41 key moments in the history of online journalism {now 45} – have I missed any?

July 7 bombings image

A key moment in recent journalism history: Adam Stacey’s image taken during the July 7 bombings

In the history chapter of the Online Journalism Handbook you will find a timeline of key events in web journalism. While working on the forthcoming second edition I recently revisited and updated the timeline. Below are the 41 key events I have settled on — but have I missed any? Let me know what you think.

The 1990s: the birth of web journalism

How the BBC website looked in 1998 when it reported on Drudge

How the BBC website looked in 1998 when it reported on Drudge

The web, of course, is not the internet. By 1991 email was 20 years old and the internet was in its third decade. The 90s, then, are marked by some basic firsts — but have I missed anything?

  1. 1991: Tim Berners-Lee releases World Wide Web browser and server software
  2. 1994: Daily Telegraph launches the Electronic Telegraph
  3. 1997: BBC Online launches
  4. 1998: The Drudge Report, launched in 1994, breaks first big online scoop in 1998 with Monica Lewinsky story.
  5. 1999: Pyra Labs creates Blogger, free software that allows anyone to set up their own blog
  6. 1999: The Guardian publishes minute-by-minute coverage of sports events, a process which would later be described as “liveblogging

2000-2005: War, blogging — and podcasting

The spread of blogs provided most of the key moments in the early 2000s, as eyewitnesses, experts and groups of passionate individuals challenged mainstream narratives and ways of doing things.

  1. 2001: September 11 attacks: while news websites collapse under the global demand, a network of blogs pass on news and lists of survivors
  2. 2002: US Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott stands down after bloggers pick up remarks ignored by mainstream press
  3. 2003: Invasion of Iraq: Salam Pax, the ‘Baghdad Blogger’, posts updates from the city as it is bombed, providing a particular contrast to war reporters ‘embedded’ with the armed forces and demonstrating the importance of non-journalist bloggers
  4. 2003: Christopher Allbritton raises $15,000 through his blog Back-to-Iraq 3.0, to send him to report independently from the war, demonstrating the ability of blogs to financially support independent journalism (called the ‘tip-jar model’).
  5. [ADDED Jan 19 2017] 2003: MySociety is launched in the UK, creating platforms that make it easier for people to find out what elected politicians are doing, to communicate with them, and to submit FOI requests. Its tools influence data journalists in the UK and US, its technology spreads internationally. It also wins awards for its work with Channel 4.
  6. 2004: Rathergate/Memogate: CBS anchorman Dan Rather resigns after bloggers raise questions about accuracy of CBS report on George  W. Bush’s National Guard service
  7. 2004: Asian tsunami on Boxing Day demonstrates reach of web from inaccessible areas as images and video are published to web from mobile phones
  8. 2005: Podcasts take off as iTunes adds them to its jukebox.
  9. 2005: Rupert Murdoch tells newspaper industry that it has been slow to respond to digital developments. Buys social networking site MySpace
  10. 2005: July 7 bombings, London: mobile phone image of passengers walking along a Tube tunnel posted on MoBlog and The Sun, and goes global from there. A significant moment in moblogging.
  11. [ADDED Jan 19 2017] 2005: Adrian Holovaty launches Chicagocrime.org. The demonstration of coding’s ability to grab data (in this case from the local police department) and combine it (with Google Maps) – the ‘mashup’ – is a key moment in the development of data journalism.

2006-2010: UGC, crowdsourcing, and data

Infographic: Online News Surpass Newspapers and Radio | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista

The second half of the 2000s saw blogging’s impact spread to social networks, with key news events showing the role that social media could play in reporting and distribution.

  1. 2007: Talking Points Memo blog breaks story of US attorneys being fired across the country, demonstrating the power of ‘crowdsourcing: involving readers in an investigation, and carrying it out in public.
  2. 2007: Mainstream media reports on the Virginia Tech massacre using information from Facebook and other social networking sites
  3. 2007: Myanmar protests are tracked via blogs and social networking sites as journalists blocked entry
  4. 2008: News of a Chinese earthquake spreads via Twitter
  5. 2008: Journalists look to Twitter as a tool after terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India are reported in real-time on the microblogging service
  6. [ADDED Jan 19 2017] 2009: AOL buys the hyperlocal network Patch, and begins rapidly expanding it from 46 to 900 sites. By 2013 it was cutting staff from 540 to 98, and closing hundreds of sites. The challenges of scaling hyperlocal sites were clear.
  7. 2010: Citizen journalism site iReport is used to track and connect relatives after the Haiti earthquake
  8. 2010: Wikileaks work with news organisations on a series of major stories. The Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and Cablegate dominate the year and contribute to a broader interest in data journalism
  9. 2010: Online news consumption and advertising surpass print for the first time in the US

2011-2014: longform, podcasts and security

Alan Rusbridger

The Guardian complied when authorities demanded they destroy the Snowden files

With the launch of the iPad and Kindle, news organisations turned their attention to longer form writing, while there was a rising awareness of the way that digital technology could be used to track our activities.

