Soon the questions about money began, and many online newspapers have struggled with them since. Before the online shift, it was easy. If you wanted the newspaper delivered to you every day, you were going to have to pay to subscribe.
But moving online changed that. Suddenly all of the newspaper’s content (plus some) could be found online, on-demand. Visitors could consume that content for free.
And the more people began to think it seemed silly to pay for something that they could read for free online, the more newspaper subscriptions began to wane.
Naturally, they asked themselves how they would make money with fewer subscribers and free content online. Different newspapers have taken different approaches. Some have taken to online advertising while others only allow readers to view so many articles per month without an account identifying them as a subscriber.
And as social media as we know it today began to gain traction, the face of online newspapers changed again. Whereas the newspapers were the ones primarily responsible for providing the news before, social media gave way to what is often referred to as citizen’s journalism.
The citizens see news happening and share it.
To give this some context, think of how the news breaks – it’s nearly always on Twitter before it’s anywhere else. It seems we almost always find out a celebrity has passed when we see #RIP_____ trending on Twitter. Word of the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Japan flew all over social media channels as they were happening and in the immediate aftermath. During the summer of 2011, when an earthquake shook up the east coast – a typically unlikely target – a bit, Twitter lit up with reactions and commentary. The world heard about Osama bin Laden’s death online before President Obama even confirmed it.
However, therein lies the problem. When that news is coming in from citizens through social media, it’s not always the most reliable information. They can misunderstand the situation and stories can be skewed. For instance, news of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno’s death spread like wildfire all over social media, largely stemming from the student news outlet, Onward State. The problem?
He wasn’t dead.
Though Paterno died the following day, the incident didn’t go without consequences. Onward State’s managing editor, Devon Edwards, took full responsibility and resigned from his position. If this kind of faux pas was a big deal for a campus media outlet (and granted, Penn State is a well-known and very large school), imagine what would happen if The New York Times or Washington Post did such a thing?
You can bet that in addition to watching the traditional newswires, online newspaper publishers are also keeping a close eye on social media – Twitter, in particular, as it seems to be a news source in and of itself. Though this medium for picking up stories may be new in the technological sense, the fact remains that the information should still be checked. If not, it can lead to serious consequences.
Publishing used to involve a press, ink, and reams of paper. Today, publishing a newspaper also means being Web savvy and understanding content strategies. It means enhancing the text with high quality images and video and allowing users to comment. Publishing means having a solid presence on social media sites and sharing information with your followers, even breaking news there and keeping them informed while an article is written.
Online newspapers have certainly come a long way. As technology evolves and Web 2.0 gives way to Web 3.0, you can be sure that online news channels will continue to adapt and grow with their readers.