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Traditional news organizations are feeling the impact of two distinct and powerful trends: Internet news has not only arrived, but it is also attracting key segments of the news audience. According a 1999 survey by U.S. media watch group The Pew Research Center, a growing number of news users are losing the news habit. (Pew 1999) The trends highlighted are affecting all traditional media, in particular broadcast news outlets.
According to Pew, the Internet has made the greatest inroads among younger and better-educated people. More college graduates under the age of fifty connect to the Internet every day than regularly watch one of the network news broadcasts. The digital tide is having less of a direct negative impact on radio and print outlets. The Pew survey finds no evidence that Internet use is driving down regular reading of daily newspapers or listening to radio news. However, all news outlets are being affected by the public's slowly declining appetite for news.
The Internet, with its headline-news format and its capacity for quick updates, is clearly attractive to younger news consumers. The Internet's hypertext-based ability to provide more depth on a subject also appeals to those with large news appetites, such as professionals, managers, and executives. As a result, the growth of Internet news has had a dramatic impact on the way people with access to technology get information on business and financial matters. For active investors the Web has largely supplanted traditional media as the leading source of stock quotes and investment advice.
As information consumers have grown more reliant on the Internet for news, they also have come to find online news outlets more credible. Ignoring the controversy over news-gathering techniques employed by some sites, those who go on line generally give Internet news operations high marks for believability.
In fact, the online sites of such well-known news organizations as CNN and ABC News get better ratings from Internet users than traditional broadcast or print outlets. But having a familiar name clearly helps. Internet-only news sources such as Yahoo, Netscape, and America Online's News Channel get lower ratings than the Web sites of traditional news organizations.
Still, the believability ratings for new news organizations are comparable to those of network television news, according to the Pew study. The Pew study also found that Internet news organizations that specialize in providing original content, such as the online magazines Slate and Salon.com, were less well-known and got lower ratings from Internet news users than any of the other news sources.
A Writing and Reading Renaissance
Mario Garcia, Research Fellow at Poynter Institute of Media Studies, says the Web is a new medium for a new century and will herald what he calls a "writing and reading renaissance," with the resurgence of text as the main mode of communication (Garcia 1997). Indeed, studies conducted by the Poynter Institute seem to support his claim. It appears that a news Web site's first and best chance to engage the reader is through text.
In a study by Stanford University and funded by the Poynter Institute, sixty-seven Web users in Chicago and Florida were tracked for a total of forty hours to ascertain their reading habits on line. The Eyetrack technology they used tracks readers' eye movements and matches them against the pages being read. That technology enabled researchers to map exactly where readers' eyes were focused when they displayed each page.
According to the study, released in October 2000, text seems favored over artwork for front-page attention. Visitors to news sites focus on text first, not photos or graphics. More often than not, briefs or captions got the initial eye fixations when the first page came up. Then the eyes came back to photos or graphics, sometimes after readers had clicked away to a full article before returning to the first page.
Even when using a high-speed Internet connection that displayed photos and graphics quickly, readers focused on text. According to the study, only sixty-four percent of displayed photos and twenty-two percent of graphics on a page attracted readers' attention. The findings were very different from Eyetrack newspaper studies, which over the years have found that newspaper readers focus first on photos, then text.
Information designers and photojournalists were stunned by the results which seemed to go against everything they had always assumed — that pictures and splashy graphics were the draw. The authors of the study speculated that display size might be a factor in the outcome. The smaller size of photos and graphics may not grab readers right away in the same way that larger artwork does in a print newspaper.(In advertising, banner advertisements were viewed by forty-five percent of readers, but icons and tile advertisements were viewed by only twenty-two percent.)
The study also found that online-news users skipped back and forth between news sites rather than spending a great deal of time focused on one site. This finding was similar to results of a 1997 Stanford study that used video cameras to record readers' use of Web sites.
Hypermedia and the Notion of Narrative
The Eyetrack study suggests that new ways with words will be a factor in how online-news writing holds reader attention. Hypertext has changed the notion of narrative and has given rise to the need for a new aesthetic for information on the Web. Journalists need to think of stories as almost three-dimensional, where information is not just accessed in the traditional left to right and top to bottom, but also story to photo or brief to video.