  1. [ADDED Jan 19 2017] 2011: The New York Times introduces a ‘leaky’ or ‘metered’ paywall. In contrast to a ‘hard’ paywall, it allowed readers to access some articles for free, or access them when shared on social media. While not the first, its success led others to try a similar approach.
  2. 2011: Amazon launches the Kindle Singles format, kickstarting interest in e-publishing ‘longform’ journalism of a greater length than traditional feature articles
  3. 2012: The New York Times ‘immersive’ story Snow Fall is published, marking a broader move online towards longform journalism aimed at tablet users
  4. 2013: Edward Snowden leaks information about global surveillance operations to The Guardian, triggering a global debate about information security and highlighting the difficulty of protecting sources and whistleblowers.
  5. 2013: Google Glass is launched, leading to increased experimentation in both newsgathering and apps on wearable technology.
  6. 2014: The podcast Serial becomes the fastest podcast to reach 5 million downloads and streams on iTunes, stimulating new interest in the format.
  7. 2014: A Metropolitan Police report reveals that authorities are using the RIPA act to monitor journalists’ communications with sources, triggering the ‘Save Our Sources’ campaign.
  8. 2014: The New York Times’s internal Innovation Report is leaked, providing a rare — and highly critical — insight into the cultural challenges facing traditional news organisations trying to adapt to the internet age
  9. 2014: Information hacked from the film studio Sony Pictures is leaked, for suspected political reasons. The information is widely reported in the entertainment and business press, but also stimulates ethical debate around the use of hacked data.


2015-2016: live video, wearables and bots

It felt like history was speeding up in the last two years, but was that really the case? Technological developments continued to proliferate in 2015 and 2016. My biggest doubt is over the most recent inclusion: Aleppo feels more significant than other UGC moments in recent history, but should it be in here?

  1. 2015: Live video app Meerkat launches, quickly followed by Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook Live. Live video becomes an essential element in publishing strategy.
  2. 2015: The Apple Watch is launched, kickstarting interest in ‘glance journalism’.
  3. 2015: Chat app Telegram opens up its bot store to developers. News organisations begin building chatbots to help users interact with their content.
  4. 2015: Facebook launches Instant Articles and Apple News arrives in the UK, followed by Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages the next year, marking the start of a battle over mobile news
  5. 2016: The Independent newspaper in the UK goes online-only
  6. 2016: An attempted coup in Turkey is livestreamed on Facebook Live and Periscope. But as the media is seized by the military, the president also uses Apple FaceTime to broadcast live
  7. 2016: Facebook accused of censorship after it deleted posts featuring the Vietnam war photo The Terror of War. Norwegian newspaper editor, Espen Egil Hansen, sees his open letter to Mark Zuckerberg on the subject go viral.
  8. 2016: Amazon Echo launches in the UK and Google Home launches in the US, opening up new opportunities for publishing in the connected home.
  9. 2016: Mark Zuckerberg announces Facebook will introduce new measures to tackle ‘fake news’ and work with factchecking organisations amid suggestions other countries used propaganda to influence the US election.
  10. 2016: Citizens caught within a siege in Aleppo post harrowing goodbye messages using social media, connecting with a global audience in the absence of journalists on the ground. But communication is confused by fake images.

What’s notable about the timeline is how strong particular themes come through at particular times: in the mid-2000s the landmark events were related to the emergence of blogging and then social media as key places for citizen journalism; from 2010, however, the focus shifts to data and platforms. The last year seems particularly significant, from the rise of bots and the connected home to controversies over Facebook censorship and fake news. You can see which events were dropped from the original timeline by comparing that here.

UPDATE [Jan 19 2017]: Jem Stone on Facebook (see below) points me to a history of the BBC and social media that he wrote in 2011.


7 thoughts on “41 key moments in the history of online journalism {now 45} – have I missed any?

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