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Panpa Bulletin : August 2006
The days are gone when the production and reporting of news by major 'newspaper' companies meant filing copy to appear solely in the following day's printed newspaper editions. Online media are an increas- ingly critical part of peoples' mainstream media consump- tion. Terms like blog, post, podcast and multimedia are now commonplace in progressive newsrooms. As this new media wave, and its attendant paradigm shifts gain force, those involved in research- ing, reporting and producing the news are working hard to anticipate the implications for media outlets and their consumers. One obvious shift is in the increasing amount of video complementing written and static graphic information on news websites, to cover both breaking news and feature stories. Newspapers are in- creasingly resourcing whole production teams to extend their traditional reporting methods to provide the immediacy and rich content that video audiences demand. The incorporation of video news is costly and time-consum- ing. It requires a strong focus on technology and professional staff. As an example, Fairfax's recent football (i.e. soccer) World Cup video stories received over 700,000 individual viewings---a result worth every hour and dollar of investment. Multitudes of Aussie sports fans arrived in their offices after watching early morning games, came to our sites and watched video inter- views, analysis and reports from Germany, then read the written reports and post-mortems of games. The World Cup showed adver- tisers the commercial viability and compelling interest of online video content. Consumers using the web in daily life enjoy access to informa- tion at any time, without having to wait for evening news bulletins or tomorrow's papers (although these media continue their es- sential mass communication roles in providing public news and information). As a result, newspaper companies striving to deliver news at a high stand- ard and while it is still news, will increasingly include web videos on their main newspaper sites. Another new reporting method (new to mainstream anyway) generating huge user interest is blogging. The word blog is short for weblog. Blogs are informal online journals with conversa- tional tones and (often) links to several other websites in each piece (called a post). In keeping with the growing demand for rich media, blog types include vlogs (video weblogs), music logs and photo logs. The most interesting part of a blog is not necessarily the au- thor's post - it may be the reader comments which follow. The fact that readers can continue discussion at a rapid pace is part of blogging's appeal. There are millions of blogs currently on the internet. The amount of blogs is expanding daily due to the ease and attrac- tions of self-publishing online. The origins of blogging were in early internet bulletin boards and discussion groups, through which tech-savvy users could express their opinions and par- ticipate in open dialogues. These were not the domain of major media outlets. Herein lies the murky, un- charted water. Media outlets successfully embracing blogs are increasing audience participa- tion, increasing the volume of content generated by that audi- ence, and giving their journalists closer access to more opinion and feedback than they have been used to. Among the posi- tive results for journalists are the chances to expand their skills and build engaged and even loyal fol- lowings. For example, Samantha Brett's Sam and the City is the love and relationships blog of smh.com.au and theage.com.au. Every month nearly 80,000 NSW browsers and 40,000 Melbourne browsers engage with Sam's advice and interact with her, and each other, in the typically hun- dreds of passionate comments which follow each post. Media blogs are also subject to editorial, ethical and commercial guidelines. Checking blogs to make sure they don't contravene basic ethical standards can consume considerable energy. Media staff needs to do this without stripping away the unrestrained and uncensored feel of blogging that is the essence of its appeal. Bloggers like to feel that they can interact and be part of genuine content creation, and all the more on credible sites that encourage bloggers to express their opin- ions. Creating well-managed but harassment-free environments is one way publishers of the future will build reputations (and audi- ences) for credible sources of news and information. Clear editorial moderation is necessary for commercial reasons. Media companies encouraging dynamic public in- teraction can easily cause anxiety among advertisers. Advertising is after all about certainty of control over the context in which your brand appears. No vendor likes an unknown risk in gambling with their advertising budget and public reputation. Thankfully, blog and forum en- vironments tend toward a certain amount of self-moderation from their core communities. These voice their disapproval of posts not meeting their (often broadly publicly acceptable) ethical standards. Certainly, a combina- tion of editorial and user-moder- ated checking assures acceptable standards of online behaviour. Without bringing in a lawyer I can make a couple of general observations. The first is that the new media tools discussed here are developing quickly, as are the laws of regulation. For example, to my knowledge there has been little legal testing in Australia of who would be responsible for defamatory comments posted by bloggers on media websites. One argument is that if publishers allow people to post uncensored comments, then it is the publisher's responsibility to handle the implications and results of these comments. Com- monsense suggests that surely some responsibility needs also to lie with individuals who post offending comments, pictures, sounds or video. A list of simple ways for pub- lishers to protect their audiences and themselves includes requir- ing bloggers to register limited personal details before allowing them to submit content (know- ing they can be caught will put off many potential offenders). None of this will detract from your site's ability to grasp the amaz- ing phenomenon that is citizen journalism. New technologies and globalisation are creating a dy- namic era for content producers and distributors. While the rules are still evolving, the current gen- eration of media professionals has the opportunity to take part in the most significant media paradigm shift in our times. Publishers must remain alert to the potential of the new media, or miss the passing wave. Journal- ists embracing new media will be highly accountable and open to public feedback, but they also have the chance to interact with, and learn from, their audience as never before. Pippa leary, is the product marketing director, news and Content, fairfax digital newspapers need a new set of skills if they want to keep pace with the new technologies writes Pippa Leary The new media wave and its ripple effect august 2006 PANPA bULLETIN | 23