First Monday

Online Journalism: Modelling the First Generation of News Media on the World Wide Web by Mark Deuze

The Internet and specifically its graphic interface the World Wide Web is reaching a level of saturation and widespread adoption throughout the world. Specifically for journalism practiced online - in the discipline of computer-assisted reporting (CAR) and a specific kind of journalism: online journalism - we can now identify and theorize about the impacts the global system of networked computers has had on journalism. This paper signals four particular journalisms online as these have emerged in the 'first generation' of newsmedia on the World Wide Web (1993-2001), discusses the key characteristics - cf. hypertextuality, interactivity, multimediality - which determine the 'added value' of these journalisms, and provides three specific strategies journalists may use to further enhance the potential of journalism online: annotative reporting, open source journalism and hyperadaptive news sites.


Online Journalisms
Added Value
New Strategies




On 17 May 1991, the Geneva-based research institute CERN released the World Wide Web standard [1]. In May 1992 Chicago Online, the first newspaper service on America Online, was launched by the Chicago Tribune in the United States (Carlson, 2001). As of April 2001 the database of U.S.-based Editor & Publisher Interactive contained 12,878 records of online newsmedia. These journalistic ventures are defined as: "All media with a Web presence. You will find associations, city guides, magazine, newspaper, news services and syndicates, radio and television Web sites in the new database" (E&P Media links, 2001). At the time of writing this paper early in 2001, it is fair to say we are witnessing the end of the first decade of journalism online. In these ten years not only thousands mainstream newsmedia have started Web sites (and quite a few of them have closed these operations again), millions of individual users or special interest groups have used the Internet as an outlet for their news as well - although such sites are not archived in databases like E&P's. Correspondingly trade and scholarly publications have focused extensively on mainstream journalism online - in particular in the second half of the decade. This has resulted in a wide ranging field of research, handbooks and theories dealing with one or more aspects of online (cf. electronic, digital, wired) newsmedia production, especially regarding skills-development and new technologies (see overview articles for example: Deuze, 1998; Cooper, 1998; Kawamoto, 1998; Singer, 1998; Pavlik, 1999; for a good overview in book format in this respect see: Reddick and King, 2001; other books include: Callahan, 1998; McGuire et al., 2000; De Wolk, 2001). What seems to be missing, is a more or less 'condensed' overview of what kinds of online journalism exist, what the added value of such online journalisms can be considered to be and, finally, what the lessons learned from these examples and values suggest may be successful (new) strategies for online newsmedia ventures. This paper aims to address these three issues. It will do so based on an extensive literature review, six years of experiences in teaching, discussing and presenting papers on issues related to the Internet and online journalism in particular, findings from surveys among populations of online journalists and interviews with new media experts as reported in the professional and scholarly literature (see the bibliography section). As this paper aims to offer an overview, rather than a research report, references to specific data will be made in the context of other scholarly texts.

As noted, the paper consists of three sections: first four distinct journalisms online are discussed on a continuum ranging from purely editorial content to public connectivity-based Web sites (Odlyzko, 2001). Secondly the added value of these journalisms is analyzed in terms of the defining characteristics of media production in an online environment: hypertextuality, interactivity and multimediality (Newhagen and Rafaeli, 1996). Thirdly the literature and research is set against more or less recent developments online which suggest at least three distinct 'new' or alternate strategies for online journalisms to further develop the types and added values mentioned: annotative reporting (Paul, 1995; Bardoel, 1996), open-source journalism (Moon, 1999; Preecs, 2000) and hyperadaptivity (Guay, 1995; Nelson, 1999).



Online Journalisms

Before identifying different kinds of journalism online, one has to explicitly note that the Internet as it can be considered to be affecting journalism can be discussed here in two ways: the inroads it has made into newsrooms and on desktops of journalists working for all media types in terms of Computer-Assisted Reporting (CAR); and how it has created its own professional type of newswork: online journalism (Deuze, 1999). Using the Internet as a reporting tool for 'traditional' media - all media except the Internet - can be typified as the use and availability of searchable archives, databases and news sources on the Internet by journalists. This reporting practice is still in its infancy in many countries as compared to for example the U.S. (Verwey, 2000). Several scholars have studied the effects of CAR on journalists and newswork, concluding that beyond obvious benefits (more information, more sources, more checks and balances freely available), many reporters and editors felt nervous and concerned about the 'omnipresence' of the Internet in their work (Singer, 1997a and 1997b). Research at the BBC in Great Britain also revealed the unrest new media technologies have created in the newsroom; journalists reported lack of time to adequately use and master the technology, feeling stressed because of the 'immediate' nature of the Internet (Cottle, 1999). Another aspect related to CAR which affects all journalists is how to deal with e-mail, newsgroups and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) in an environment where the verification of information is extremely difficult due to the often anonymous, fast-paced communication involved (Garrison, 2000).

