Digitizing the News: Innovation in Online Newspapers

Digitizing the News: Innovation in Online Newspapers
Pablo Boczkowski
March 30, 2004
authorsatmit series

Teresa from a humanities library introduced Pablo Boczkowski.

Pablo began by talking about his interest in newspapers that developed while he was in Argentina. He became fascinated with the intersection of old and new media. His book summarizes his research into newspapers and their technology during the period between 1997 and 1999. After spending time at three news organizations during that time period, he learned new technology arises from how people use technology. The book attempts to examine social effects of technology and how those effects come about.

Newspapers are 300 year old technology. There has been a slow but steady decline in the industry since the 1960s. He shared some statistics and numbers to show the size of the industry and its amount of readers. Pablo thinks the shrinking industry is a trend.

He focused on online community sections. He wanted to examine the formation of news teams and working partnerships new technology causes within the newspaper. Sections on the Web can pull together articles on the same topic no matter where they are published on the Web, like the New York Times’ technology section.

He learned as he was looking for graphics for his book that no one had archived the content of many of the versions of newspapers he looked at. He might be the only person with screenshots of certain publications from 1997. He blamed the lack of archiving on people being too busy to incorporate it into their jobs.

Innovation has been defensive and reactive. Newspapers have been working on online content management systems for longer than the Web has been in existence. Compuserve experimented with an online news service in the early 80s that was not successful. The newspapers were glad their print editions didn’t suffer from this move into an electronic environment.

Newspapers think of their content in terms of their customers being consumers of content, but journalists often only write with themselves in mind. Consumers may want to produce their own content, but newspapers aren’t the place for that.

News is changing. Media convergence is/isn’t intuitive (I couldn’t understand what he said through his accent). More people are having a bigger impact on a story: marketing/advertising people, tech people, and graphics people. There’s a different definition of what’s news. People and organizations publishing their own content has an impact on what newspapers cover. Media convergence may mean a homogenized product.
Pablo defines media convergence as one outlet with online, television, and print components with one set of reporters producing all of the content.

He wrote the book about social memories because it’s more human.

An audience member asked Pablo if he had been back to the organizations he examined. Pablo said one site folded, another morphed into blogs, and the other is the New York Times. He added that many newspapers with online components were losing money then. Things have changed but the pattern hasn’t.

A woman asked about whether the Internet Archive was saving pages from the online newspapers back then. Pablo said he didn’t know. She then talked about some work at Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet & Society and how Google saves people’s searches.

Pablo went off on a tangent and said there are no revenue streams from archiving. The woman then asked about micropayments for cell phone pictures and whether that was lucrative. Pablo said it takes a while for technology to catch on.

Another woman talked about how newspapers use innovation to maintain the status quo and there seems to be more hard news on the Web than on television. Pablo acknowledged that news is changing; news organizations change what they consider to be news; and news action is online. He used a news organization’s discussion group section as an example of an online community created by a news organization.

She then asked how the NYT’s innovative successes influence others. Pablo explained that newspapers imitate what they think is good and successful. Eightly percent of NYT online traffic is from outside of the New York City metropolitan area. Smaller newspapers are disappearing, but many have been disappearing for a long time.

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