net savvy

Online + print = better journalism

Much has been written about how websites are increasingly threatening newspaper readerships. Much has been written about the supposed antagonistic relationship between the two mediums, stereotyped as the fast, loose and reckless propeller heads versus the staid, conservative, old newspaper hacks.

Well it’s not like that. Although I was just a twinkle in my father’s eye during the early years of Marconi’s wireless, I have often been told that back then people spoke of the ‘death of radio’ with the looming arrival of moving picture television.

But today radio is alive and well, co-existing with TV – both filling their own, important niches. So isn’t it a little premature to talk about the death of print with the arrival of the online medium? It wasn’t so long ago that certain pundits were frothing forth that “print would be dead in ten years time”.

But ten years have passed. Like TV and radio, won’t online and print media continue to exist into the future side-by-side, each filling their own niches? My guess is that newspapers will gradually change and adapt to reflect new technological advances. We may start reading them on pliable “electronic boards” or a form of interactive “digital paper”.

Perhaps websites and newspapers will converge and eventually become the same thing. Perhaps online publishers may increasingly find that the main thrust of their business shifts to their audience accessing their websites on mobile and handheld devices, rather than PCs. Who knows?

But that’s far into the future. As the online medium and print medium exist side-by-side, in a state of relative competition, how can the two mediums work together to complement each other to make stronger journalism?

Each medium has its own requisite strengths and weaknesses. In my opinion, journalism becomes stronger when the mediums come together and complement each of their strengths and weaknesses.

A key way in which the two mediums can work together to make better journalism is by publishing online the original, raw supporting documents surrounding a particular article. This could be the full statements by interviewees or legal documents and letters that support the story.

It may be a trend we will start to see more and more. By publishing a more in-depth story which includes the supporting documents the end result is stronger journalism.

It’s a new kind of ‘transparent journalism’ that serves to build more credibility and trust with readers. A reader will place more faith and trust in a story if they can see how a journalist arrived and built a story from the various supporting documents available. By publishing the full documents with the story, such as the full statements by the various interviewees, a publication would (but not always) be on firmer legal ground.

This is something that a space-limited print publication would have difficulty doing with any regularity. Space is in ample supply for an online publication and it comes at a fraction of the price for a print publication.

It also makes perfect sense for journalists to publish the full, raw audio of the interviews they do on a website together with the article. Publishing the full audio of an interview these days is easier than ever before.

Assuming you don’t edit the audio and present it merely as the “raw interview”, the recording can be done digitally and then simply compressed as an mp3. Not only does the user get the choice of listening to the full, unedited, interview should they want to, but also to get a sample of what the interviewee sounds like. Audio files are a reasonable download for the reader and there is real value there.

In the newspaper, the reader is told below the story that should they want to read further, they can get the supporting documents online. Until the days of newspapers on pliable electronic boards, websites can be effectively harnessed together with print to make better, more transparent journalism.

Matthew Buckland publisher of the Mail & Guardian Online @ www.mg.co.za

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