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What is Digital Journalism - and Why Does it Matter?

16th June 2015 Posted by: Francesca Turauskis

DIGITAL journalism is very different to the traditional journalism that was around as little as a decade ago. From the way news is captured to its reception by readers, students wishing to become journalists need to be familiar with many digital skills in order to compete with the competition. Below is our guide to the main developments and how these may influence media and journalism students.

What is digital journalism?

While there is no clear definition of digital journalism, it is widely recognised as being any form of journalist content that is posted on the internet. It could be in text, audio or video form and because it does not have to print and distribute content, it is much faster than traditional journalism. People can use the internet to access news and events 24 hours a day. They also like to fit their reading into busy lives, so content is shorter than it used to be: Articles are not as long, GIFs can be glanced at in a few seconds and places such as the BBC now offer 15 second snippets of longer interviews.

The roll of a digital journalist is more about compiling content sourced from places such as social media. There is a focus on getting a lot of information into a short space. In many digital articles, hyperlinks link to video or photos that have been taken on camera-phones and posted on Facebook or YouTube. For students of journalism, courses that give information on how to search for such content will be useful. The legal aspects of this, such as copyright and plagiarism, must also be learned.

Interactive journalism

People can now react to journalism in a way that was impossible before the internet. Articles have a ‘comments’ section where people can get involved and give their opinion. For journalists, this allows feedback they would not have had with traditional journalism, but it also means that content is harder to control.

The way journalists research stories has changed as well. In the past journalists would often make phonecalls to PR offices. Now they do a lot of research using social media (known as crowdsourcing.) In a study by ING last year, it was found that 50% of journalists use social media as their main source of information.

Journalist can also monitor stories using hashtags (#). Hashtags allow journalists to track a story, compile information from multiple sources and find an audience who is already interested in the topic they are writing about. There are also tools for journalists to analyse the popularity of their own posts. Websites such as Hashtagify allow journalists to see the popularity of hashtags and allow them to use the most relevant hashtag to appeal to a wide audience.

Possible problems

Because sharing opinions is so popular in digital journalism, the line between fact and opinion can be blurred. Journalists need to think about the accuracy of content on different platforms and consider their sources carefully.  Due to the demand for instant news, many journalists now publish articles without checking the facts in order to get the article out quicker. Corrections and retractions are becoming more common, so it is important for journalists to follow up on work they have published to ensure it is still accurate, and change it if it isn’t.

What does this mean for students of journalism?

Practicing digital journalism in your spare time is essential. You should start a blog and post things regularly. You could use your mobile phone to record videos or interviews to add into your blog posts. Learning to edit video, audio and photos will make you more versatile and use social media to promote your work is also a good idea.

As many journalists now post their work directly onto news websites and platforms, it would also be a good idea to learn some computer coding. Knowing code such as HTML or CSS allows you to edit and personalise writing and visuals directly on a webpage. You can learn to code for free on some websites such as Code Academy or Google's University Consortium.

Older journalists and academics who are not as ‘tech savvy’ might not be as familiar with digital journalism, so it is important to consider this when looking for a degree course or training. There are some courses that specialise in digital journalism, whilst others still focus on traditional aspects. Whatever course you chose, you can use university to hone your digital research skills as much as your book skills to prepare you for the future. 

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