On-line Media and Web 2.0

Ruth Rodriguez-Martinez and Rafael Pedraza-Jimenez

Citación recomendada: Ruth Rodriguez-Martinez and Rafael Pedraza-Jimenez. 0 [en linea]. "Hipertext.net", num. 7, 2009. <http://www.hipertext.net>

  1. Introduction
  2. On-line media: a mass phenomenon?
  3. The digital media and news search engines
  4. Accessing web news
  5. On-line media and Web 2.0
  6. Conclusions
  7. References

Ruth Rodriguez-Martinez
Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
Communication Department. Specialised Journalism.

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Ruth Rodriguez-Martinez has received her doctorates from Madrid's Universidad Complutense (2005). Her doctoral thesis focuses on the contributions that Balzac, Maupassant and Greene made in the field of Cultural Journalism. Her main line of research is based in Cultural Journalism, focusing on literary aspects and the transfer of general and specialised press formats to an on-line format. In 2008 she was Visiting Scholar at the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, and has published several scientific articles in several journals, including Estudios del Mensaje Periodístico, Zer, Anàlisi, Thélème, Tripodos and Comunicación y Pluralismo.

Rafael Pedraza-Jiménez
Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
Communication Department. Library and Information Science

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Rafael is an Assistant Professor at Pompeu Fabra University, where he teaches in the Journalism and Audiovisual Communications studies. Besides, he is working as a teacher within the Master's in Digital Content Management (UB / UPF), the Online master's in Digital Documentation (IDEC-UPF), and the Online master's in Search Engines (IDEC-UPF), amongst others. He has published several articles in international congress/journals, and he works and manages different projects related to the Web. He is member of the DigiDoc group, where he is researching within the following fields of interests: Semantic web, Metadata, Ontology engineering, Information Retrieval, SEO/SEM.

 

1. Introduction

The increasing popularisation of the Internet, resulting in the consolidation of the Web 2.0 characterised by its eminent orientation towards the user and his/her social activities on-line, has favoured that the majority of media now also appear in this environment. What has been especially relevant has been the case of the print newspapers, which has had to progressively adapt to this new scenario in order to satisfy the information needs of its users, increasingly more familiar with these new technologies.

This article aims to analyse the current state of on-line media, with special focus on on-line newspapers. With this aim, we have studied the evolution of consumer habits in comparison with the traditional news format, comparing the way in which this traditional format has been implemented on-line, different from other media like the television. We continue to analyse the repercussions news search engines has had on on-line newspapers. Finally, we analyse the use the on-line media has made of Web 2.0 tools, going on to present some initiatives that suppose a change in the way we conceive the communication process with the users.

 

2. On-line media: a mass phenomenon?

In the last few years in developed countries, the number of users that access the internet regularly has considerably increased. The lowering in prices of computers, and the almost generalised implementation and low cost of broadband connections, has allowed for the internet to become a daily tool for work, communication and entertainment.

Up against this increase in Internet consumption, it is worth asking how users spend their time on-line In 2003, 46% of users in the United States saw the Internet as a communication tool, while 34% of those interviewed used it as a medium for searching content (source: On-line Publishers Association). In 2007 the results were quite different. 33% of users used the internet as a way to communicate (mainly e-mail), but the number of users that claimed to use the Internet to access content went up to 47%. The On-line Publishers Association attributes this evolution to the generalised use of broadband, allowing for users to download and view contents quicker, along with the increased number of content available on the Web in the last years, and the trust users are placing on them.

This trend has also contributed to: 1) the improving of search engines, enabling users to access information more precisely, and 2) the positive response users have had to incorporating multimedia contents on-line, with on-line video being of particular importance.

Amongst the different content available on the Internet, the news media plays an important role. According to a survey by Pew Internet & American Life Project, by the end of 2007, 71% of those surveyed claimed that what they searched for on the Internet was news.

This increase in the consumption of on-line news is mainly due to the on-line adaptation process the media has gone through. Newspapers, magazines or television stations have made noticeable changes in their attitude towards the Internet. The original fear and scepticism journalists maintained has gone on to a more practical view that is open to the audience's demands. The media's websites have been progressively increasing the amount of contents, while also making them more attractive. While still faithful to the newspaper's or television station's image, their on-line versions have created a style and language of their own, designed to satisfy the demands of the new on-line users (Horrigan, 2006). This explains how many internet users have changed from their television screen to the computer screen, or have stopped turning newspaper pages by hand, and started clicking. Focusing on the digital news media, different studies show that on-line readers especially value:

  1. The ease of access: in the web, they can access what they are searching for whenever they want to.

  2. Personalising the contents/information received, especially using syndicated web feeds (RSS, Atom, etc.).

  3. The continually updating of information: Practically up to the minute, so that you can connect at any time and receive up-to-date information.