Media educators and practitioners agree that storytelling in online journalism should evolve. While good leads on fair stories will serve online journalists well for some time to come, Web writers will have to consider the user at a new level. "Navigation around a site via hypertext is the single most important element," said Mary Norman Jacobson, managing editor of FACSNET, in an interview with Freedom Forum Online.  She said a journalist could write the most brilliant, insightful, relevant, and vibrant story in the world, but if no one can move through it clearly and quickly, the writer has wasted his time.
In the same interview Christopher Harper, professor, and Roy Park, Distinguished Chair of Journalism at Ithaca College, said, "When radio started, people read newspapers on the air and that didn't work, and radio developed its own writing style. We read radio writing on TV and TV eventually developed its own storytelling technique. Right now on the Web all we're doing is using old storytelling techniques, instead of developing new ones."  Historically, on the media timeline, storytelling in Web journalism today is "still TV circa 1949,"  added Lamar Graham, a professor and director of the Digital Journalism Program at New York University.
In a sense, online news is moving towards a "televisation" of the Web with news sites incorporating multimedia enhancements. Much as the mass culture of television was in the 1960s, the digital gestalt is both seductive and repellent. Now, in the Digital Age, the Web's break with a mostly print-based form of communication will likely be as sharp as those earlier breaks that characterized radio and television. The question is whether the Web will become only a distribution medium for television (as some scholars believe) when bandwidth technology makes superior video possible online. Then we will see whether people will prefer visuals over text.
Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan said in 1964 that the "content of any medium is always another medium." (McLuhan 1964) Indeed, online news is not different in content from its print and broadcast brethren; the same facts are presented. The big difference online is time scale. Online news is never "put to bed" but is continually updated. The new message of online news is encapsulated in the overall feel of a news site, its accessibility, and the presentation of content rather than the content itself.
A Singapore Perspective
Singapore's largely conservative media landscape is changing as more people are able to access information from an increasing variety of sources. To remain viable in the competitive environment, the island's two major homegrown news organizations have moved to meet the challenge of information dissemination.
Local print media group Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) launched a television station to produce broadcast news programs in 2001 to augment its flagship newspaper, The Straits Times. In addition, SPH has established a Web presence via its year-old portal AsiaOne.Com which feature links to interactive editions of its print dailies, Business Times and The Straits Times. Also muscling into Internet turf is The MediaCorp Group whose flagship news and information network, ChannelNewsAsia.com is augmented online by its year-old news portal, http://www.channelnewsasia.com.
"Information professionals must sieve and weave the master narratives from the chatter and the chaff"
In an effort to blend innovative news-gathering and storytelling online, both news organizations are assembling multimedia teams of journalists to gather and file stories for the different platforms of television, Web, and print. Such teams are assigned to cover a story and file the report in several ways. Using material filed for a television clip, a radio report, and a traditional print article, integration producers back at base put it all together in a multimedia Web piece.
New-media practitioners assert that true content synergy is about mastering the medium and not methods of communication like text, video, and sound. The tools do not matter because technology changes so fast. The key is to acquire new storytelling skills and new approaches in communicating information.
The digital landscape is changing the way people acquire knowledge. In text-based print communication, typographical clues help to construct meaning (Rand 1985). With the unit of information shifting to bytes, knowledge acquisition, once based on book learning, is becoming increasingly non-linear. As myriad world views are opened up by the Web, journalists, editors, and information designers are being called upon to turn information to useful knowledge.
Through customized packages or "Web Specials," online news sites are giving users better choices and informational experiences. Sites like ChannelNewsAsia.com and AsiaOne.com feature specials on major events and issues, where the "latest news is only the latest update." At ChannelNewsAsia.com, journalists are encouraged to shift from simply presenting information to editing content appropriate to the medium. Joon-Nie Lau, senior editor of ChannelNewsAsia.com, says, "The beauty of the Web is that it offers journalists and editors that flexibility to go as shallow or as in-depth as they can, time permitting." 
Journalists at the ChannelNewsAsia broadcast center are challenged to derive extra mileage from having their stories on the Web. "We are constantly encouraging our Web journalists to come up with innovative online-storytelling methods. They can create interactive graphical timelines (which pop up information on a year or period of time the user clicks on), video slideshows supplemented with text captions, and interactive maps, "  says Lau, a broadcast journalist who studied new media at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in the U.S. before returning to Singapore in 2000 to spearhead the editorial direction of ChannelNewsAsia.com.
