The Internet Manifesto

I’ve been reading this internet manifesto published by a group of German journalists on 7 September 2009, as part of my postgraduate diploma in journalism. It makes a number of good points, though as you’ll see, I’m not completely convinced.

First of all, the good stuff:

“The media must adapt their work methods to today’s technological reality instead of ignoring or challenging it.”

Spot on. There is a lot of soul-searching going on in the media industry at the moment and an awful lot of talk about the decline of traditional sources of news. But navel-gazing doesn’t save newspapers. Waking up to reality – that the internet is here to stay so make the most of it – just might.

“Links are connections. We know each other through links. Those who do not use them exclude themselves from social discourse.”

This gets to the very essence of networked journalism. Online news doesn’t stop at the end of the article. In theory, you could go from one news source to the next and explore many more sides of an issue than would be possible in print, and every article is richer for the fact that it links to the next.

Links also mean people. One of the very best things about the internet is the ability to converse with people you’d never normally meet in day-to-day life. Journalism works best when it’s open and honest with its readers, and inviting them to have their say is the best way of fostering that spirit.

Not so convincing

“Web-based platforms like social networks, Wikipedia or YouTube have become a part of everyday life for the majority of people in the western world. They are as accessible as the telephone or television.”

Really? For the majority of people? My last post was about social media growing among women and over-35s, but they’re still a definite minority. There is a significant proportion of the population which either doesn’t own a computer, or doesn’t use it as their main source of news. The whole point of online journalism is finding new ways to communicate, but that’s no good if you leave the rest of your readership behind.

“The Internet debunks homogenous bulk goods. Only those who are outstanding, credible and exceptional will gain a steady following in the long run.”

In many ways, this is true. It’s easy to go to another page if you’re not convinced by what you’re reading. But I think this also highlights the value of established news organisations. It takes time to establish someone’s credibility, especially if they are blogging under a pseudonym or aren’t up front about their own vested interests.

How does this work in reality?

Alison Gow, executive editor, digital, of the Liverpool Echo and Liverpool Daily Post, has a slightly more realistic perspective on how this affects real journalists in a working newsroom.

Many journalists don’t take full advantage of the web, for a whole multitude of reasons. Gow outlines some of them: lack of time, lack of technical knowledge, lack of commitment to the website. But journalists who fail to embrace the opportunities offered by the web fail themselves and their readers. They miss out on the chance to be truly creative – to invent new ways of telling stories. Readers lose out too, because they are given the story in isolation without essential links and context, and without the many dimensions that multimedia can offer.

Gow sums it up:

“Online journalism shouldn’t be a chore, it should be exciting, different, interesting, and fun. If you’re working as a multimedia journalist you have the opportunity to be a real pioneer in the art of online storytelling, audience engagement, and new ways of sourcing, sharing and developing information. That has to be worth being a part of.”

The industry is undergoing such radical change that there has never been a better time to adapt and improve our story-telling techniques, to engage in conversation, and take advantage of the myriad opportunities of multimedia and the net. These tools can help us do our job better – we should and we must make the most of them.

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