  4. Trust: a value which the Internet has gained in recent years (according to data published in 2006 by Pew Research Center, 55% of internet users surveyed consider the information received on-line truthful and reliable; this figure has not dropped).

To these factors we would have to add that there is free access to the news (in almost all cases). In fact, many newspapers have been able to take advantage of this. For example, The New York Times used to charge on-line readers to read opinion pieces until 2007. As they explain in their own newspaper, this policy change was due to the fact that many readers reached these pages via search engines or other links other than the newspaper's (http://www.nytimes.com). These indirect readers started to be seen as a business opportunity, since it considerably increased the number of users visiting its pages, therefore generating advertising profits.

 

3. The digital media and news search engines

However, not all on-line newspapers considered news search engines their allies. Some feel that since they enable direct links to their news, they hurt their advertising income. The on-line newspapers argue that users access the article without visiting the homepage and the section it is in, thus without being able to see any advertisements on those pages.

A clear example of this is the case of the Belgian newspaper, which in 2008 filed a lawsuit against Google News. This lawsuit ended in a ruling that required the search engine to stop indexing the newspaper's contents and pay them an indemnity of 40 million euros, both for reproducing and publishing works protected by copyright, along with the detriment to these media's advertising income.

It is difficult to know if these measures will benefit on-line media in some way. In fact, they could seriously harm them, since the contents indexed by the search engines receive a greater number of visits. When this is passed on to the media, it produces an increase in advertising revenue. We must remember that between 50% to 90% of all traffic received by a website comes from search engines, mainly Google.

Another very different question that could also affect traditional media now on-line is the role news search engines play as a communication media. This is the case of Yahoo!. News (http://news.yahoo.com). This search engine has opted to retrieve news from agencies it contracts (unlike Google News). This means that, normally, the users access the news without abandoning the Yahoo! site, thus increasing its advertising revenue. This way the search engine stops being just that, a search engine, and becomes a news service page as well, showing that it has been able to take advantage of its user community and the news contracted to obtain an audience.

 

4. Accessing web news

From all of this, we can deduce that one of the key factors that have changed reading on-line news has been the way users access it. While the traditional media continues to generate and distribute on-line news, a large number of users reach it via news search services. This is the case of Yahoo! News, which in the United States has become the most popular site amongst users who access news (see figure 1).

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Figure 1: The most visited news sites in USA during 2006 and 2007 (Source: Nielsen Online).

As seen in this graph, the most visited on-line newspaper in the USA is The New York Times, which is also the fifth most visited news website. The audiovisual media seems to enjoy greater user popularity than the printed media (MSNBC and CNN are second and third place, respectively). For television stations the adaptation process to the Internet has been relatively easier than for newspapers. Television's large amount of multimedia content (audio and audiovisual files) has enabled the creation of attractive websites that allow users to access the same content available on the television, with the added advantage of doing so whenever they want.

It is noteworthy that the most visited site amongst news users is Yahoo! News, a news search engine that has assumed the role of a communications media. Determining the keys to its success is not easy, even though the main reason is: its vast community of users. Yahoo! is a company that has dedicated a lot of resources in offering a global on-line service: a web portal, mail server, search engine, forum, directory, news, etc., and therefore has one of the largest web communities. This has even reached the extent that Yahoo's website (http://www.yahoo.com) has been continually oscillating amongst the first and second of the world's most visited website rankings (TrafficRank: http://www.alexa.com/site/ds/top_sites) created by Alexa. Therefore, for Yahoo! it was not too complicated to redirect so many users to their on-line news service.

 

5. On-line media and Web 2.0

Until recently, having an on-line user community was only at the reach of some privileged websites, like the afore mentioned Yahoo!. However, the arrival of Web 2.0, and especially the technology enabling social communication (like forums, blogs, social networks, etc.) have given all web agents tools to:

1.Attract and maintain users to our website. This is obtained by creating sites that provide easily accessible and attractive content.

2.Disseminating our contents beyond our own website. This is possible because of the communication tools that allow us to search for and access potential users of our on-line services. This supposes a fundamental change in the communication process because the role of content providers, on-line newspapers amongst others, not only have users reach the site, but also develop strategies to allow the content to be taken to its users.

Amongst the tools that help them achieve the first goal are:

  1. Blogs.

  2. Syndicated content channels.

  3. Forums.

  4. Chat.

  5. etc.

On the other hand, in order to achieve the second aim, the use of services such as the following would be very convenient:

  1. Social Networks.

  2. Content hosting services (multimedia).

  3. Mircroblogging services

  4. Bookmarking services.

etc.

