How the Internet helps long-form journalism

byvgimenez
Dec 1, 2011 in Digital Journalism

With just one online journalist for every 10 still working in a traditional newsroom, the digital age is still in its infancy, says one expert.

Ramon Salaverria, online journalism professor and Director of the Journalism Projects Department at the University of Navarra, says that digital versions of articles often lack depth.

"It's not that people only read short articles on the Internet...The key is not whether the material is short or long but whether it is good or bad," said Salaverría in an interview with IJNet.

IJNet: You're optimistic about the future of journalism. Is this a transition time for the media?

Ramon Salaverría: There are obviously unknowns. But there are reasons to think that journalism has a bright future. In an information society like ours, it is justifiable to think that there's a place for information professionals.

IJNet: What are the biggest challenges facing media in terms of future survival and economic viability?

RS: There are many challenges. Starting with the challenges of changing technology. The internal architecture of the newspaper business is also being redesigned. The process of newsroom integration and coordination between different departments are all part of this challenge.

The journalist's role is also changing -- you can't keep producing the same journalism that worked in the 20th century. And, lastly, the product. It wouldn’t make sense to change all of the above items and not redefine what we mean by journalism. Social networks and data journalism demonstrate that journalism in the 21st century may maintain some characteristics of the last century but definitely has specific traits.

IJNet: You argue that Internet is suitable for analysis and long texts if the quality is good, as opposed to the widespread notion that the web is for short items and the newspaper is for depth. Why do you think that idea has spread?

RS: Online journalism has not yet reached maturity. Look at the sociology of the newsroom: if you compare the background of journalists working specifically in print media (but also in radio and TV) to digital media workers, you’ll find that even today digital media employees are very young, most with diminished working conditions compared to colleagues who work on other platforms. They also work with more limited budgets and limited autonomy.

During the first decade of this century, I confirmed that in many places there was a curious phenomenon: for every 10 journalists working in print media, there was one person working on the corresponding digital edition. I always a ratio of 10 to one.

With this proportion, you can hardly do anything but update the website from the paper. However, now that we're moving towards a model of coordinating platforms and a situation where journalists previously working solely for traditional media have to start taking responsibility for online editions, you start building enough of a team to nourish the digital medium.

This confirms my thesis. It's not that people only read short articles on the Internet. So far, the media have provided them with only short pieces of copy. Again, I think the key is not whether the content is short or long but whether it's good or bad. If you put a short, bad article online, even though it's short no one may read it. However, if the content is very good, many readers will be willing to read it, even in the online edition.

This article first appeared in IJNet's Spanish editon.