Indeed, the effort at cross platform content synergy has significantly changed the physical layout of the channel's Singapore newsroom, which has been transformed into an integrated command center where online and television editors work in close proximity with graphics, video, multimedia, and show producers.
ChannelNewsAsia.com's coverage of the crash of Singapore Airlines flight SQ006 in October 2000 presented a challenge for the on line news service. "For SQ006, users wanted news fast," says Lau. "With the situation, condition of passengers and status of investigations changing by the minute, the top priority was to update the thousands of users hitting our site simultaneously with the latest news."
Indeed, the network's award-winning coverage of the air crash  was a good example of the attempt at content synergy by a major Asian news organization with a fledgling online presence. Shortly after the crash, the channel's TV news unit kicked into live programming, broadcasting extensive coverage of media briefings and updates from correspondents on the ground. On the Internet, ChannelNewsAsia.com Web specials offered customized information, pointing readers to comprehensive backgrounders on airline safety history, photo galleries of the wreck, and animations of the flight path and crash.
Web users were able to share experiences with crash survivors via audio and video clips as well as to relate their feelings of loss or read those from others in online forums. To tell the larger story, Web editors repurposed and integrated broadcast content by digitizing video and sound clips and hyperlinking the multimedia enhancements into a compendium of stories in different formats.
Ethics and E-journalism
Of course, not all Web sites use traditional methods of source checking, editing, and establishing accuracy and credibility. Traditional media have made their name through their commitment to accuracy, and their reputation carries over to the Web. However, anyone can produce Web pages, and on unknown sites source credibility comes into question.
By extending their franchise to the Internet, established newspapers, magazines, and television bring brand names that people trust. Although the new medium has its own demands, established sources cannot abandon any of the rigor of their standards of accuracy and integrity as they move to the Web. News online cannot abandon the basic tenets of good traditional journalism — accuracy, balance, and fairness. If they do, they will be no more trusted than Microsoft and America Online and the other non-newspaper news sources on the Web. That will cause them to lose their advantage — their reputation — and force them to battle these strong new competitors on the turf of slick presentation and hot new technology rather than content and credibility. Moreover, the new news sources will damage the traditional media's reputation.
Today when a story breaks, news consumers do not go to Web sites they have never heard of. They go quickly to the "branded" sites set up by established media. Indeed, the major news sites on the Web are all traditional names. In America, the number one site for news on the Web is CNN, followed by USAToday and ABC News. In Asia, a study conducted in 2000 by the magazine AsiaComputer Week placed Singapore's ChannelNewsAsia.com and AsiaOne.com as sites of choice for people seeking an Asian news perspective. News organizations need to maintain credibility if they are to keep their audiences online.
One important issue relating to credibility is the line between advertising and editorial. Advertising now co-exists and sometimes takes a more dominant role than news on the Web page. Many journalists are concerned about the blurred lines between advertising and editorial content online.
"In the heyday of the dotcom boom, jokes would abound on how writers were badly needed to produce content to fill the spaces between online ads," says Lau of ChannelNewsAsia.com. "Of course that does not hold true anymore. However, as the advertising dollar shrinks, and sites fight to stay afloat, the temptation to produce content favoring a sponsor over a non-sponsor is even greater. This is where editorial ethics are needed, particularly if the site belongs to a respected news organization. Viewers, users, and readers expect NOT to be misled," says Lau.
Such issues inevitably lead back to the importance of branding and the recognized integrity of news organizations. If the news industry hopes to prosper online, it will be because recognized, branded news sites are accessed for their credibility as sources of information. If media let their concerns about quick profits and business alliances run away with traditional values, credibility will be eroded.
Accuracy and Credibility
News posted on line may be less accurate than its traditional print counterpart, according to the results of a survey of online news editors (Arant and Anderson 2000). A summary of the research findings released on the Web reveals that almost half of the more than 200 online managers responding to the survey said that "the speed of the Internet has eroded the key standard of accurately verifying the facts of a story before putting it before the public."
But the source of the problem goes beyond the speed of distribution. Twenty-seven percent of the online daily newspapers taking part in the survey had no full-time staff members and nineteen percent had just one full-time worker. Without staff, news organizations have no chance of checking and verifying.