In this paper however, the focus is exclusively on online journalism: the 'fourth' kind of journalism that differs in its characteristics from traditional types of journalism. Online journalism can be functionally differentiated from other kinds of journalism by using its technological component as a determining factor in terms of (operational) definition. The online journalist has to make decisions on which media formats best tell a certain story (multimediality), has to allow room for options for the public to respond, interact or even customize certain stories (interactivity) and must consider ways to connect the story to other stories, archives, resources and so on through hyperlinks (hypertextuality). This is the 'ideal-typical' form of online journalism, as professed by an increasing number of professionals and academics worldwide (in the U.S. see Reddick and King, 2001; in Germany see Friedrichsen et al., 1999: pp. 139-143; in The Netherlands see Stielstra, 1999). The consensus among the online media professionals internationally, such as it is voiced at gatherings like the NetMedia Conference in Great Britain or the Editor & Publisher Interactive Conference in the U.S., is that online journalism is definitely "a breed apart" (Meek, 2000). This 'breed' of newspeople, who produce content primarily for the Internet (and specifically for the World Wide Web) can be seen as working for one or more of four distinct kinds of journalism online. These journalisms can be located on a continuum ranging from purely editorial content to public connectivity-based Web sites (see Model I, which is partly based on Sparks, 1999: p. 14):

Closed Participatory Communication

Open Participatory Communication
Model 1: Online Journalisms

The content-connectivity domain intersects with (vertical axis) the participatory communication domain, where the news site indeed consists of a range of options for users and producers to interact, discuss, up- or download, to communicate in a participatory way (see the discussion on various forms of interactivity below). A brief note has to made regarding the notion of 'content', as - in Web designer terms - everything is content online, including banner ads, chatrooms, research papers and what not. Editorial content is defined here as texts (including written and spoken word, moving and still images), produced and/or edited by journalists. Public connectivity can be seen as what Odlyzko (2001: p. 6) calls 'standard point-to-point' communication, to which one might add the notion of 'public' communication without a formal barrier of entry (such as an editing or moderation process). The vertical axis represents the level of participatory communication offered through a news site: a site can be considered to be 'open' when it allows users to share comments, posts, files (i.e. content) without moderating or filtering intervention. On the other end, 'closed' participatory communication can be defined as a site where users may participate but their communicative acts are subject to strict editorial control. Online journalism in its different types can predominantly be located within these two domains.

Mainstream News sites

The most widespread form of news media production online is the mainstream news site, generally offering a selection of editorial content (be it shoveled from a linked parent medium or produced originally for the Web) and a minimal, often moderated form of participatory communication (Schultz, 1999; Jankowski and Van Selm, 2000; Kenney, Gorelik and Mwangi, 2000). Examples are the much-acclaimed sites of CNN, the BBC and MSNBC. Most online newspapers fall into this category as well. Course materials, handbooks and curriculum planning of journalism schools and university departments can be considered to be largely based on this type on online journalism, combining technological skills (working with certain software, learning XML or HTML for example) with specific news writing skills for the Web (Nielsen and Morkes, 1997; McGuire et al., 2000). This type of news site cannot be said to differ - in its approach to journalistic storytelling, news values, relationships with audiences - fundamentally from journalism as it is practised in print or broadcasting media.

Index & Category sites

A second type of online journalism is much less located within the mainstream media organizations, but is often attributed to certain search engines (like Altavista or Yahoo), marketing research firms (like Moreover) or agencies (Newsindex), and sometimes even enterprising individuals (Paperboy). Here online journalists offer (deep-) links to existing news sites elsewhere on the World Wide Web, which links are sometimes categorized and even annotated by editorial teams. Such sites generally do not offer much editorial content of their own, but do at times offer areas for chat or exchanging news, tips and links by the general public - for instance maintaining some kind of bulletin board system (BBS). A well-known example thereof is the option most search engines offer to 'add a site', which site will then be subjected to editorial scrutiny. On a side note one could argue that sites offering some editorial content and furthermore providing (annotated) links to content elsewhere on the Web such as the Australian Arts & Letters Daily, Bosnian Mario Profaca's news site or the infamous Drudge Report by Matt Drudge fall into this category. What is sometimes labeled as 'new online journalism' is the phenomenon of the Weblog or 'Blog', an often highly personal daily diary by an individual, not in the least by a journalist, telling stories about experiences online and offering readers links with comments to content found while surfing the Web (Bunn, 2001; Lasica, 2001). These types of individual journalism (a.k.a. 'user-generated content sites') can be located somewhere between index- and comment sites, as they tend to offer limited participatory communication (more often it is just one person speaking his or her mind about certain issues), but provide plenty content - and comment on content.

