print newspapers have started to suffer at least in USA and to some extent in Europe. Now, there is a new trend in journalism and it is called Online Journalism. The first casualty is the printed newspaper industry and after a few years, there will be hardly any daily printed newspaper.
Online Journalism is now gaining a lot of ground and in Bangladesh, news websites are still not a major threat to the newspapers and magazines but who knows within a decade when almost all of our educated people will have access to Internet, the same thing can happen.  
What is Online Journalism?
“Networked Publics,” University of Southern California, provides the following definition of Online Journalism,
Online journalism refers to news content produced and/or distributed via the Internet, particularly material created by journalists who work for mainstream market driven news organizations. While blogs and other emerging forms of online news communication are widely acknowledged as significantly influencing mainstream news content both on and offline, they are considered here a distinct phenomenon and treated under the category of alternative media.
On Online Journalism,Veteran Silicon Valley journalist, Doug Millison, says, 
The simple answer is, of course, journalism as it is practiced online.
Journalism is any non-fiction or documentary narrative that reports or analyzes facts and events firmly rooted in time (either topical or historical) which are selected and arranged by reporters, writers, and editors to tell a story from a particular point of view. Journalism has traditionally been published in print, presented on film, and broadcast on television and radio. "Online" includes many venues. Most prominent is the World Wide Web, plus commercial online information services like America Online. Simple Internet email also plays a big role. Also important are CD-ROMs (often included with a book) linked to a web site or other online venue, plus intranets and private dial-up bulletin board systems.
He also mentioned some features of Online Journalism
  • Real time: News can be published in real time. Online Journalists can provide updating breaking news and events as they happen.
  • Shifted time: Contents published online can be archived so that viewers can read them at a later time.
  • Multimedia: Online Journalists can include images, music, sound, video etc.
  • Interactivity:
    • Online Journalists can add hyperlinks to their writings. These links relate their writings to other contents related to their subjects.
    • Readers or participants can respond instantly to materials published by online journalists in the form of email, comment, and threaded discussion. 
In “An Analysis of the Competing Business Models of Online Journalism” Michael Fusco says,
If journalism is the art of documenting history, then online journalism is the art and science that will allow humans to document the future. During the past two decades, marvelous technological advancements have allowed journalists to tell stories from new perspectives and distribute them to wider audiences. While journalism on paper likely will last at least for generations, a new set of tools has been created to help the news industry better achieve its many social roles.
Decline of Print Media:
In the U.S., the newspaper industry is going through a tough time. More and more people are now using Internet to get news and information. In July last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in America published a report titled, “THE INFORMATION NEEDS OF COMMUNITIES The changing media landscape in a broadband age.” The report said that as more and more people were using Internet to access news, readers of newspaper declined resulting in job losses in the newspaper industry. The report says:
  • From 2005 to 2009, the advertising revenue of the newspaper industry in the U.S. dropped 47 percent.
  • Since 2009, staff at daily newspapers shrunk by more than 25 percent. At this rate, some newspapers would see half of their staffs go away in the next few years.
  • Since 1985, reporting staffs of newsmagazines almost came down to half. 
  • From 2007 to 20011, roughly 13,400 newspaper jobs were lost.
According to Rick Edmonds, researcher and writer on business and journalism issues at Poynter Institute, between 2006 and 2009 daily newspaper cut their annual editorial spending $1.6 billion on an average or more than a quarter.
In April 2012, Gannett Inc., the largest newspaper publisher in the U.S., released its first quarter results which revealed a 25 percent drop in first quarter profit caused by the decline in advertisement revenue. The company owns 82 daily newspapers including the popular USA Today. The company observed an 8.3 percent drop in ad sales in the first quarter. The newspaper company is losing ad revenues to Internet based companies like Facebook and Google. The company is now focusing on developing digital assets.
In its report titled, “The State of the News Media 2012” The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence  in Journalism (PEJ) revealed how the newspaper industry in the U.S. is suffering. According to the report, of all the sectors of the U.S. media, newspapers suffered the most last year.  Between April to September last year, weekday circulation of newspapers fell about 4% while Sunday circulation fell 1%.
It says, “Even more critically, so did ad revenues. In 2011, losses in print advertising dollars outpaced gains in digital revenue by a factor of roughly 10 to 1, a ratio even worse than in 2010. When circulation and advertising revenue are combined, the newspaper industry has shrunk 43% since 2000.”
Rise of Internet and Online Journalism:
Internet is the new frontier for Journalists. The FCC report said that from 2005 to 2009 visitors to newspaper websites increased dramatically from 43.7 million unique monthly visitors to 70million and from 1.6 million page views to 3 billion page views.