The researchers suggest that both staffing and training inadequacies are obstacles to online news accuracy. The researchers discussed their findings at the annual meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix, Arizona, in August 2000. The study identified key areas for scrutiny by online journalists, including:
- Staff sizes and workloads for online employees.
- Establishment of ethics protocols specific to online news.
- Regimens for fact-checking in the rapid-fire world of e-news.
- Clear and consistent placement of corrections and clarifications.
- Labeling of ads used on the same page as editorial material.
- Policing of chat rooms and community bulletin boards.
- Manipulation of images.
A key conclusion of the study is that no uniform way presently exists to alert readers to mistakes in online articles. Currently, readers navigating news sites are required to hunt for varied corrections and clarifications. The study suggests that news watchdog groups mandate the inclusion of a "Corrections and Clarifications button" as a clearly marked hyperlink placed near the masthead of an online news site. This link should take readers to a page that lists corrections and clarifications of online news articles. Of course, changes should be made in the original story, too, so that readers who do not want to hyperlink will not be misled by incorrect information.
Augmenting Traditional Media
By delivering content online, traditional media is augmented by the Internet. Traditional media have taken advantage of the easy repurposing of information that the Internet offers, allowing them to target narrow audiences, increase services, and recycle existing content. That ability to repurpose information also gives the traditional media a competitive advantage on the Internet, because traditional media already have content. (Pavlik 1996).
"Meaning is derived from visual and verbal metaphors"
Although the Internet has been in existence since the 1970s, the introduction of user-friendly Web browsers heralded an explosion in the number of users exploring this unique medium. Those Web browsers also allowed traditional media to take advantage of the Web to deliver content and capture audiences and to revel in the unlimited space. Radio and TV content is limited by air time; print is limited by pages. These restrictions disappear on the Web, thus giving reporters and editors more leeway in doing news well. The Web also blurs the distinction among media. On the Web, radio and television sites deliver audio, video, and text, and online newspapers can be read, seen, or listened to, blurring the distinctions among the media. That means each news medium needs to acquire the expertise of the others — or to make alliances — to take full advantage of the Web.
In Singapore, at the height of the dotcom boom, in mid 2000, the SPH group produced the now defunct "Project Eyeball," a tabloid-sized daily which targeted younger, new-media-savvy readers. The paper's design emulated Web pages in layout. In the case of television, news shows by ChannelNewsAsia, CNN, Bloomberg, and CNBC feature talking heads, news headlines, financial data, sports results, and the weather — all offered simultaneously and competing for attention. Both examples show how the Web's approach has influenced traditional media.
Theory Follows Form
Indeed, a whole new set of academic theories has been put forth to explain the new knowledge-representation possibilities of the Internet. The field of Interaction Studies has gained momentum with the digital transmission of text, audio, and video. Research threads in this area start with human needs and capabilities and look at how they are augmented by interactive electronic technologies rather than beginning with the inherent structure of knowledge alone.
This emerging discipline has many labels: information design, knowledge architecture, interaction design (Marchionini 1995). Scholars prefer "interaction studies" because interaction connotes a process rather than a product. The term "studies" is broad enough to include usage and evaluation which are part of the interactive nature of information seeking and electronic information environments.
Interaction studies draws principles from other new fields such as human-computer interaction and from established fields like architecture, electrical engineering, instructional design, media, technical communication, and graphical design. Thus, interaction designers must not only create well-organized and useful digital products but also annotate and place them appropriately so that information is optimally accessed, maintained, and stored. Some approaches adopted by this field of inquiry are:
The unprecedented international exposure afforded by the Web increases the information designer's responsibility for ensuring a site's global usability (Nielsen 2000). Although recent Web usability studies have shown that information seekers favor text over graphics, the role of visuals in enhancing comprehension cannot be ignored.
Visual Language has been described as a new genre of diagraming that is set to become a "major global language of the 21st century," according to its originator, Robert Horn of the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University. The approach employs the tight integration of words, images, and shapes to form new communication units to speed understanding.
Meaning is derived from visual and verbal metaphors. With graphics as a key dialect, visual language also draws from flow charts, business process diagrams, and cartoons. Because of its reliance on images, the technique as a communication tool cuts across language barriers and is most effective in cross-cultural information exchanges.