Meta & Comment sites

This third category of news sites are sites about news media and media issues in general; sometimes intended as media watchdogs (Mediachannel, Freedomforum, Poynter's Medianews, E&P's E-Media Tidbits; see Pavlik and Powell, 2001), sometimes intended as an extended index & category site (European Journalism Center Medianews, Europemedia to name two European examples). Editorial content is often produced by a variety of journalists and basically discusses other content found elsewhere on the Internet. Such content is discussed in terms of the underlying media production processes. This 'journalism about journalism' or meta-journalism particularly flourishes online. In this respect the Internet has contributed to the further professionalization of journalism in general, as the ability and willingness to publicly reflect on itself and be self-critical is generally seen as one of the defining characteristics of a profession (Beam, 1990; Boylan, 2000).

Share & Discussion sites

As noted earlier, the critical distinction made in our model is between content and connectivity. Odlyzko (2001) in particular argues, that the first and foremost reason for success of new media technologies like the Internet and the World Wide Web is the fact that people want to connect with other people - on a boundless global level (see also Rushkoff, 1997). In other words: it is 'just' a communications infrastructure (Rushkoff, 2000). Online journalism as the fourth type of journalism online utilizes this potential of the Internet in that it primarily facilitates platforms for the exchange of ideas, stories and so on, sometimes centered around a specific theme such as world-wide anti-globalization activism (Independent Media Centers, generally known as: Indymedia) or computer news (Slashdot, featuring a tagline reading: News for Nerds, Stuff that Matters). Several sites have opted to commercially exploit this public demand for connectivity, by organizing more or less edited platforms for discussion of content elsewhere on the Net (Plastic, Nerve, Feed) [2]. This type of online journalism has also been described as 'group weblogs', offering personal accounts of a more or less unlimited number of individuals about their experiences on the Internet (Lasica, 2001).




The four identified types of online journalism all to some extent utilize the key characteristics (cf. Web publishing paradigms) of the networked computer environment they operate in: hypertextuality, multimediality and interactivity. Each of these three paradigms has its own types in its current status, which I will try to exemplify by looking at the online news situation.


The problem with hypertext is, as one of the founding fathers of hypertext Ted Nelson writes, that it creates "a delivery system for separate closed units - a system which allows only embedded links pointing outward" (Nelson, 1999). What one has to realize that texts, interconnected through links - hyperlinks - can refer internally (to other texts within the text's domain) or externally (to texts located elsewhere on the Internet). These are two quite different types of hypertextuality, as one opens up new content, the other in fact leads to a spiraling down of content. If a site only refers to documents to be found on that site, it actually tells us that the 'worldwide' Web does not exist, that only the local documents on that site can and should be interconnected. If one examines how today's news sites apply these concepts, the conclusion has to be pessimistic: few sites actually embed hyperlinks and if they do, it does not integrate their information with the Web, linking more often to pages elsewhere within the branded site or even frame (Jankowski and Van Selm, 2000). But linking and integrating layers of external content - managing and opening up content - is problematic, not in the least because of ownership and copyright infringements.


Web designer Tim Guay has written as early as 1995 about the inherent pitfalls of applying multimedia content to Web sites: "if multimedia is used with no thought as to the reasons why it is being used, or it has poor lay-out or content it can result in a pointless aesthetic fiasco that needlessly hogs bandwidth" (1995: p. 5). Accepting for a moment that bandwidth and copyrights are still two structural factors that impede progress in developing innovative multimedia content, one can observe the problems media companies have to integrate their traditional newsroom with the Web editorial team, let alone reaching out and integrate content (or even 'virtual' newsrooms) with other content providers. This can be understood if one distinguishes multimediality in news sites as a result of convergence of media modalities (where multimedia can be seen as the sum of different media formats), or as a divergent paradigm (where all parts of the site are developed from a multimedia starting point, offering the end-user several ways into and through the site's contents).

Even though very few Web sites are in fact employing multimedia, most of the news sites that do, do so from a convergent perspective (CNN and BBC are good examples). Those who are clearly divergent are often products outside of the mainstream (such as Rockstargames). Several media critics have expressed doubts at the industry's drive to media convergence, claiming that it could be just another way of producing more content with less newspeople (Jenkins, 2001), or that the executive producers of news embrace the new technology but not its potential 'democratizing' features - such as using handheld devices to record not only what the 'traditional' cameras and microphones would, but also sample voices from different constituencies outside the mainstream (Devyatkin, 2001). This reflects the almost 'dual' nature of the multimedia development: on the one hand the sheer technological (cf. hardware) advancements, on the other hand the impact of these technologies on the culture of (online) journalism. Perhaps these two strands of thought should convergence before divergence becomes a viable option for news sites.