In their 2011 and 2012 report on the U.S. media industry, PEJ revealed online audience observed major growth against network TV, local TV, audio, cable TV, magazines and newspapers.

The 2011 report says,
In December 2010, 41% of Americans cited the internet as the place where they got “most of their news about national and international issues,” up 17% from a year earlier. When it came to any kind of news, 46% of people now say they get news online at least three times a week, surpassing newspapers (40%) for the first time.

Fig-1: Audience growth in different media in 2009-2010 in the U.S. (Source: Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism)

The 2012 report says,

No matter the device, digital news consumption continued upward in 2011. Monthly unique audience to the top news sites was up 17%, a similar increase from 2009 to 2010, according to Nielsen Online. Seventeen of those 25 continue to be legacy news outlets.
Americans are now fully into the digital era. More than three-quarters of U.S. adults own a laptop or desktop computer. On top of that, 44% now own a smartphone, and tablet ownership is now at 18%, up from just 11% in the summer of 2011. News is a significant part of how people use these devices. Some 51% of smartphone owners use that device to get news, as do 56% of tablet owners. And nearly a quarter of the population, 23%, now gets news on multiple digital devices, according to PEJ research…………….

Fig-2: Internet audience growth in 2010-2011 in the U.S. (Source: Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism)

According to the recent study of The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), one in seven newspapers read in the U.S. is a digital one. The organization said that from October 2011 to March 2012 14.2% of newspapers were read as digital editions. Readers accessed these editions on their smartphones and tablet PCs. Only a year ago, it was 8.66%. For the first time, ABC released this figure and adopted a new approach to measure the number of digital edition readers. The report revealed that The Wall Street Journal was the most popular daily in the U.S. with a combined digital and print circulation of 2.11million. Of this, more than half million were digital editions.    

Due to the popularity of digital editions, more and more newspapers are now charging readers to access its online editions. About 300 newspapers in the U.S are charging readers for reading news on their web portals. It is referred as “Metered Pay Walls.” Under this systems, the newspaper will allow readers to read some of their articles online for free and then charge them if they want to read more.

The FCC report also revealed that online news organizations are growing rapidly in the U.S. and journalists, who lost their jobs, are joining these organizations. All these are showing how Internet is growing. With the rise of Internet Online Journalism will also become the mainstream journalism. 

In search of the Revenue Model in Online Journalism
The biggest challenge for Online Journalism is to create a sustainable of business model. Though the number of online readers is increasing by leaps and bounds and amount of online advertising is also increasing, no sustainable model has been created so far.

Till now, the newspaper never focused on Internet. Most of the newspaper websites were free and they mainly depended on revenue generated from print version. Currently, the number of hyper local news websites has increased in the U.S. but these are not financially profitable. Many journalists work as volunteers for these websites. The FCC report says:

Perhaps no area has been more dramatically transformed than “hyperlocal”—coverage on the neighborhood or block by block level. Even in the fattest-and-happiest days of traditional media, they could not regularly provide news on such a granular level. Professional media have been joined by a wide range of local blogs, email lists, websites and the proliferation of local groups on national websites like Facebook or Yahoo! For the most part, hyperlocally oriented websites and blogs do not operate as profitable businesses, but they do not need to. This is journalism as voluntarism—a thousand points of news.

In a survey conducted on 66 local news websites, it had been revealed that half of the websites had an annual income of less than $50,000 and three quarters of the websites had an annual income of less than $100,000.

The Pew Research Report revealed that compared to 2010 amount of online advertising increased 23%. According to eMarketer, a reputed marketing research firm, online display ads generated $12.4 billion in revenue, a 24% increase compared to last year. Here is a chart showing the condition ad revenue in different media in 2011.