This is a system of structured writing designed to manage and present huge volumes of largely textual information in ways that make their presentation effective (Horn 1999). The technique has been patented under a consultancy of the same name. Used to develop instructional strategies, Information Mapping evolved from research in Cognitive Load Theory and Instructional Design initiated at the University of New South Wales, Australia. Its tenet is the enhancement of recall by reducing extraneous information (Cooper 1998)).
Information Mapping has been effectively used in various communication settings to package stable, explanatory information that exhibits deep structure (e.g., Web site reports, news analysis). Not unlike hypertext, information mapping sorts sentences into blocks and displays them for scanning or skipping. By presenting text in coherent chunks, information mapping allows users to build context into the information and enhance meaning.
To envision information is to work at the intersection of image, word, numbers, and art. Envisioning seeks to clarify a complex body of information without simplifying content. The technique is most effective in communicating the rich information found in maps, scientific charts, and the hyperlinked architecture of the Web. Envisioning unfolds patterns in information by "seeking a rich texture of data, a comparative context, an understanding of complexity revealed with an economy of means" (Tufte 1989).
If storytelling is enjoying a revival in a world of technology (Bausinger 1990), it is because stories are like idea wrappers. The return of this folk art today is in many ways a return to the historical and literary roots of journalism. In her essay "Writing for the Third Millennium," Beth Agnew notes, "Writers have always been society's visionaries. We now have too much information to rationally deal with on a daily basis, and we need skilled professional help to turn that information into the currency of the next millennium — knowledge"(Agnew 1994).
Indeed, if knowledge assembly is all about building perspective, the ancient tradition of storytelling is perhaps the first step in the accretion of unexpected insights. A masterful narrative is a potent form of communication in an environment glutted with information, but starved of meaning. Insightful reporting in a well written story conveys both information with emotion by combining the explicit with the tacit.
The Electronic Future and the Word
As we enter a new millennium, two powerful forces have emerged to change the mass communication model. The first is the use of computers to process and disseminate information. The second is the capacity of technology to enhance communication across time and space. The digital transmission of text, audio, and video has altered the traditional one-to-many communication model. A new many-to-many model has emerged as audiences become producers as well as consumers of information.
The rapidity of the change in the mass media model has led to the perception that communication is undergoing a technological revolution. However, history shows that computer-mediated communication is simply another way of applying technology to the word (Ong 1982). If speech initiated what writing and print continued, digital media can be seen as the next step in the evolutionary progression of communication from orality and literacy to computers. The Internet and formation of virtual communities by people around the world show that society is now ready for the next stage in the evolution of McLuhan's "global village."
Online News Forums as Sources of Information
News organizations are realising that if they want to survive, they must communicate with younger generations. New-media scholars point out that the online culture is about a willingness to alter the relationship between the vendor and the consumer of information. People who grow up in this interactive culture take this relationship as a right, not as a privilege. They control the information they use, and they do it through technology.
The various discussion forums on the Internet are the prototype for a new public form of communication. The very concept of news is being reinvented as people come to realize that:
- they can provide the news about their environment
- that people can contribute their real-life conditions
- that this information proves worthwhile for others.
This shift represents a fundamental challenge to the professional creation and dissemination of news. Online news sites and discussion forums allow open discourse. Individuals outside of the traditional power structures are finding a forum in which to contribute, where those contributions are welcomed.
Citizen reporters are challenging the premise that authoritative professional reporters are the only possible purveyors of the news. "Many givens of journalism are falling by the wayside, including becoming a journalist by being hired by a news organization," said journalism educator and news executive Felix Guttierrez in a speech at a convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication .
Gutierrez pointed out that journalism is moving from "mass media" to "class media" in the 21st century as diversity becomes the defining characteristic of both society and media. He believes journalists will need to learn to navigate and use a "class media" that targets audience segments and allows access through multimedia.
Cyberjournalism: A Return to Roots
Given the turmoil and changing values, how should universities teach online journalism? Media educators believe that integrating online writing and Internet techniques into their existing curricula with a multimedia, cross-training approach is more effective than trying to isolate a "Web" curriculum within their schools. We can be reasonably certain that the future belongs to journalists who become more and more computer literate. Web producers and directors will have to be even more tech-savvy.