Interactive options on Web sites can be subdivided into three types or forms: navigational interactivity (through 'Next Page' and 'Back to Top' buttons or scrolling menubars), functional interactivity (through direct mailto: -links, Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) and moderated discussion lists for example), or adaptive interactivity (offering chatrooms and personal customization through 'smart webdesign'; see Guay, 1995). Observing interactive options in news sites, several scholars have noted its sheer absence, or rather the fact that most sites do not develop interactivity beyond functional and navigational levels (Schultz, 1999; Jankowski and Van Selm, 2000; Kenney, Gorelik and Mwangi, 2000). Guay (1995) argues that the most sophisticated level of interactivity is adaptive, meaning that it allows the Web site to adapt itself (ideally in real-time) to the behavior of the visiting surfer. Recent new media consumption research by Shyam Sundar (2000) reveals that the more interactive opportunities websites give to users, the more involved the users will feel about the Web site. Outing (2001) comments that this will work even when surfers do no really use all these interactive 'bells and whistles&'. This suggests a fourth, overall level of interactivity: the perceived interactivity of a site.

The next step in our analysis should show to what extent these characteristics could be seen as located throughout the four journalisms online. As this is, like model I, a largely theoretical model, it should be interpreted as to how the journalisms have developed each of these characteristics in general - allowing for exceptions of course.


Model II: Characteristics on Online Journalisms

Mainstream News sites
Index & Category sites
Meta & Comment sites
Share & Discussion sites
External & Internal


Mainstream news sites overall seem to operate on internal hypertextuality - offering few links pointing outwards - with mainly navigational interactivity - most news sites not even offer reporter's e-mail addresses, let alone mailto:-links- and on rare occasions offering convergent multimedia. Index & Category sites on the other hand rely almost exclusively on external hypertextuality, as they gather, index and categorize editorial content found elsewhere on the World Wide Web. Their interactivity is also navigational, which might be explained (as in the case of mainstream news sites) by the fact that they concentrate on content rather than connectivity. These sites seldom apply multimedia, unless they specifically intend to index images (as for example specialized search engines offer jpeg or mpeg-searchbots with editorial annotation). Meta & Comment sites likewise are not likely to offer multimedia content, and tend to rely on external links. As these sites are generally made by one or more media critics or 'inspired' individuals in the case of Weblogs, these clearly use functional interactivity (Lasica, 2001). This could be seen as serving as some kind of accountability one could argue: allowing the surfer to submit feedback, tips or content directly to the people responsible for the metasite. As these sites also serve as a kind of annotated index of journalisms 'out there', the hypertextuality on offer is predominantly external.

Share & Discussion sites are generally based on written word texts exclusively; Freespeech TV being a specific exception as its based on broadcasting content not available through the established mainstream media infrastructure (cf. divergent multimedia). The sites in this category concentrate on public connectivity, where the posts, threads and submissions of surfers form the basis of the site's content. This generally results in different levels of interactivity being employed, including adaptive interactive options in particular (see for example the options for files sections, shared agendas and chat sessions offered by free mailing list sites like Yahoogroups, Topica, Listbot). This type of sites can be typified by the fact that people use the site's 'brand&' to communicate through (with each other), instead of using the brand to communicate with - as is the case with the other three types of sites (see Slashdot, Plastic, Backwash, but also Indymedia, Drop, and Kuro5hin for example).



Added Value

Experiences in training and interviewing online journalists and studying trade magazines show that these media professionals share a single question, to which they have two distinct approaches: what is the added value of journalism online? The first approach is based on what Van Zoonen (2000) calls 'utopian', where that what the Internet brings is generally considered as promising a better world for all. The question in this context can be framed as: where can we find the added value of online journalism? The second approach is pragmatic or pessimistic even: here the question is based on the assumption that there is no real added value for journalism online, but everybody is going online so we might do that as well. In a different context, Singer (1997a) has coined the type of journalist embracing this approach as the 'neutral rational realist'. Coupling model I and II, we may now venture ahead with this question of added value to see how the identified journalisms online and their characteristics can in fact be considered to add value to the newsmedia on offer through other modalities (radio, television, print, wire).

In further training courses featuring or example a 'Writing for the Web' class, many a journalist remarks that he or she regularly faces a discussion in the newsroom whether the news site in fact 'cannibalizes' the core business of the media organization - a discussion particular to print media outlets one could say. Early research into readers of online news suggests that this cannibalistic attitude - offering shovelware and publishing news before they make it into the broadcasted program or the paper format - in fact serves two distinct audiences: those who rush to work in the morning and do not have the time to pick up a paper for headlines, and people on holiday or so-called 'ex-pats' who are abroad and want to keep abreast of developments back home (Co-efficient, 1997; Porteman, 1999). Seen in this light, it makes perfect sense for such news sites to limit the extent of participatory communication and focus quite strictly on what Nielsen (1997) describes as 'brief, scannable and objective' editorial content. Editors of news sites in The Netherlands for example lament the lack or quality of feedback they receive - which is understandable if one considers that the surfers who want to interact (and have something to interact about), do not seem to want to do so at mainstream news sites. The cannibalization-discussion can be solved if the editors choose to provide added value to the audience particular to a site which offers content with internal hypertextuality and clear navigational interactivity; this is not the same audience as a print or broadcast product will have. Besides this, a recent study in the United States shows that frequent visitors of newspaper Web sites are in fact much more likely to start a subscription to the print version or buy single copies - instead of canceling a subscription because all content is offered for free online (Nicholson, 2001).

