Digital shift means new relationship between journalists and consumers

Editor’s Comment: much more so than before there is a conversation with readers

“How do you serve the ‘born on the internet’ generation? How do you generate journalism for a sophisticated audience using more than one device at the same time? These are questions being asked of every media organisation, every journalist and every editor.” Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

“How do you serve the ‘born on the internet’ generation? How do you generate journalism for a sophisticated audience using more than one device at the same time? These are questions being asked of every media organisation, every journalist and every editor.” Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

Mon, Jul 14, 2014, 01:04

We are living in an unhinged age, where technology and the internet have broken up a long-established world order with some ferocity. The principal channels of communication and influence have changed within an amazingly short period.

The two-dimensional flow of information has been overridden by a multiplicity of channels and options to consume. Coinciding with this, 21st century life can be noisy and disruptive, especially where so many people are almost constantly switched on to a device. Behaviours – how consumers are interacting with media – give a telling indication of a sociological revolution.

The many positives in this empowering era are a flourishing of new forms of journalism and opportunities for engagement and exchange of views – not forgetting the internet’s capacity to be a force for democratisation of societies; to provide what former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller described as “the information you need to be an engaged citizen”.

Challenge

Technology, through the web, allows the reader to be informed, but also to challenge, to question and to intervene directly and quickly. Likewise the relationship between news provider and reader is different, and frequently deeper, because of the consumer’s ability to receive information and participate, and not merely send a letter to the editor to be considered for publication.

The negatives, however, are considerable: the avalanche of instant unverified information; an extraordinarily wide variety in the quality of sources – some remarkably prescient, some plain wrong, some malicious in their distortion of basic facts. And just as commentary can contribute to uplifting debate, it can also be toxic and unfair.

Within that cauldron, any media organisation committed to quality journalism must have robust verification to reinforce trust in what it does and to be accountable, The Irish Times included. That is particularly demanding when faced with less time to make decisions in the face of multiple deadlines and quick-fire news from competitors.

Likewise, what constitutes a story in journalistic terms now has many variants. Katharine Viner of the Guardian captured the new complexities well: “You start with an event or an idea and then you ask: what is the best way to tell this story? As an article? Or as a live blog, a list, a series of tweets, a video, some audio, a picture gallery, a data blog, a visualisation, an interactive, a panel of short blogs, a networked piece, an open thread where we publish one line and then open it up to the reader? Or something that begins with the reader? Or with the data? Or something aimed specifically at the user on mobile?”

Conversation

Much more often than before there is a conversation with readers and between readers, facilitated by social media networks. In many ways The Irish Times is in that space; in others we are at the beginning in establishing new digital relationships. The old “we will tell you the news” relationship is no longer enough.

The combined newspaper and digital readership of The Irish Times has never been larger or more diverse, but we are conscious that we have to serve that discerning audience in better ways in tune with their increasingly digital consumption patterns.

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