For centuries, society has relied solely on print journalism for news and information, but with the advent of the digital age, the way we consume news has changed. In a recent discourse it was highlighted that the millennium has witnessed a growth of digital news platforms, leading to a more ‘satisfied’ reader or audience challenging the monopoly of print newspapers (Cherian, 2015:576). Many famous newspapers have made the switch to online platforms in the last decade (Bird, 2009:293). This has been aptly summarized by Henkel et al as a new-found professional rivalry between offline and online journalism(Henkel, Thurman, Moller, and Trilling, 2020). Available research comparing print and online journalism often highlight the importance of the quality and depth of content. (Doudaki and Spyridou 2013; Ghersetti 2014; Burggraaff and Trilling 2020). It also explores the impact of online journalism on professional standards (see, e.g., Arant and Anderson 2001; Witschge and Nygren 2009), as well as the conditions of employment (see, e.g., Thurman 2016a) (Henkel, Thurman, Moller, and Trilling, 2020). This essay will go on to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of online journalism in contrast to print journalism.
Print journalism has always been guided by certain core principles. As Kroll puts it - ‘traditional journalists were trained in the past as gatekeepers or watchdogs, trained to verify stories, analyse and comment on them’ (Kroll,2015). The changing paradigm of modern journalism has been aptly captured by Canter in stating that ‘the traditional role’ of the journalist as ‘gatekeeper’ is under constant threat as the online access enables anyone, for that matter to bring forth any piece of information in front of a ‘global audience’. This was hitherto a privilege limited to those running the ‘print media’ and those having access to it (Canter, 2014). This has led to undermining of the traditional values of journalism, which is viewed as an ideology consisting of four professional values, namely, ‘public service, objectivity, autonomy, and ethics’ (Henkel, Thurman, Moller, and Trilling, 2020). Moller emphasised the essence of journalism as the very basic rights of expression. In his words - ‘Freedom of the media and freedom of expression are universal rights that apply to all forms of media, no matter whether online or offline, no matter whether professional or citizen journalism, no matter whether print or social media’ (Moller, 2012).
The director of POLIS, a media think-tank of the London School of Economics, Professor Charlie Beckett recently commented that journalism is being churned heavily and compared it to an exhilarating but scary roller-coaster ride. The critical component of this change has been attributed to the ‘changing audience behaviour’, driven largely by the disruption caused by growth of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or WhatsApp. This has been further aided and abated by the explosion of smartphones and tablets (Kroll, 2015). One such definition of online journalism is- ‘the implementation of professional journalist activities in an electronic environment that adheres to the general principles and rules of journalism’ (Bulunmaz, 2011). Online journalism has been heavily aided by introduction of the smartphones. In the words of Wardle - ‘as a result, more and more people have the technology in their pockets to very quickly film events they see around them and share them directly with people who might be interested, as well as more widely via social networks’.
Those who were once consumers of news now have the possibility to become creators of news. Several authors have encapsulated the essence of online journalism in the ever-expanding world of digital technology. Digital technology, not only created ‘new journalistic opportunities’ by setting up new information structures in the industry (Catal, 2017), there were ‘fewer barriers to entry, lowered distribution costs, and diverse computer networkingtechnologies’ (Sabina, 2016:1). Democratisation of the access information has been a key contribution of online journalism challenging the hegemony of the traditional media such as newspapers, magazines, radio, and television (Sabina, 2016:1). In addition, online journalism also allows for ‘greater creative freedom’ compared to print journalism (Herbert, 2000).
One of the important benefits of online journalism is the freedom of expression on social media networks and this was apparent during the Arab Spring movement. Activists from Arab countries heavily depended on the web-based services, smartphones, and the social media in organising protests against dictatorial regimes (Brown, Guskin, and Mitchell, 2012). Social media was important in ‘communicating to the rest of the world what was happening on the ground during the protests’ due to the speed at which information can travel online (Brown, Guskin, and Mitchell, 2012). Twitter not only played a pivotal role during the Arab Spring movement but in the distribution of breaking news in general. For example, the news of the death of Whitney Houston was available on Twitter nearly an hour before it was actually announced by the Associated Press (Brown, Guskin, and Mitchell, 2012).
The importance of traditional newspapers can be appreciated in the context of Botswana’s colonial history as an example, (Parsons,1999). Since the 1850s, traditional newspapers have been available in Botswana (Lesitaokana & Akpabio, 2014). Even though newspapers were available, the public only began to value them in the build-up to Botswana’s independence struggle in the 1960s (Rantao, 1996). They turned out to be useful in communicating to the wider communities, both for the colonial government as well as the political parties in Bechuanaland at that time (Lesitaokana & Akpabio, 2014). The competition between several traditional news platforms in Botswana led to rapid development in digital technologies and all major players rapidly invested in print as well as online media (Lesitaokana & Akpabio, 2014).