Mainstream news sites that seek to combine features with (convergent) multimedia, are faced with a more difficult discussion. Sites like CNN or BBC are competing with their televised counterparts. Cottle (1999) shows that the introduction of the Internet in the BBC newsroom has caused feelings of stress and unrest among the journalists involved. All of a sudden one has to keep the online counterpart in mind, master the new technology, learn the skills and be reflexive about what it means to the values and standards in journalism - not a small task for any professional (Deuze, 1999). The added value of these more elaborate - in terms of their multimediality - mainstream news sites must be defined in terms of their characteristics (cf. editorial content, closed communication). I would to suggest that this means that the value of these sites and this kind of online journalism can be found in their sheer archival capacity: a 24-hours news channel has the specific problem in that it 'sits on' more content than it can broadcast within a daily scheduled program of rotating, recurring newscasts. This 'quicksilver-like' news can be supplemented by the seemingly endless capacity of a Web server. This effectively splits users between those who are happy with 'just' receiving the headlines - and the occasional talkshow perhaps - and those who want to seek out all details of the story or stories, including audio, video and written text.

Index & Category Sites make a living out of cannibalizing, (deep-) linking to content offered by others, elsewhere on the Internet. In doing so these sites offer the best value hypertextuality has to offer: it connects people and content all over the Web and has the potential to enhance the ideals of accessibility and internationalization of information online (Word Wide Web Consortium, 2001). A distinct added value in this respect can be, that an index-site uses functional interactivity (through mailto: -links for example) to have people submit hyperlinks to content generally not found or indexed elsewhere, thereby opening up information found in the margins of the Internet - outside of the mainstream. That this can be perceived to be an added value shows a recent study in the U.S.: only 14 companies appear in the 60% of time spent online (Jupiter Media Matrix, 2001). This also goes for Meta & Comment sites, which have the potential to critically address issues of media production online. The added value of this group of sites connects with sites solely focused on sharing (of information) and discussing: increased levels of interactivity. Such sites enable people to discuss and share information on a wide range of topics or on a particular issue. This added value may be an answer to what Schudson (1999) argues about as a changing definition of citizenship: from the early 20th century notion of the (broadly) informed citizen to the 'monitorial citizen' of today. This 'new' citizen can be typified as a person demanding timely, detailed and full information of high quality at any given moment on issues he or she (individually) identifies as being of danger to personal and/or public good (Schudson, 1999: p. 11). The fourth type of online journalism seems to have the potential of providing public service to this new type of citizenship, which is supported by the fact that it particularly flourishes in communities outside the mainstream (such as activist groups). Schudson has a point in concluding that monitorial citizenship in this context is more demanding to the newsmedia than informed citizenship (ibid.).

In short one could argue that each type of journalism online has a distinct added value, as compared to that what the media offer through other modalities - print, broadcast, and wire, as well as several additional 'secondary' added values. In terms of content this means (annotated) archival capacity, regarding connectivity this means providing (moderated) platforms for sharing and discussing content. The original 'added value' question therefore can be reformulated to a question of whether these different types of online journalism with their different value-adding features should ideal - typically combine into a more or less 'universal' model of journalism online. Several authors seem to think so, whether they applaud or lament it - and note considerable changes, challenges and even threats to journalism as we have come to expect it under the influence of the Internet (see for example debates in: Pavlik, 1999; Fallows, 1999; Porteman, 1999; Heinonen, 1999).

n the context of this paper the assumption is, that ideal-typical online journalism cannot be simply the sum of the added values of its distinct types. In order for a newssite to become interactive in a participatory way or a discussion site to start offering quality editorial content the particular newsroom has to undergo quite a few changes and face some tough choices about values, goals and standards - let alone dealing with the problematic commercial aspects of electronic publishing routines and the impact such choices may have on management and newsroom organization. I would therefore like to conclude this overview of online journalisms, characteristics and added values by looking at a number or more or less 'new' strategies for online newsmedia production, which to some extent seek to provide ways of dealing with the suggested potential of hypertext, interactivity and multimedia, as well as critically address the pitfalls inherent in the use of multiple modalities and options to explore in participatory communication between producers and consumers of content.



New Strategies

Three strategies have been singled out for discussion here: annotative reporting, open source journalism and hyperadaptive news sites. These can be selected because the characteristics and added values of different types of journalism online can be addressed simultaneously with these strategies, which all to some extent start from the assumption that journalism indeed can utilize potentials online which add value to existing news media. Another reason for this selection is that the three options address three distinct elements of online publishing respectively, as well as offering ways to combine the strategies in one overall online journalism site - a point which will be argued in the discussion of this paper.

