Coverage of recent news events has led to concern over the impact of the internet on the press. Has it been a benefit or a hindrance?
The Internet has transformed the way in which news media is distributed to consumers, with many publications shifting their focus away from the printed press and towards online outlets. This has led to a great deal of change but not all of it has been positive, and recently questions have arisen over whether the press is better off now or not.
The most recent event to spark such debate was the verdict earlier this month that Amanda Knox was acquitted of the murder of Meredith Kercher. Those who were following the appeal closely on news sites however were informed by The Sun, The Daily Mail, Sky News and even The Guardian that her appeal had been quashed and that she had been found guilty. Those on the Daily Mail website were even treated to fabricated quotations and narrative, including the “fact” that she “will be put on a suicide watch for the next few days as psychological assessments are made”. In actual fact she was found guilty of slander, and as people heard this, they rushed to Twitter with the word “guilty”, panicking news sites into releasing their pre-prepared “guilty” versions of the story. Whilst the Daily Mail clearly went too far (albeit unsurprisingly), in inventing their own imaginary sequence of events, for the rest of the websites this was nothing more than a mistake which was corrected minutes later. However, mistakes are never forgotten on the Internet, and we must ask whether such a mistake would have happened in print media.
News websites rush into publishing in order to increase the chances of their appearing first in search engine results, in the hopes that this will increase web traffic. When the news story is one such as this with a set number of outcomes, journalists will prepare articles for each result so that they may be published immediately once the outcome is known. This is nothing new and has happened since long before the dawn of the Internet; most notoriously in the 1948 US Presidential election when the Chicago Tribune was forced to go to press early with the headline “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” (he didn’t). Deadlines may be longer for the printed press, but they do still exist, and mistakes can still be made. However, whilst being top on a search would doubtless bring extra web traffic, a large number of people will have a favourite source of news which they will check regardless of its position on Google. If a few more minutes are spent checking facts, little damage would be done to search rankings and embarrassment and reputations would be spared.
The Internet must also be recognised for vastly improving journalism as a whole. Rather than having to wait until a scheduled television broadcast or the next morning’s paper, news can be viewed on computers, mobile phones, tablet computers or anything else Internet-enabled, at any time and place of your choosing. For less frequent papers with less physical space for content (Read: The Mancunion) it is also a means of providing topical and more detailed news. In addition to this, direct referencing is possible and every other article is accessible, long after the newspaper has been thrown away (If you’re reading this on The Mancunion website, you’ll have enjoyed the link to the Mail blunder, preserved for all eternity, or at least until we run out of Internet). Also, from a financial perspective, the Internet allows material to be published without printing costs, and with unlimited space for advertising, allowing the content to remain largely free to consumers. Perhaps most importantly however is the fact that public interaction with the news and journalism is made simple, ranging from comment boards under articles to websites dedicated to citizen journalism. In my view, more accessible journalism is a reward which more than justifies any drawbacks.