The web is a great place to share a news story

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Digital | March 24, 2011
One of the last sessions of Day One, 'News in the Internet Age' proved to be an intriguing one on how the notion of news has changed and is changing in this era of the worldwide web, which is pretty much crawling with news.

The last session on Day 1 at the FICCI Frames 2011, being held at the Renaissance Powai in Mumbai, saw eminent industry folk discuss the nature of news, both online and in its traditional form.

The panel comprised Suparna Singh, deputy chief executive officer and managing editor, NDTV Convergence, Kalli Purie, chief operating officer, India Today Group Digital and chief creative officer, India Today Group, Wilf Dinnick, founding editor and CEO, OpenFile, and Raman Kalra, director and partner, communications sector and industry leader, IBM Global Business Services, India and South Asia. The session was moderated by Vikram Chandra, chief executive officer, NDTV Networks,

Purie kickstarted the session with a punch! "The web is a great place to tell a story!" she said, referring to the timeliness and tools (chat, text, photos, videos, ability to share and rate stories) it offers. The online space today has led to what the panel referred to as 'integrated news rooms' that help enhance the news by playing it out across different media. "We're encouraging journalists to join the online conversation as it works for them at a personal level, too," said Purie.

Singh chipped in by saying that unlike in the past, over the last two-to-three years, the online medium has become 'aggressive', thanks to the longevity the medium provides (stories live on in this space days after they are first aired) and thanks to 'fun media' such as Twitter, where journalists are becoming increasingly conscious of their individual branding.

"The byline is becoming more and more important today, thanks to this," she offered. Singh added that the advantages of providing news in this medium include the immediacy factor, as well as the fact that one's online space (such as the homepage of a news portal) can be tweaked accordingly.

When the issue of whether the wave of news on the internet would pose a challenge to news in its traditional form - print - was raised, Raman stated that though the former will not wipe out the latter, a balance will need to be struck between the two. This comment prompted Purie to bring to the panel's notice a very strange paradox regarding the co-existence of old and new media.

"Strangely, many of the magazines that have been launched in the recent past bear content that is related to how best to use the digital media!" she exclaimed.

Is Everyone Turning A Journalist?

Chandra sparked off another sub-discussion by posing a relevant question. "Owing to the nature and scope of the online medium, is everyone turning into a journalist?" he asked, referring to the rise in 'citizen journalism' and the ease with which one is able to upload and share timely information today.

Answered Dinnick, "Yes, user participation is on the rise; this medium is a two-way street and while the model of one person addressing the masses is a dying one, journalism is not dying."

So, while user participation will have a huge impact on journalism, according to Dinnick, it will serve to convert news from a "product to a service" as "newspapers will be seen as a news service."

Is Online News Credible?

An inevitable point regarding the credibility of the content available on online platforms was raised. The layperson lacks the sense of responsibility that a professional journalist feels while sharing content online. This may lead to rumours. Chandra admitted that he trusts internet news less than news received via a traditional medium, as a lot of news on the internet tends to fall under the umbrella of "motivational reports".

He said, "Online, 2 per cent of the people make most of the noise." Agreeing, Purie further added that the internet tends to provide polarised opinions and that the traditional media needs to moderate these extreme views.

Dinnick, however, chose to give the reader some credit. "This is where brands come into the picture; readers are sophisticated enough to know which brands to trust online when it comes to receiving news."

Similarly, Singh reminded the panel that there is a big difference between news on the website of a proper news brand and news on social media.

In the end, it was agreed that some kind of governance and official supervision is a must when it comes to online news sharing.

Can Online Medium Increase The Profitability Of News?

The next topic was how the online medium can be used to increase the profitability of news. Bytes from TV news shows can be played and re-played on the news channel's website and that content can be used to increase revenue. Singh said, "Online ad spends have increased and will increase further with the advent of 3G and internet penetration. Hopefully, we will convert TV advertisers into digital advertisers. Apps will also help expand our business."

However, despite the fact that online news viewers are less passive compared to TV news viewers (given the space to comment and share feedback), advertisers are slow to embrace the space. Raman explained, "Yes, there is increased online viewership and mobile penetration is also rising. The eyeballs are there, but the dollars aren't shifting because lots of work - for instance, contextualising marketing campaigns to suit this medium - still needs to be done."

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