Chapter 7
News Web Sites

Chapter 7 - News Web Sites

The World Wide Web developed as a news medium during the late 1990s and early years of the 21st century. Users recognized the information presentation qualities of the web before many newspaper or television journalists did. The web's unique combination of characteristics -- capacity, flexibility, permanence, immediacy and interactivity -- make it a powerful medium for the practice of journalism.

The news event that demonstrated the power of the web was the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Much like what the sinking of the Titanic did for radio in 1912, this event showed that the web could be used by people to gain far more information than what could be presented on television and with far more speed than what could be delivered by newspapers.

Many questions about the web as a news medium have yet to be resolved. Those questions include what new forms of information presentation will be developed, how news organizations will make money from advertisers and users, and how users and journalists will interact. One example of the new uses of the web are web logs, journal-like web sites that present periodic entries from a writer to an audience. Web logs were originally used mostly by non-journalists, but they have been adopted by many journalists and news organizations, particularly to cover ongoing news events such as trials or political campaigns.

The web is a medium of convergence; that is, it provides a place for a variety of information styles and formats. No converged form of news presentation has yet emerged, however. Journalists on the web still rely on the traditional forms, such as the inverted pyramid news story.

Study questions

  • What are the five characteristics of the web that make it different from other news media?

  • Which of these characteristics is most likely to have the greatest impact on the practice of journalism?

  • What happens to the traditional idea of a deadline in web journalism?

  • What is shovelware?

  • What are weblogs? Why are they an important part of the debate about web journalism?

  • What effect did the events of September 11 have on web journalism?

  • The book says that the web has made news web sites out of sites that did not originally intend to be that. What is meant by that statement? What are some examples that you can cite?

Chapter notes

Accelerated news. The chapter begins with the example of the capture of Saddam Hussein (right) in December 2003. The news came early on Sunday morning, after most newspapers in America had been printed. There would not be another newspaper for 24 hours. The example shows how newspapers, bound by their printing schedules, can be far behind the news. What other examples since Saddam's capture can you think of that leave newspapers behind? How have they responded?

Shovelware or not. The book chapter outlines several different approaches that news organizations may take to "populating" a site -- from shovelware (see definition below) to developing original content. Look at the web site for the newspaper in your area. How would you characterize it according to the descriptions in the book?

Characteristics of the web. Make sure you understand the web's characteristics as a news medium -- capacity, flexibility, immediacy, permanence, and interactivity. They are vital to understanding how the web operates -- and will operate -- as a news medium. It is important to realize that the web is still under development. We do not know what the web will be like in 10 years or if it will even be recognizable to us.

Keeping up. If you are interested in keeping up with the latest developments of the web as a news medium, you should subscribe to the daily email newsletter E-Media Tidbits. The newsletter is edited by Steve Outing, and you can subscribe to it at the Poynter Institute web site ( Many new ideas about the web will occur even during the time you are reading this book. E-Media Tidbits is a great way of staying current with those ideas.

Organizational chart. The organizational chart for a news web site that is on page 126 of the book is reproduced on this site as an interactive chart. Click on the image or here, and you will get a page with a larger version of the chart. Click on the various positions to find a description of that position. (Not all of the positions will have descriptions.) It should be noted that this organizational chart shows an extensive news web site operation. Most news web sites are not nearly this complete.

The book on web journalism. The author of Journalism: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How has also written a book about journalism on the web titled Web Journalism: Practice and Promise of a New Medium. You can find out more about this book at the Allyn and Bacon publishers web site. You can also order the book from Amazon (where the title is incorrectly listed) or Barnes and Noble.

State of online news media. The Project for Excellence in Journalism has produced an extensive report on the state of the news media in 2004. One section deals with the online news media and begins this way:

Although the economics are still evolving, the Internet has now become a major source of news in America.

In September 2003, over half of the people in the United States - 150 million - went online, a record for Web use. (1) And half to two-thirds of those who go online use it at least some of the time to get news.

Whether the new medium is replacing the old, however, at this point is less clear. . . . (More)

Key concepts and terms

• The Web is an ideal news medium because it can handle information in most of the formats of the traditional media – text, pictures, graphs, audio and video.

• The Web has characteristics that allow it to go beyond traditional media in presenting information – capacity, permanence, flexibility, immediacy and interactivity.

• Of those characteristics listed above, interactivity is the most likely to have the most long-term effect on journalism; interactivity refers to the ways in which journalists and the medium can connect with the audience.

• Most news web sites today are operated as an arm of traditional news organizations – newspapers, magazines, and broadcast stations.

Shovelware – content that was created for another medium and is placed on a web site with minimal or no changes.

Web log – a periodically (often continuously) updated web site that posts the thoughts and observations of a single writer and often the responses to those observations.

Related web
sites for
Chapter 7

Online Journalism Review

Poynter Institute

The Elements of Digital Storytelling

Online News Association

Section I | 1: News and Society  |  2: Culture of Journalism  |  3: Becoming a Journalist
Section II  |  4: Newspapers  |  5: Magazines  |  6: Television and Radio  |  7: News Web Sites
Section III  |  8: Reporters  |  9: Reporting  |  10: Writing news and features  |  11: Style  | 
12: Editors13: Editing and headline writing  |  14: Visual Journalists  |
  15: Graphics Journalism  |  16: Photojournalism  |  17: Publication Design  |
  18: Broadcasters  |  19: Writing for Broadcast
Section IV  |  20: Beginnings of Journalism  |  21: Journalism Comes of Age  | 
22: New Realities, New Journalism  |   23: 20th Century and Beyond
Section V  |  24: Law and the Journalist  |  25: Ethical Practices  |   26: Present and Future
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