"Information must be packaged and presented well to make a 'good read' or a 'good show'"
Hao Xiaoming, an associate professor and head of the journalism and publishing division in the school of communication studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, sees journalism education moving with market demand. The school is introducing a new undergraduate curriculum this year that includes a compulsory component in online journalism . While the focus of the course is on using the Web to gather information, the techniques taught will supplement the program's core concentration in traditional journalism skills.
The same move is seen at prominent American journalism schools. Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism has been offering cyberspace reporting courses since 1994, but grounds its aspiring online journalists with a solid education in print reporting and writing. New-media students are required to do ninety percent of the same curriculum as the print students.
Most educators agree that print writing is a great basis for any kind of a career in journalism and many do not want to see a separate online journalism track. However, journalism schools also train students about technology so that they understand new media tools without becoming consumed by them.
What students need to learn in journalism schools is what they always had to learn: How to manage attention. How to get their readers/watchers/users to pay attention to what is being presented. And how to understand it.
Two key ideas inform the field of information design: attention management and meaning making. On the Web, the scarce resource is human attention and to triumph is to get people to look at the site. Cyberspace has now become an information and news jungle that demands new mediators. The challenge is to help users see the big picture by filtering and communicating useful information in insightful ways.
Goldhaber (1997) contends that what we have on the Internet is an "Attention Economy." Certainly, from the media perspective, the issue is not more access to information but more human attention. In the information industry, how the media manage attention will be the key determinant of success. Professor John Beck of the Institute for Strategic Change at Andersen Consulting has argued that attention is the currency of the 21st century and "Attention Management" the discipline of the future for content presenters. (Davenport and Beck 2001). Beck says bandwidth may approach the unlimited and compression the infinite, but our time to take in information does not change substantially. A crucial variable will be our ability to concentrate on multiple stimuli.
Attention management is the art of directing behavior by generating focused mental engagement. Professional communicators, consummate politicians, and savvy marketeers have long known that information must be packaged and presented well to make a "good read" or a "good show." The media industries offer many lessons. Hollywood weaves entertainment value into its movies. Television features serialized short narratives to hook viewers. Publishers plump for tabloid books and memoirs, while advertisers employ frequency, repetition, and slogans to drive their message across.
While the online experience is different from print, competition for attention from other sites means that online news pages must be lean and fast. Web usability studies show that users want quicker access to information without the bells and whistles (Nielsen 2000).
The digital landscape is changing the way people acquire knowledge. In text-based print communication, typographical clues help to construct meaning (Rand 1985). With the unit of information shifting to bytes, knowledge acquisition, once based on book learning, is becoming increasingly non-linear. As myriad world views are opened up by the Web, journalists, editors, and information designers are being called upon to turn information to useful knowledge.
More than ever, information professionals must sieve and weave the master narratives from the chatter and the chaff. Traditional information-processing agencies, from newspapers to television networks like CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg and BBC, have made it their business to make sense of the world for readers and viewers via various strategies to manage attention and present information.
Schools of Journalism will have to help students acquire and hone these skills if their students are to thrive in the digital future.
Immersive Technology: The Experience of News
Nowhere has the introduction of broadband offered a greater opportunity and challenge than in the development of immersive news. The word "immersive" is best known within engineering schools, although it now makes appearances at advanced trade shows. This technology is still in the research box, awaiting the Broadband Genie to fully unleash it.
Immersive digital technology combines elements of enhanced multimedia: spatially-placed sound and 3-D video and graphics, plus haptic technology capable of conveying a sense of touch, texture, and temperature. It employs data compression techniques and "surrogate" images such as avatars or 3-D representations of humans that exist on a host computer and change or animate with only a fraction of the data required by a video stream.
Immersive technology has complex databases and multiple dimensions. It is thoroughly interactive and customizable, a virtual world that extends the real world with simulated experience. Some of this technology will not be leaving engineering labs for a decade or more. Key elements are still in the basic research phase, heavily financed by government and industries in many of the developed nations.
In the United States, for example, the leading immersive lab at the Annenberg School of Communication receives substantial funding from the National Science Foundation and support from industry partners, such as Hewlett Packard, Motorola, and Raytheon. Parts of immersive technology are starting to enter the news marketplace. The laboratory at Annenberg has begun to test how this technology can be used and what its introduction will mean to news organizations and audiences.