Annotative Reporting

As early as 1995, new media commentators realized that journalists were not the only ones providing information anymore - in particular on the World Wide Web (Lapham, 1995). That is an understatement to say the least: even if one considers the latest figures of the total numbers of news sites (see introduction) only accurate to one-tenth, it is still a modest number as compared to the millions of sites 'out there'. Poynter's Nora Paul coined the term 'annotative journalism' in February 1995 as a way to address this realization. Paul envisaged a model of journalism based on hyperlinks, on a vision of the audience as active users instead of passive consumers of information, requiring "a whole new category of worker in the interactive products newsroom" (Paul, 1995: p. 3). Several media critics adopted the term or slightly modified it so it could cater to the notion of a shifting power balance in the post-industrial economy, in a Western 'glocalized' society, between journalism and it publics. These perceived shifts do not, as often suggested by technological optimists, only decrease the need for mediation by media professionals (in another buzzword coined as 'disintermediation'). Paradoxically as the boundaries between journalism and non-journalism crumble beyond definition, it's the same profession of journalism that can be seen as being able to point a way through the 'clutter of voices' through participatory storytelling (Trench, 1997). Citizens will become more direct and active information seekers on subjects they are already familiar with - needing instrumental journalism - while they will continue to favor assistance in fields they are less familiar with - opting for orientational journalism (Bardoel, 1996). Annotative reporting can be seen as a hybrid between these two options: both critical - expecting specialized expertise on the side of the audience - as well as orientational - guiding individuals to and through information on any given topic and issue.

To annotate means to add explanation to information - extra 'commentary information' in terms of the Online Dictionary of Computing. One of the dominant trends visible in recent international journalism survey research in particularly Western democracies is an increase of the importance attributed by journalists to explanatory role perceptions (Weaver, 1998) adding comment and analysis to information as shown in what Barnhurst coined as the 'New Long Journalism Theory' (Barnhurst, 1999). To put it more explicitly: it used to be 'getting the information to the public', now added to that comes 'analyzing and explaining complex issues&' (see Weaver, 1998: pp. 466-467). Some media critics lament this development; who needs yet another comment and opinion? One may argue that the lessons being learned from the Internet and the World Wide Web can bring about a discipline of 'pure' annotative reporting, meaning a model of journalism which is aimed at gathering information, describing the bits and pieces and pointing out to the involved public (whether an individual through personalized content or a certain community of people with a shared interest) where to access this information. Good examples of such early forms of annotative genres are sites like Slashdot, which allows users to create an environment in which people can both access as well as post information - or comments and discussion about information. But in the traditional media similar genres are evolving; one could think of the 'today in the papers' section in breakfast TV news shows or the periodical review of what the foremost opinion magazines cover in the newspaper. In this respect annotative journalism should be defined as a form of service-oriented meta-journalism; journalism about journalism.

Open Source Journalism

Early October 1999 the U.S.-based magazine Jane's Intelligence Review decided not to publish an article before allowing the mentioned Slashdot community to evaluate it; the article was critized by Slashdot's visitors, whereafter the editor withdrew the original piece and replaced it with on based on the critics' comments (see Leonard, 1999). This was a pure form of open source journalism: the use of so-called 'open' sources on the Internet to check facts. The term 'open-source' stems from the procedure to make software source codes openly available so that experts and regular users will find and correct glitches and modify the original code to their own benefit (O'Reilly, 1998). Open source journalism applies this principle to news stories - making them available for scrutiny and corrections before final publication (Moon, 1999). As Moon summarizes:

"Advocates of open-source journalism proclaim it as the new journalism, perfecting all that is wrong with traditional journalism. Others strongly oppose use of open sources, claiming the tactic will hinder the practice of traditional journalism and allow experts to wrest editorial control from journalists and the outlets for which they write"

The fundamental idea behind open source journalism can be seen as an advanced form of civic, public or communitarian journalism: involving the audience in the (manufacture of) news, creating a kind of user-generated content sites as Preecs writes idealistically:

"Open source journalism would be amateur journalism, journalism produced by citizens, scholars, community activists and other troublemakers just because we love the idea of creating, organizing or deploying the information that could save our planet and our souls."

The Internet as it wires millions of individuals as potential information experts into a global communications infrastructure provides an ideal platform for improving journalism by incorporating the expertise of people 'outside of the Rolodex'. It admittedly also blurs the boundaries of what one may see as journalism - but one can argue that this would be a top-down definition of journalism. Considering rising levels of education worldwide (especially in Western democracies) and increasing functional differentiation and developments towards further specialized 'niche' markets the inclusion of public (cf. 'open') experts seems to be not such a long shot as to providing a future for journalism in general. The potentials (and pitfalls) of open source journalism should therefore be explored, not discarded. An early example of support for this potential came from a survey among Dutch online journalists in 1999: 69% of these new media professionals agreed to the proposition that a strong interactive relationship with the audience is an essential building block for any news site (Deuze, 2000: p. 362).

