Interactivity in the daily routines of online newsrooms

Interactivity in the daily routines of online newsrooms

Dealing with an uncomfortable myth

David Domingo calls online journalism a powerful myth with which journalists have to deal in their daily work.

He suggests that the professional one way traffic approach of journalists prevent them from developing the ideals of interactivity

Weblogs and citizen media sites have put forth the idea that the Internet will make journalism more dialogical, turning the audience into active collaborators of journalists’ news production work

There is however a difference between what online journalists view as interactivity and what the actual users of interactive features see as interactivity.

Interactivity, hypertext and multimedia were believed to bring about the changes the Internet will produce in journalism.


Interactivity –the power of the user of a medium to control the communication flow or even alter the message sent by the producer has always been the epicenter of online journalism myths.


The fact that the response of and interaction with the audience is the key element of the online news site could allow for a cultural change in journalism.


This brings us to filtering of the news. Some authors argue that the sheer amount of information available online actually make journalists more necessary than ever to filter what is relevant although their functions and their relationship to the audience might change quite dramatically.


The digital management of news makes it technically possible to filter content on the basis of the preferences of each user. This empowers users, who are able to customize the product and consume it in the way that best suits their needs.


Audience Feedback

The internet has brought about enhanced audience feedback.

The public availability of reporters’ email addresses on news websites, next

to their news stories, turns readers and viewers into commentators, critics and

collaborators. Even the old-fashioned letters to the editor have been sped up because they can now be submitted by email. The relationship between journalists and their audience can be richer, and for the first time reporters can systematically know what their audiences expect from them.


The public can now also be the eyes of the journalist, uncovering new hot topics and submitting first-hand accounts, photos and videos that can enhance a story.


A second development that could counter the effects of customization and news

aggregators is the promotion of citizens’ debate in online news sites, which bring to the public arena discussions that are often restricted to close family and friends.


Surveys of online journalists clearly show that they strongly adhere to the myth of

interactivity: Most believe that the future of online news production lies in interactivity and that building a stronger and interactive relationship with the public is the best way to do online journalism.


However, online news sites analyses show that the development of interactive

features defined in the online journalism myths is generally poor.

Users are however still regarded as a rather passive audience, consumers of the stories. In online newsrooms linked to traditional media companies, the strongest value for the online product was immediacy, publishing stories as quick as possible, and this fact strongly affected the development of interactivity.


Journalists in most cases embrace interactivity as a crucial feature of their work, but in practice Domingo’s study shows that the professional culture and the priority given to immediacy –  which fitted better the values and routines of traditional journalism – made them perceive audience participation as a problem to manage rather than a benefit for the news product,


The fact that interactivity is counterintuitive with the principles of traditional journalistic culture tended to diminish the willingness to explore audience participation.


The prevalence of traditional journalism culture and the representation

of the users as passive consumers or active producers had a strong influence in

shaping the strategies of the different online newsrooms. Journalists embedded in print or broadcast media companies were more inclined to stress immediacy over interactivity and define their users as consumers. Even though

the online-only portal was more eager to explore interactivity and understand their users as active netizens, the references to traditional journalistic norms were still very present.


The professional culture of journalism is still very prevalent and actually overshadows the strength and pervasiveness of the interactivity



Other factors also play a role: the small size of online teams made it impractical to deal with extensive participation opportunities as the priority in three of the four cases was publishing news stories as fast as possible;

the separation of news production routines and interactivity management routines in most of the cases minimized the radical potential of audience participation.


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