One of the major reasons why online journalism has gained popularity is its easy access particularly with respect to ‘breaking news’ (Lesitaokana & Akpabio, 2014). Even though online journalism has become more popular over time, problems have arisen such as the rise of ‘fake news’. The rise of ‘fake news’ has led to the spread of disinformation (Egelhofer & Lecheler, 2019). ‘Fake news’ is disguised as traditional news in order to promote political aims and create advertising revenue. In this regard, it is worth citing the examples of ‘fake news websites’ run by youngstars from Macedonia and a U.S. company called ‘Disinfomedia’, masquerading as serious journalism (Tsfati et al, 2020). Both journalistic enterprises had spread misinformation about the Clinton campaign while promoting positive stories about Donald Trump. The article goes on to highlight one of the major drawbacks of online journalism and in doing so also highlights one of the benefits of print journalism. Whilst dissemination of disinformation by political players are traceable to the source and the reader has the option of assimilating the information in the light of their own views on the person in question, generators of ‘fake news’ often hide behind the garb of a ‘legitimate’ news outlet (Tsfati et al,2020). The reader or the audience in such instances are fooled into believing the veracity of the information, depending on the perfection of their camouflage. Unfortunately, ‘fake news’ is more easily available on online platforms as regulations in the online world of journalism are limited.
The other important aspect of journalism, which is often trivialised is the element of bias. Bias in journalism could be due to personal ideology, geopolitical influence or could be due to affiliations of the medium itself. More importantly, the nature of the medium, online or print, might also have a critical impact of the formation of bias. However, the basic premise of journalism rests on the ‘unrestricted access to unbiased information’ (Hamborg et al, 2019). Hamborg has further highlighted the monopolisation of news by big corporations. (Hamborg et al, 2019). Currently, six separate corporations’ control about 90% of the media in the USA (Lutz, 2014). This would strongly suggest that there is a media bias present in the United States. In the world of online journalism, bias is also present, but the large and diverse number of stories available to consumers means that they have more options (Hamborg et al, 2019). Some scholars argue that on social media, the consumers of news may be more likely to access stories which share similar opinions to that of the consumer (Sunstein, 2002). Consumers may get stuck in an ‘echo chamber’ (Sunstein, 2002). Therefore, media bias exists on online platforms despite the diverse range of stories available to readers even though it may not be as apparent as it is print journalism.
Online journalism, thus, might be considered as a paradigm shift from the long-held view and values of traditional journalism. Yet, it remains susceptible to bias and the relativity of ‘truth’ in the post-modern era of journalism. Despite transforming news as a ‘privilege of the few’ to the ‘right of the most’, online journalism is also subject to ‘bias of many’ from ‘bias of a few’ in traditional media.
Arant, M. D., & Anderson, J. Q. (2001). Newspaper Online Editors Support Traditional Standards. Newspaper Research Journal, 22(4), 57–69. https://doi.org/10.1177/073953290102200406
Bennett, W. L., & Livingston, S. (2018). The disinformation order: Disruptive communication and the decline of democratic institutions. European Journal of Communication, 33(2), 122–139. https://doi.org/10.1177/0267323118760317
Bird, S. B. (2009). The future of journalism in the digital environment. Journalism, 10(3), 293–295. https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884909102583
Brown, Guskin, Mitchell, H. B. E. G. A. M. (2012, November 28). The Role of Social Media in the Arab Uprisings. Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project. https://www.journalism.org/2012/11/28/role-social-media-arab-uprisings/
Bulunmaz, B.B. (2011). İnternet gazeteciliğinin medya dünyası içindeki rolü ve ekonomik boyutları. Marmara Communication Journal, 18, 27-46.
Canter, L.C. (2014). From traditional gatekeeper to professional verifier: how local newspaper journalists are adapting to change. Journalism Education : The Journal of the Association of Journalism Education, 3 (1), 102-119.
Çatal, C.Z. (2017). New Technologies Challenging the Practice of Journalism and The Impact of Education: Case of Northern Cyprus. EURASIA Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 13(11). https://doi.org/10.12973/ejmste/79975
Cherian, J. C. (2015). Emergence of Digital Publishing – A Great Challenge to The Print Publications. Procedia Economics and Finance, 23, 576–586. https://doi.org/10.1016/s2212-5671(15)00361-5
Doudaki, V., & Spyridou, L. P. (2013). Print and Online News. Journalism Studies, 14(6), 907–925. https://doi.org/10.1080/1461670x.2012.746860
Egelhofer, J. L., & Lecheler, S. (2019). Fake news as a two-dimensional phenomenon: A framework and research agenda. Annals of the International Communication Association, 43(2), 97–116. https://doi.org/10.1080/23808985.2019.1602782
Ghersetti, M. (2013). Still the Same? Journalism Practice, 8(4), 373–389. https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2013.813201
Guess, A., Nagler, J., & Tucker, J. (2019). Less than you think: Prevalence and predictors of fake news dissemination on Facebook. Science Advances, 5(1), eaau4586. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aau4586
Hamborg, F., Donnay, K. & Gipp, B. Automated identification of media bias in news articles: an interdisciplinary literature review. International Journal Digital Library 20, 391–415 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00799-018-0261-y
Henkel, I., Thurman, N., Möller, J., & Trilling, D. (2020). Do Online, Offline, and Multiplatform Journalists Differ in their Professional Pr