In the first post in this series I argued that technology may not play such an important role to the development of journalism in new media as people seem to believe. In this post I will look at the three assets of new technology that are generally portrayed as the most significant for journalism in new media: multimedia, interactivity and hypertext (see for instance this article by Mark Deuze for arguments on why these three assets have been considered the most important for online journalism).
The general assumption of the “techno-researchers” has been that an innovative approach to online journalism implies utilizing these three assets of new technology. There are, of course, lots of other technological assets and/or concept related to technology that keeps popping up in the discourse on online journalism:
- In a 1996 article (pdf available here), Peter Dalhgren spoke of archival and figurational.
- Christpher Harper (in his 1998 book “And that’s the way it will be”), Jospeh D. Lasica (in this 2002 article) and others spoke of personalization in some way or the other, inspired by the (in the second half of the 1990s) much hyped concept of “the Daily Me”, introduced by Nicholas Negroponte.
- John Pavlik (in his popular 2001 book Journalism and new media) added contextualisation and ubiquity.
- In recent years much attention has been given to the asset of immediacy (see for instance David Domingo 2006 PhD dissertation available as a pdf here).
- In a 2008 conference paper available for download here, Fernando Zamith extended the list to a compilation of seven assets: interactivity, hypertextuality, multimediality, immediacy, ubiquity, memory and personalization.
In addition, the literature on technology and online journalism is flooded by a sea of different concepts that describe similar or even the same phenomenon or asset – concepts like convergence, transparency, hypermedia, user-generated content (UGC), participatory journalism, civic journalism, wiki-journalism and crowdsourcing.
However, most of these (additional) assets can be treated as concretizations of interactivity, hypertext and multimedia depending of course on how these three concepts are defined. In Table 1 I lay out the different concepts that flood the literature to make visible how I understand their reliance to hypertext, interactivity and multimedia.
Table 1: Different concept related to new technology and online journalism and how they relate to multimedia, hypertext and interctivity
It must, however, be noted that the techno-approach research lacks commonly accepted definitions of hypertext, interactivity and multimedia. This creates some confusion as to what these characteristics represent and how they differ from one another. What some label “interactivity”, others label “hypertext”. In fact, both hypertext and multimedia can be characterized (and are often characterized) as “interactivity”. As is visible in Table 1, I treat several concepts that are understood by others as interactivity as belonging to hypertext.
Below I will lay out how I understand hypertext, multimedia and interactivity – please feel free to disagree with me.
Hypertext is generally understood as a computer based non-linear group of texts (i.e. written text, images etc) that are linked together with hyperlinks. The term was first coined by Ted Nelson who described it (in a 1965 Association for Computing Machinery conference paper) rather roughly as “a series of text chunks connected by links which offer the reader different pathways”.
Most scholars researching hypertext in online journalism rely on what Espen Aarseth in the book Cybertext labels a “computer industrial rhetoric”, i.e. an understanding of hypertext as a technological function (made visible by the electronic link) rather than an observable practice of interaction between text and reader. Researchers interested in hypertext as a text-reader practice are more likely to coin the object of study a practice of interactivity rather than a practice of hypertext.
The general assumption of researchers interested in hypertextual online journalism is that if hypertext is used innovatively it would provide a range of advantages over print journalism: no limitations of space, the possibility to offer a variety of perspectives, no finite deadline, direct access to sources, personalized paths of news perception and reading, contextualization of breaking news, and simultaneous targeting of different groups of readers – those only interest in the headlines and those interested in the deeper layers of information and sources.
Like hypertext, interactivity is a slippery concept that is used to describe numerous processes related to communication in general and practices like online journalism in particular. Based on a review of the “history” of interactivity, Jens F. Jensen arrives at this definition in a 1999 Nordicom Review article (pdf): Interactivity is “a measure of a media’s potential ability to let the user exert an influence on the content and/or form of the mediated communication”.
Jensen separates interaction from interactivity and his definition is therefore mainly a technological one. Interaction refers to the social dimension of interactivity, and Sally J. McMillan argues for an incorporation of this dimension as well. Accordingly, she has identified six different understandings of interactivity along two different axes:
Table 2: Six notions of interactivity, according to McMillan (2005)
All these kinds of interactivity may be found in an online newspaper. However, the Human-to-Computer axis is similar to what I above understood as hypertext. I will therefore treat the research covering this axis as related to hypertext.
Out of the then six notions of interactivity that are left only two seem to have occupied researchers of interactivity in online journalism to a great extent: human-to-human (both features and processes). This research is dominated by questions such as to what degree users are allowed to interact with online newsrooms/online journalists through emails; to what degree online news site offer discussion forums; and whether users are allowed to comment on stories or in other ways be involved in the production process.
In the article “What is multimedia journalism?” published in Journalism Studies in 2004 (pdf available for download here), Mark Deuze argues that the concept of multimedia in online journalism studies generally is understood in either of two ways: 1) as a presentation of a news story package where two or more media formats are utilized (e.g. text, audio, video, graphics etc), or 2) as a distribution of a news story packaged through different media (e.g. newspaper, website, radio, television etc).
Most research on multimedia in online journalism deals with the first understanding. When I in the following posts use the term multimedia I will therefore have it refer to such an understanding, albeit in a bit more pragmatic sense that better fit the empirical research on multimedia in online journalism. Since an online news story with text and a photo is generally not considered to be multimedia, I will have the term refer to stories and websites where more than two media are utilized. I will also let the term include not only the presentation of news, but also the production of news.
That’s more than enough definitions and introductory notes. Please feel free to share any disagreements and other types of comments. In the three following posts I will review the research on interactivity, hypertext and multimedia in online journalism the last decade.