Fig-3: Growth in Online Revenue in the U.S. (Source: Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism)

However, the rate of online advertisement is very low compared to that of the print ads. Hence, even after the growth in online advertisement, the newspaper publishers are not making much profit. Still there is hope for online websites because with the rapid rising in readership, the money spent on online advertising will increase in near future and then online news websites will not have to face any financial difficulty.

Another major problem is people are not accustomed to pay for reading news online. From the very beginning, they read news for free. Hence, subscription of digital newspaper editions is not very popular among readers. Famous British daily, the Times website lost two-thirds of its audience after implementing a paywall. Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Times, announced to introduce a paywall in 2011. Readers who accessed the Times portal were required to pay £1 for the first 30 days. This resulted in a drastic drop in the visitors of the website.  

Some Websites related to Online Journalism
There are many books and websites on Online Journalism. You can even go to Google and find numerous articles and if you search on Online Journalism. Here is a list of websites on Online Journalism.
Online Journalism Blog: This blog covers a wide range of topic on Online Journalism. You can find various long posts with in-depth analysis. http://onlinejournalismblog.com/
OJR:The Online Journalism Review: This is another great blog on Online Journalism. Robert Niles, an experienced journalist and website designer, writes in this blog. This blog is created by Knight Digital Media Center (KDMC) of University of Southern California (USC). The address is:
There are some other blogs of KDMC that talks about writing news online. You can find those blogs here:
Online Journalism: This website is created by Serena Carpenter, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University. She teaches and does research on newer media. Link: http://serenacarpenter.com/
The Online News Association: The Online News Association is a nonprofit membership organization for digital journalists. Journalists from different backgrounds are members of this website. They conduct research and arrange seminar conferences for Online Journalists. Link: http://journalists.org/about/what-we-do/
International Symposium on ONLINE JOURNALISM: This website has been created by the University of Texas. It contains all the transcripts and video of International Symposium on ONLINE JOURNALISM. http://online.journalism.utexas.edu/
Bighow Online Journalism Handbook: It is a free online resource for Online Journalists. You can find links to various informative articles on Online Journalism in this page. http://bighow.com/journalism
Nieman Journalism Lab: This is another resourceful site on Online Journalism. You can find articles on journalism and Internet here. http://www.niemanlab.org/
Journalism.co.uk: This web-portal has good articles on journalism and Internet. http://www.journalism.co.uk/
Poynter: This is the website of Poynter Institute, a non-profit school for journalism in Florida. This website contains writings of many famous and experienced journalists covering journalism and Internet.    
Huffington Post: A popular online news website in the U.S. It was created by Arianna Huffington in 2005. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
ProPublica: This is a non-profit online news organization. It is a very popular website and won the prestigious Pulitzer award in 2010 and 2011. http://www.propublica.org/
Mindy McAdams: Mindy McAdams is a journalist, journalism educator and web developer. She has a blog called Teaching Online Journalism. You can get everything about her from this link:

