As computers, tablets and mobiles become many people’s leading source of news, readers are engaging with their outlets – and their reporters – at unprecedented levels.
For a recently-released survey, Journalism at the speed of bytes: Australian Newspapers in the 21st Century, researchers interviewed 100 Australians from 12 national and metropolitan dailies – editors, deputy editors, chiefs of staff and senior journalists. They found that as readers interact with their news and newsmakers more, unexpected practical and professional challenges are coming up in newsrooms.
Researchers found that 69 per cent of senior journalists were in favour of increased interactivity with readers. Forty-five per cent of respondents were also in favour of readers contributing to the creation of news content.
Penny O’Donnell, senior lecturer in international media and journalism at University of Sydney, and associate professor David McKnight with the Journalism and Media Research Centre at University of New South Wales conducted the study along with Jonathan Este from The Walkley Foundation for Excellence in Journalism. O’Donnell and McKnight wrote an article about the study for The Conversation last week.
“While, to a large degree there is acceptance of – and in some an appetite for – the blurring of traditional boundaries between journalists and audience, and the increased participation of readers in the news process, there are persistent doubts as to what journalism will look like when journalists put down their old mantle of ‘gatekeeper’ and instead take up a new role as ‘facilitator’ or ‘curator’ of multi-participant news conversations,” they wrote.
The study also pointed out that those who use social media say they are good tools to find sources.
“Social media allows you to cut through the red tape and speak directly to people,” said one respondent in the study.
That said, the field of internet journalism is not filled with only sunshine and roses.
“Newspapers in Australia have been adapting to digital technologies for the past two decades, and past research tells us that this change process has stirred fear and uncertainty amongst journalists as well as excitement about the future,” the study says.
The study points out that many newspapers are struggling to make ends meet, losing their print readership while trying to break into the online market.
“The newspaper business in Australia is now operating in uncharted waters,” the study said. “More than 1,000 journalists’ jobs have been lost in the last three years, with a consequent drop in newsroom capacity to produce the same quantity and quality of daily journalism – all with no guarantee that the digital destination will restore jobs or newsroom resources.”
But there’s still hope in news delivery.
The study says respondents were enthusiastic about pushing out that news via mobile device, particularly tablets, in a way that can pull in cash.
“One-third (34 per cent) of respondents described the tablet as a ’game-changer’ because it is journalist-friendly (adaptable to known news cycles, formats and values), reader-friendly (adaptable to known consumer preferences and habits) and financially viable because the content is seen to be more readily monetised.”