Hyperadaptive News sites

The key to understanding many developments in particularly new media technologies is convergence; the merger of existing technological appliances with computerized networks, predominantly enabled by the digitalization of all information formats. This facilitates open communication between all devices used in some way or another to gather, select, edit and distribute information. But the convergence paradigm can be attributed to many developments in contemporary society, of which thinking about Web design and the future of the Internet as it integrates with all our household appliances such as the VCR, the TV and the mobile phone is but one aspect. Convergence takes place on many levels and can be seen as an ongoing process in society - one may think of the convergence of public and private spheres, 'high' and 'low' culture, culture and entertainment industries, modernist and postmodernist thinking and so on. Jenkins (2001) argues, that one can in fact distinguish five processes of convergence: technological (cf. digitalization), economic (cf. horizontal integration of industries), social or organic (cf. multitasking), cultural (cf. user-generated storytelling) and global (cf. McLuhan's 'global village') convergence. As early as 1995, Tim Guay wrote about the convergence of the existing Web publishing paradigms - multimedia, hypertextuality, interactivity - into what he predicted to become the future standard divergent paradigm: hyperadaptivity (Guay, 1995). One of the acclaimed 'fathers' of hypertext, Ted Nelson, later on defined this concept as 'Xanalogical media' - even explicitly claiming that this new paradigm was developed to prevent something like the World Wide Web to persist (Nelson, 1999). What these authors claim essentially means that what we consider to be the three separate characteristics of the Web will eventually diverge into a single paradigm of publishing.

Elsewhere we have argued that windowing of content (as in the 'report once, write twice' rule) can be seen as a defining characteristic of online journalism (Bardoel and Deuze, 1999). The next step of journalism in a converged and networked digital environment then must be seen as creating content in an environment which interacts with its surroundings without limitations of media formats (or: windows). Guay (1995) refers to this kind of design as hyperadaptivity: the convergence of in particular hypertext, multimedia and interactivity. For journalism this means that it has to break away from two defining principles of the profession: distributing information under a single brand to get and keep a more or less faceless audience and in doing so to remain within the constraints of a single format (audio, video, text). This may not happen in online journalism, but I would like to argue that this is the realm of the media profession where we can try and experience it first-hand.




I have tried to summarize the potential news strategies for the different journalisms online in Model III, which schematic leads to the concluding discussion of the possible 'road ahead' for online newsmedia production.


Model III: Potential Strategies for Online Journalism

Mainstream News sites
Index & Category sites
Meta & Comment sites
Share & Discussion sites
Annotative Reporting
Open Source Journalism
Hyperadaptive News site


When news sites opt for adding or increasing (external) hyperlinks, (functional/adaptive) interactivity and (convergent/divergent) multimedia, they also opt for changes beyond adding some underlined text, an extra page with a feedback form or a link to a streaming video fragment. Such changes have also to do with editorial organization patterns, and challenges to established journalistic ways, norms and values of storytelling. As the whole of the Web site is more than the sum of its parts, adding a single part has implications for more than the whole. The suggested added values and new strategies of journalisms online cannot simply be incorporated one by one without fundamentally changing the 'nature of the beast' - the beast being that particular newsroom and its professionals involved. In other words: changing online journalisms may very well change what one perceives as being journalism. Model III therefore seeks to suggest which strategy fits which type of online journalism, based on a reconsideration of the characteristics of these sites as shown in Model II.

Annotative reporting can be seen as an added value to all kinds of information gathering, sharing or just offering online. Anyone can signal a bit of information, but who can describe it, evaluate it and comment on it so that people are assisted with signaling relevant bits of information? It is therefore remarkable that particularly the mainstream news sites have not (as of yet) fully developed this type of added value. Perhaps such sites can start to incorporate annotative storytelling formats. Several are doing so, particularly in sections about the media, such as for example the British MediaGuardian's daily annotated 'Top Ten' news stories or Dutch Algemeen Dagblad's commented rating system for external hyperlinks. Norwegian Nettavisen is also an example of a newsservice solely relying on gathering and annotating online materials. It does impact upon the journalistic ideal of being the one that tells the story, though - now that he or she will 'just' be the one that tells about other storytellers.

