Technology shakes up media

Just as technology gave rise to newspapers, many say technology will inevitably lead to their demise.
Read time 4min 20sec

Newspapers and other printed news owe their existence largely to the invention of the movable type printing press, but now Web 2.0 technology appears likely to move news publishing almost exclusively online. Some say online publishing will kill newspapers.

Or will it?

According to Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, it will. He's on record as saying just last month that all reading will go online within five years, spurred on by smaller computers with high resolution displays.

If Gates is correct, technology is set to enable publishing to take a giant evolutionary step similar to the one enabled by Gutenberg in the 15th century. Of course, Gates has been wrong about such things before and not everyone agrees, but the trend of consuming news online is definitely growing.

In the US, a study by the Newspaper Association of America shows the growth in readers of online news in the first quarter of this year exceeded the growth in Internet use by 2.6%.

What's fuelling this growth?

Quick fix

Speed or the ability to report news as and when it happens rather than waiting for the next print run is one of the main reasons for the popularity of news online. This is the view of the editor of Computing, one of the most innovative news sites in the UK, where half the adult population has access to broadband.

Computing's Bryan Glick says another benefit of online publishing is comprehensiveness - the ability for readers to find out everything that is happening quickly and easily. Again assuming a decent connection.

Unlike newspapers, online news sites give readers access to the latest news as well as provide links to related audio, video and other information from a single Web page. But will this lead to the death of newspapers?

Those who believe it will, say the migration of advertising revenue will more than likely sound the death knell for newspapers.

Although Glick agrees the shift of advertising spend will see online news replace print in some instances, he says this is likely to be only in niche areas.

Glick is among those who still see print and online news as complementary, but says print publications will have to adapt to become more integrated. He says this will mean print publications will cease to be the core product with online offshoots and become instead channels for premium content.

Tools of the trade

Integration and convergence are being employed by many UK media organisations like the Manchester Evening News, which incorporates print, online, radio and TV. The company says the challenge is to use all the technology tools at its disposal to tell stories in the smartest possible way, while maintaining the success of print as well as digital media.

The strategy includes using so-called "user-generated" content. A report on a recent fire in Manchester, for example, included links to several videos, some of them recorded by readers using mobile phones.

It is clear journalism is about to change forever.

Warwick Ashford, London correspondent

Most media organisations see user-generated content as an important way of interacting with their audiences. However, American media commentator and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis says it also has other important implications.

Jarvis says the rise in user-generated content has the potential to cause news organisations to lose their exclusive hold on newsgathering, content creation and distribution.

The most-often cited example of this in recent weeks has been the news coverage in the hours following the shooting spree at Virginia Tech in the US on 16 April by 23-year-old South Korean student, Cho Seung-hui.

Students did much of the newsgathering. They used blogging, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, mobile camera phones and other technology to capture and transmit what was happening in and around the Virginia Tech campus - live and unfiltered.

Power shift

So does this all mean the end of printed media is nigh?

With all interested parties - technology producers, advertisers, print media and online media companies - claiming victory, it is difficult to say. However, it is clear journalism is about to change forever.

It seems more likely that technology will change the role of journalists and media organisations than lead to the demise of printed publications in the near future.

Journalists, says Glick, will have to evolve from gatekeepers to originators of debate because online news is driven by reader choice not writer choice.

He says with the greater involvement that is available online, publication is only the start of a new process of sharing opinions, debate and comment to build an active community of interest.

Technology, as it did in the 15th century, seems once again about to upset the status quo and shift power to the people, or at least those people who have affordable access to the Internet.

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