This makes the quality and popularity of an on-line media not only depend on its contents, but on its:

1. Interaction offered to its users: The tools the medium provides to its users to interact with its contents are important. Currently amongst the most popular in on-line newspapers are (see table 1):


Own

Blog

User´s

Blog

RSS

Comments

User Registration

Author

emails

Contributions

Forums

Chat

Personalisation

Most viewed

El País

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

El Mundo

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

No

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Le Monde

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

The Guardian

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

No

No

Yes

The New York Times

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

No

Yes

Table 1: User interaction tools in various on-line newspapers.

1. The context in which this information is found: with the aim of expanding the dissemination of the on-line contents and facilitating user access to them, on-line newspapers have transferred their information to the most popular social networks. This way, the news is transferred from a purely journalistic context, the on-line newspaper, to a social context where the media acts as another user. The table shows the presence and reach of various on-line newspapers in some of the key social networks.


Facebook

LinkedIn

My Space

El País

No

Yes

No

El Mundo

Yes
(10 users)

Yes

No

Le Monde

Yes
(21 users)

Yes

No

The Guardian

Yes
(5.288 users)

No

No

The New York Times

Yes
(362.245 users)

Yes

Yes
(video)

Table 2: Various media in the key social networks.

2. The communication formats used: Web 2.0 has promoted the appearance of specialised services in the housing and diffusion of contents with a specific format. Two examples that have been truly successful are Youtube for hosting videos, or Flickr for hosting images. The use of these types of services offers the media new channels of communication that brings them to potential users, and facilitates the creation of authentic communities. A good example of this is the Youtube video channel created by The New York Times, "The New York Times Youtube Edition" (http://www.youtube.com/user/TheNewYorkTimes), where in just a couple of years, they have obtained more than 365,000 views of their videos.


Youtube

Flickr

Twitter

El País

No

No

Yes
(3,500 users)

El Mundo

No

No

No

Le Monde

No

No

Yes
(3,500 users)

The Guardian

No

Yes
(280 users)

Yes
(10,976 users)

The New York Times

Yes
(10,543 users)

No

Yes
(340,283 users)

Table 3: The presence of various on-line media in different Web 2.0 services.

 

6. Conclusions

The consolidation of the web as a work, communication and entertainment tool at a global level, and the importance of quality contents on it, has made this medium an ideal stage for the distribution of news.

Conscious of this, newspapers have progressively increased their presence on the web, to the point where it is now difficult to find a quality newspaper that does not have an on-line version.

However, just being on-line does not guarantee success. The continual evolution of this environment requires the digital press to adapt its contents and strategies to the technologies and preferences of its users.

Web 2.0, or the Social web, has posed a true challenge to on-line newspapers, since this involves the evolution of the communication methods and strategies used up to now by these mediums.

In this new environment, the success of the on-line media will greatly depend on three factors:

  1. Their capacity to create websites that allow for interaction both, of the users with the content, and the users amongst themselves.

  2. The right knowledge and use of the services and tools that enable the Web 2.0, allowing them to take news to potential users, with the change this involves in the communication process.

  3. The ability of the communication media to adapt its contents to the new formats and channel them through the social platforms, allowing for wider dissemination of its news and the capture of new users.

7. References

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Burke, John. 'Is it possible to take AFP content off of Google News?'. EditorsWeblog.org. July 20, 2006.
<http://www.editorsweblog.org/analysis/2006/07/is_it_possible_to_take_afp_content_off_o.php> [20/03/2008]

Glocer, Tom. 'Old media must embrace the amateur'. Financial Times. Published: March 8, 2006.
<http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/2fd18348-ae49-11da-8ffb-0000779e2340.html> [20/03/2008]

Horrigan, John B. 'For many home broadband users, the internet is a primary news source'. Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2006.

Johnson, Bobbie. 'Google News under fire'. Live blog from the Online Publishers Association. MediaGuardian, March 2, 2006.
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2006/mar/02/digitalmedia.news> [20/03/2009]

Nielsen, Jakob. 'Search Engines as Leeches on the Web'. Alertbox, January 9, 2006.
<http://www.useit.com/alertbox/search_engines.html> [20/03/2009]

Schutz, Tanjev. 'Interactive options in Online Journalism: A Content Analysis of 100 U.S. Newspapers'. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 5, (1), 1999.
<http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol5/issue1/schultz.html> [20/03/2009]

Tancer, Bill. 'Is Facebook the Future of Search?'. Time Magazine. Feb. 06, 2008.
<http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1710493,00.html?xid=rss-business> [20/03/2009]



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