The next phase, open source journalism, takes a specific mindset and newsroom consensus to take hold (both with journalists as with publics). The only type of journalism online, for which this is not an innovation, is the Share & Discussion site, where people come together to present, discuss and sometimes even rework stories found elsewhere on the Web. Utilizing this potential for user-generated content, for addressing the expertise of the multitude instead of the educated view of the lone academic or politician, also demarcates journalism between those feeling most comfortable with autonomous 'top-down' storytelling, and those who do not feel threatened by the 'producer = consumer = producer' rhetoric of the Internet - but indeed embrace it. It is therefore not surprising that this kind of journalism can be found exactly there, where the focus is least on content and most on connectivity - a type of online journalism farthest away from mainstream news organizations. One may wonder what open source reporting adds to a newssite featuring largely repurposed content and update journalism. My best guess is that this kind of open storytelling works for specific niche publications (as the example of Jane's Intelligence Review shows - see Moon, 1999), for topical or issue-based communities (such as new social movements online) - but perhaps also for regional newspapers with a Web presence, whose aim it is to play a more inclusive role in the geographical community it intends to serve (Lapham, 1995).

The third option, making a newssite 'hyperadaptive', builds on high-end notions of interactivity, hypertextuality and - possibly - multimediality. Having a site adapt itself more or less automatically to the wants and needs of individual surfers may sound conspicuously similar to the mid-1990s business models of customizable 'push' delivery of content (remember PointCast, now Infogate?), or the concept of the 'Daily Me' (Negroponte, 1996), or even reminds us of Bill Gates' comments in his The Road Ahead, that computers and software are much better at most of the tasks nowadays delegated to journalists. The difference is, that I would like to use the concept of hyperadaptivity to describe the process a newssite undergoes to adapt itself to the changing patterns of new media consumption and production. This for example means that a site should allow users to rate content and suggest or even upload content, a site could offer its own content in chunks (so that users may navigate through this content on their own), the site's home page could adapt itself (with the use of information stored in cookies) to user's previous site visit patterns, a site should be able to arrange its newsfeed based on specific questions consumers of news have posed earlier on - and so on. In other words: a newssite becoming hyperadaptive has to adopt a philosophy of (significantly) empowering online users.

It seems clear that all the strategies offered here are dependent for their success on how the discussion between 'traditional' and 'new' ways of storytelling is resolved within the newsroom involved. This is an aspect that I feel is underestimated by online journalists, and by researchers who for example study the 'interactiveness' of news sites. They talk about the importance of being interactive without accepting the fact that ongoing levels of interactivity undermine the 'we write, you read' dogma of modern journalism, and of impacting upon certain core values and ideals along the way. Ditto for annotation to external hypertextuality, as for increasing a newssite's adaptive capacity. A mainstream newssite without any kind of interactive option is not an example of 'bad' online journalism; it may be an excellent service to its constituency demanding brief, concise and updated information throughout day and night.

This paper has aimed to summarize the kinds of online journalism, their characteristics and added value to other journalisms, and tried to evaluate the impact and challenges new developments in newsmedia production online. The summary is by no means all-inclusive, and exceptions to the models suggested in this paper are no doubt found all over the Web. What I would like to suggest, is that any assessment of what's good or bad about online journalism should start with a clear and perhaps oversimplified description of the concepts one is talking about. I consider this paper as an attempt to provide such a description - hopefully leading to a sharpening of our research problems and questions, a redefinition of newsmedia strategies, a starting point for evaluating before implementing change. Change happens - and the only way to optimize our answer to this is to critically define the challenges change brings to our way of getting things done. End of article


About the Author

Mark Deuze is lecturer and research associate at the Amsterdam School of Communications Research (ASCoR), The Netherlands. The issues regarding journalists and the Internet in this paper form part of a larger research project into contemporary journalism in The Netherlands, a project that runs from 1997 to 2001. This project has four main themes: journalism in The Netherlands in terms of [1] an international comparative perspective, [2] the multicultural society, [3] infotainment, and [4] the Internet. The author received his BA in Journalism at the Tilburg School for Journalism, The Netherlands and his M.Phil in History and Communication Studies at the Rand Afrikaans University in Johannesburg, South Africa. This paper is partly based on a series of guest lectures in The Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal (between June 2000 - June 2001) and functions as a follow-up on an overview of the field, published earlier in First Monday in December 1998.



1. ll the sites mentioned in this paper will be listed with their addresses (cf. Universal Resource Locators; URLs) on the World Wide Web at the end in the order as the appeared in the body text.

2. No commercial succress story, though: Automatic Media, the company running sites such as Plastic and Feed, closed its doors on 11 June 2001 due to a lack of ad revenue. Two editors of Plastic remain to keep the site running on a voluntary basis.



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Appendix: Links


Web site
URL version
Arts & Letters Daily
Mario Profaca's news site
Drudge Report
Poynter's Medianews
E-Media Tidbits
EJC Medianews
Online Dictionary of Computing
Jane's Intelligence Review
Algemeen Dagblad
PointCast (Infogate)

Editorial history

Paper received 4 September 2001; accepted 21 September 2001.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2001, First Monday

Online Journalism: Modelling the First Generation of News Media on the World Wide Web by Mark Deuze
First Monday, volume 6, number 10 (October 2001),