Simply put, in some situations, the viewer can be immersed in a news story. The most dramatic examples would be an urban riot, an unfolding natural disaster, or a major spectacle such as the opening of the Olympics or a Presidential Inauguration. The real event would be digitally re-created as a virtual event that surrounds the viewer with a visual, aural, and even tactile experience.
Immersive technology puts control of news coverage in the hands of viewers. They can accept a default perspective picked by a director or they can opt for a different perspective or news experience, placing themselves in alternative parts of an event, or even requesting a reporter to get added information. These possibilities put a heavy emphasis on the creation of tools future journalists will need to produce the immersive experience. Such a news team must be able to assemble the elements of a multi-layered story. Field reporters and producers will need a studio team that can organize and categorize all of the elements of the emerging story.
Immersive stories are like any other story: they need structure, a space within which both the reporter and viewer can operate in without getting lost. The rich alternative information surrounding the spine of the story has to be easily navigated and quickly presented. This puts a huge burden on database software, a key area of ongoing research. The degree to which immersive news will succeed depends a lot on how well the news presentation process can be automated. Many of the background elements — photos, bios, polls, statistics, and audio and video clips — will have to be automatically assembled and inserted into the story.
The goal is to fulfill the Internet's strength as a "pull" medium, in contrast with a traditional "push" medium like home delivery of newspapers or broadcast television. Interactivity allows viewers to be part of the scene as news happens and get any slice of the story they choose. This "democratic" concept of news coverage, with its possibilities of distortion and selective bias, raises tough ethical issues. Traditional journalists tend to see so many drawbacks that some reject interactive news outright. But as the technology leaves the laboratories, it has to be dealt with, preferably by concerned, informed journalists.
New technology enhances the role of journalists on the Internet as helpful guides to viewers — forward scouts and navigators through a new world of experience. News organizations that can gain the public's trust will earn the biggest audience. Traditional journalism is inherently selective, from the winnowing process to assemble a story to the editing or direction needed to deliver it. Readers and viewers trust news teams that can do this fairly and without causing distortion.
Highly digitized news will be no different, except complex tools will require journalists to be even more diligent. How viewers use technology to create their own view of the world raises another set of social problems. Does customized news on line mean that viewers in advanced industrial nations will become more insular? Not necessarily. Internet news, whether it be today's hypertext version or tomorrow's immersive news, has one powerful characteristic that goes against overly-narrow personal news: links.
Connections between pieces of information, which computers can enhance so powerfully, lead viewers to choose unexpected paths to further information, to explore inviting links to new experiences. Human curiosity has always spurred the age-old quest for knowledge, and in the Internet age, computers play to that ancient impulse. Internet news lets the brain wander, seek, and find. And the more powerful the technology, the more experiences will be available for viewers to enter and share.
Joanne Teoh Kheng Yau has over 17 years of professional experience in broadcast journalism and the media field. An editor with Channel NewsAsia, a network of the MediaCorp Group in Singapore, she has produced, directed and edited news and current affairs content for various media platforms. She is currently exploring the potential of hypermedia in interactive storytelling. Joanne has done postgraduate media studies in the US and UK on a journalism fellowship. Her specialty is the nexus between traditional and new media, and the impact of this convergence on information dissemination. A trained infocomm specialist, she serves on the Parents Advisory Group for the Internet and conducts electronic literacy workshops in her community. She trained for her M.Sc. in Information Studies at the Nanyang Technological University School of Computer Engineering in Singapore. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Suliman Hawamdeh is currently an Associate Professor in the Division of Information Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has more than twenty years of teaching and industrial experience in areas such as knowledge management, electronic commerce, document imaging, information retrieval, Internet and digital libraries. He worked as a consultant to private and government organizations. Dr. Hawamdeh was the managing director of ITC Information Technology Consultants Pte Ltd, which specializes in imaging and document management. He holds a master's degree from University of Michigan, in the US and a Ph.D from University of Sheffield in UK. He is the founder and president of Information and Knowledge Management Society (iKMS). He is also the author of Information and Knowledge Society published by McGraw-Hill. You may reach him by e-mail at ASSuliman@ntu.edu.sg.
1. Interviews featured on The Freedom Forum Online. Available at http://www.freedomforum.org/templates/document.asp?documentID=8009.
2. Interviews featured on The Freedom Forum Online. Available at http://www.freedomforum.org/templates/document.asp?documentID=4465.
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Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication http://www.aejmc.org/
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