Blogging is now very popular throughout the world. Though there is no exact information regarding the number of blogs available on the Internet, it is not less than 100 million. According WordPress, there are currently more than 73 million blogs or sites on their platform (blogs hosted on Wordpress.com and Self-hosted). Many journalists do not want to accept blogging as part of journalism though and over the last few years, there have been a lot of debates over the issue in the Western world, especially in the US. However, two websites (with background of blogging) have been awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in Journalism in 2012. The difference between blogging and journalism has been decreasing and it has become much more difficult to draw a clear line between the two.
A few examples can be cited here in favor of disappearing boundaries between blogging and journalism.  One of the most popular websites on the Internet is Huffington Post. Though it started as a blog site, it is now gradually gaining more importance as a news website. Many renowned journalists are writing for this site and Huffington Post was awarded Pulitzer Prize this year. Notably, Pulitzer Prize is the most prestigious award in journalism in the US.
Some changes have been observed in print and online media lately. Some of the important newspapers like New York Times publish some content that are only available in their online version and are not found in print version. That means the importance of Online Journalism has been on a gradual rise.
Many daily newspapers have opened their blogs. Washington Post, for example, has a number of blogs. In England, BBC also has some blogs on different topics. We can see blog sections in many popular dailies in the Europe and US. Sometimes the blog contents are not published in the print version. So, the dailies are basically opening up blog section because of popular demand.
Several blog networks have been created due to the popularity of blogging. Blog networks, though, are not entirely news-based there are blogs on different topics. Some blogs are very popular and one of them is endgadget.com. It is just one name, but there are ten blogs under it of which, four publish English language contents and six publish contents in other languages. Many writers work for Endgadget and the blog provides updates on technology news or technology related news round the clock.
Blogging could be a ray of hope for the traditional journalists in the sense that though they are losing jobs in the print newspaper industry, they could be successful in blogging if they try. So, we are facing a new reality on Internet and changes in journalism are happening at a quick speed.
For earning money, text blogging is still the most popular medium. Video blogging is also becoming popular slowly and it is expected that one day earning money through video blogging will be as easy as earning money through text.
Citizen Journalism
“Citizen Journalism” means Journalism practiced by ordinary citizens. During the age of newspapers, television and radio, the news was controlled by certain organizations. There were professionals who carefully wrote or created news content and then published it. Ordinary people had no contribution in the process. With the advent of Internet, smartphones and other powerful electronic devices, it is now possible for ordinary people to create “unique non-fiction content.” This is called Citizen Journalism.
The main benefit of Citizen Journalism is that people can post photos, videos or “eye witness accounts” of various events at the time of their happening.
A Citizen Journalist can promote his content via blog, social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. The biggest advantage of Citizen Journalists is that they can cover events and news in their locality which may not get much coverage in the main stream media.
Through blogs and social media, Citizen Journalism can also instigate debates on issues that appear in mainstream media. This helps to keep news alive for a longer period of time.

Mobile Journalism
Mobile Journalism is a new trend. Also referred as “Cell Phone Journalism,” it means using a cellphone to record, audio, video, and write text and publish it. The main advantage of Mobile Journalism is unlike traditional journalists, Mobile Journalists need not to carry heavy equipment. Using a smartphone with powerful processors and cameras, a Mobile Journalist can record video and audio. He can also write and edit text and upload them via Internet. In developed countries, many news organizations have started experimenting with Mobile Journalism. Gannett Inc. is one such company. It is the largest newspaper publisher in the U.S. and owner of the popular daily USA Today. The company bought 1000 iPhone 4S for its reporters and photographers. Using the iPhone, they collect videos and pictures, edit them, and then transmit them. Small or medium news organizations that do not have too much fund can create news at low cost through Mobile Journalism. Even mainstream news organizations can practice Mobile Journalism. A TV channel cannot send reporters to cover every single news or events for they have limited resources. Using smartphones, the reporters of the channel can easily record video and transmit them.   

Online Journalism in Bangladesh
Online Journalism has not yet flourished that much in Bangladesh but it is not entirely absent. Among the popular websites of Bangladesh, there are some news-based websites, online editions of the popular dailies and community blogs. It indicates that Online Journalism has great potential in Bangladesh and in near future online news websites will become very popular. Currently, there are some problems and limitations for making websites popular in Bangladesh and a collaborative effort is necessary to overcome them.
List of 25 most browsed websites from Bangladesh according to Alexa.com ranking: (Data collected on 13 May 2012)
  1. Google- google.com
  2. Facebook - facebook.com
  3. YouTube-youtube.com
  4. Yahoo!- yahoo.com
  5. Google- google.com.bd
  6. Blogspot.com-blogspot.com
  7. Prothom Alo- prothom-alo.com 
  8. bdnews24.com- bdnews24.com
  9. Wikipedia-wikipedia.org
  10. BanglaNews24.com -banglanews24.com
  11. ESPN Cricinfo-espncricinfo.com
  12. somewhere in... blog- somewhereinblog.net
  13. WordPress.com- wordpress.com
  14. MediaFire- mediafire.com
  15. dolancer.com- dolancer.com
  16. Twitter- twitter.com
  17. Techtunes - techtunes.com.bd
  18. Blogger.com- blogger.com
  19. Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) – Bangladesh- dsebd.org
  20. LinkedIn- linkedin.com
  21. oDesk- odesk.com
  22. Babylon- babylon.com
  23. Banglalion Communications Ltd.- banglalionwimax.com
  24. Windows Live- live.com
  25. adf.ly - let your links take flight- adf.ly
When it comes to news-based websites in Bangladesh, two websites deserve to be mentioned-bdnews24.com and banglanews24.com. Both these are online news websites and they are being upgraded day and night round the clock. As per Alexa Ranking, both these websites are very popular in our country. They publish news in both Bangla and English.
Almost all the major newspapers have their online version or web edition. A look at the Alexa Ranking shows that they are read by thousands of people every day. Some of the online editions of daily newspapers are updated throughout the day and readers can also post comment. Thus, there is an interaction and news is becoming interactive in Bangladesh. This indicates the growing habits of reading news online among Bangladeshi people.

