The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 37.0°F | Partly Cloudy

Speakers Discuss Digital Journalism

Greg Kuhnen -- The Tech
Ingrid Volkmer of the University of Augsburg, Germany answers a question about the spread of different journalistic perspectives by media on the Internet during the second Journalism and Cyberspace forum held in Bartos Theater yesterday.

By Neena S. Kadaba
Staff Reporter

Speakers last night answered the question of how American journalism has been affected by digital technologies at a forum entitled "Digital Journalism and Cyberspace" in Bartos Theatre.

Geared toward answering the question of how American journalism has been affected by digital technologies, the forum specifically focused on the threats and opportunities that these technologies create. The forum also discussed the change in traditional newspaper formats that resulted in a change of media from print to the Internet, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of this new, more complex and foreign media.

Reid Ashe, president and publisher of the Tampa Tribune, Ingrid Volkner, professor of Media and Communication at the University of Augsburg, Germany, and Rob Fixmer, technology news editor of the New York Times participated in the forum.

"Media exists because we are social animals," Ashe said. He stated that media is a "virtual reality business" of recreating situations and sharing them with people. The Internet, he said, can fulfill this virtual reality role more effectively, as seen in Internet publishing; multimedia enhancement, or the adding of many new and varied features to online publications increases the scope of media.

Media recreates real situations

Using an analogy of a marketplace meeting as the place where information was exchanged, Ashe projected this concept forward to describe the media - the exchange of information without the need to meet; it gives the "benefits of the marketplace without having to physically meet."

Online journalism had so far only "done old stuff with new equipment,"Ashe said, "but we have just begun to comprehend the extent to which these new tools can be used." If a newspaper is defined as ink on paper, or the delivery of mass processed information, then a future threat to its printing is visible, but if a newspaper is an institution that explores and provides information, online journalism will enhance the performance, he said.

Internet represents media world

Volkmer, who is also director of Global Media Consultants, Ltd., described the internet as becoming "an icon of the globalized media world." She discussed the five environments of the Internet.

The first, the pluralistic environment, where media markets merge, occurs in the United States. The second, characterized by emergent public discourse without globalization, appears in Eastern Europe.

The third is the state regulated and censored environment of China and a few other Asian nations. The fourth is the environment that was overlooked by the Internet, such as the African continent. The last is the dualist environment found in European nations.

Fixmer asserted that "the Internet has more opportunities; the question is: Do we know how to use them?" The goal of digital journalism is to create a new kind of journalism for this new electronic media, he said. This new media lends a flexibility not available with print media.

"The Internet allows us to formulate reporting in a way that was never possible before, primarily through allowing the reader to navigate through a story," Fixmer said. This gives newspapers additional responsibility; newspapers need to respect the reader's right to navigate, he said. The media's role as gatekeeper is expanded, and the parameters are no longer dictated.

Fixmer gave examples of "new" uses for technology in online journalism. With a computer simulation, people can learn through experience while testing theories in their own ways, he said. When asked if he was concerned about preventing erroneous and misleading information being presented, he asserted that solutions such as sharing source code are implemented.

During a question-and-answer period following presentations by the three speakers, the audience brought up issues such as the new role of the media as a moderator between issues and people, the contributions of Internet journalism through immediate news and bringing people together through online journalism.

The lecture is part of a larger project called Media in Transition. Literature Professor David Thorburn planned a sequence of forums, symposiums, and lectures on journalism in transition.