Community blogging has become very popular in this country. Somewhereinblog (somewhereinblog.net) is the most visited community blog according to Alexa Ranking. Whenever a major incident like earthquake happens, one can get more updates in somewhereinblog than any other sites. Thus, when there is an earthquake in Dhaka or in Bangladesh, we can find 10 to 20 posts before any TV channel or news website publishes news on it. So, when any breaking news happens then community blogs are very good place to find news.

The future of Online Journalism and news website is very bright in Bangladesh. Use of Internet is increasing every day and in the next few years, almost all the educated people of our country will have access to Internet. One can understand the popularity of Internet by looking at the Facebook user statistics for Bangladesh. Currently, there are more than 2 million Facebook accounts and a good number of them spend significant amount of time in Facebook. Whenever important news is published in newspapers or magazines, Facebook users are sharing it with their friends and discussing about it. Thus, Facebook is becoming an important discussion place for educated people.

Business organizations have started to spend some money on online advertisements. If we look at websites like prothomalo.com, bdnews24.com and banglanews24.com, we can find a number of advertisements of different companies. However, still the problem is that business organizations do not want to spend heavily online. This condition will change in the next 3 to 5 years with increasing usage of Internet. Internet will become very important for companies to promote products and services.

Despite possibilities, there are some major obstacles for Online Journalism at present in Bangladesh. The number of news websites is still very few. Other than bdnews24.com and banglanews24.com, there are not many popular news websites and the biggest reason behind this is that companies do not want to invest heavily online. Currently, there is no established revenue model. Another major problem is that online advertising programs like Google AdSense do not support Bangla language. It means one cannot use Google AdSense, the most popular online advertisement program, if he or she creates a website in Bangla language.
Moreover, there is not enough skilled Online Journalists in our country at present. Though there is Journalism, Mass Communication and Media departments in public and private universities, none of them offer major in Online Journalism at Bachelor and Masters Level. 

Internet speed is another big obstacle for Bangladesh. Due to the slow Internet, the news websites do not provide much video content. Even if it is possible to upload video contents, not many people can watch the videos as they do not have high speed Internet. Comjagat.com (a sister concern of Monthly Computer Jagat) has been webcasting events live in their website for the last 3 years.     

Bangladesh has policies for providing advertisement and other support for TV channels and newspapers. Any policy regarding online advertisement and other support for news websites has not been created yet. However, Internet all over the world is an independent and free medium. So, most news website owners would perhaps want to maintain their freedom rather than getting any support as well as restriction from the government. Anyone can easily open a website and convert it to into a blog or news website. Currently, there are many such news websites and community blogs. The government almost has no control over them.

The universities of Bangladesh, especially the private universities, can play big role in popularizing Online Journalism. Currently, there are several private universities that are offering degrees on Journalism and Media but they are not focusing on Online Journalism. This condition has to change because the rise of Online Journalism is a worldwide phenomenon and going against the rising tide would not bring any benefit for us.

Private universities that have Journalism departments should start online news websites. For example, a university can open a news website on sports and allow students to upload news in that website. In the process, the students would have hands-on experience of Online Journalism. They would also gain the experience of operating a news website.  This will also give the university a positive image among people. The private universities spend lot of money on different club–related activities. So, it is not a problem for them to provide all the necessary financial support to create a news website and the university students will work in the website and gain some real-world job experience.

Finally, we have to embrace online journalism sooner or later. There is huge potential for growth in this field in our country. It is time that universities, media, corporate houses and journalists all sit together and do some active brain storming on how to get the best out of online journalism.



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