A potted history of the last 6 years? How the Online Journalism Handbook changed between 2011 and 2017

A few weeks ago the second edition of the Online Journalism Handbook was published. Two years in the making, it was more than just an update of the first edition — it was an almost complete rewrite (and 50% longer). The changes since that first edition in 2011 highlight just how the industry has changed in those six years — here are just a few of the things that I noticed when I looked back…

Blogging: “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine”

In the first edition of the Online Journalism Handbook a whole chapter was devoted to blogging. In the new edition the chapter is gone. Does that mean that blogging is dead? No. It means that ‘blogging’ is now so ubiquitous it has become almost invisible.

“Blogging” might not appear many times in the index, but its influence can be seen throughout the book, from the chapter on writing for the web — reflecting perhaps how practices which were once distinct have now become incorporated into mainstream practice — and the chapter on writing for social media (after all, what social media platform doesn’t allow some form of blogging?), to video and liveblogging. Which takes me on to…

The growth of writing for social media and chat, liveblogging and video

The first edition was unusual at the time for tackling writing for Twitter and liveblogging (again, as part of the blogging chapter). But these have grown so rapidly that they take up two new chapters in the new edition.

The chapter on writing for social media turned out to be one of the longest in the book. How can writing 140 (or 280) characters be so complex? Partly because of the sheer variety of platforms involved.

The growth of visual journalism and platforms like Instagram and Pinterest is part of that, while chat platforms (often treated in the same way as social networks within news organisations) represents another major development in the last few years.

The new chapter on liveblogging and mobile journalism also reflects the growing (and welcome) importance of verification in journalists’ skillset…

Raising the standards on verification and sourcing

When the first edition of the Online Journalism Handbook was published, expectations of journalism online were at their peak. By sharing information, it was hoped, people could “challenge received wisdom and publish their own version of events; anyone could broadcast 24/7 to the world; share and exchange information in real-time, and even defy censorship.”

As I write in the new introduction, those expectations “have since been tempered by a realism about the threats that the same technologies can help to create”.

That realism makes an appearance in three particular ways: firstly, in the expanded section on verification mentioned above; secondly, a new chapter on advanced techniques for finding sources, stories and information; and thirdly, in the opening chapter on the history of online journalism, which takes in fake news, astroturfing and the use of bots. Like blogging, verification is becoming integrated into a wide range of practices.

Interactivity has become generic

Writing the chapter on interactivity was particularly interesting: it quickly became apparent just how much interactivity has become generic (in the first edition most interactivity was custom-made).

Thanks in large part to BuzzFeed, quizzes are now part of the editorial furniture, but formats from sliders and counters to news games and news apps are now formulaic, while chatbots represent a new avenue of development.

The chapter — which has doubled in size — also explores the growing demand for journalists who can code. This time I didn’t hesitate to add sections on JavaScript Journalism and basic coding concepts.

Pivoting to video, the promise of audio

The video chapter in the first edition largely focused on production, while the audio chapter looked at formats from podcasts to audio slideshows. But video formats have proliferated in the time since, with live and vertical formats, drones, virtual reality and 360 degree filming all playing significant roles.

Audio’s develoment has been more complex. Podcasting standards have improved while audio slideshows have fallen out of favour. Audio clips are becoming more widely used on social media and online and perhaps the major development here has been the focus on mobile audio with tools such as Anchor and Clyp.

We don’t talk about UGC any more

Customers get status and space, Websites get content, traffic and revenue

A slide on UGC from 2009. Image by Daniel Waisberg

User generated content (UGC) was a big talking point in 2011, and had its own chapter in the first edition of the Online Journalism Handbook. In the new edition it’s gone — replaced with one on community and social media management.

The change reflects the wider shift away from seeing user content as something generic and ‘ownable’ towards something which is part of a more sophisticated relationship between audience and publisher, or source and journalist. It’s also an acknowledgement that publishers attempts to create their own UGC platforms invariably failed.

History moves faster

Of course the one chapter that reflects the last few years most closely is the chapter on online journalism’s histories. From blogs, wikis, convergence and the dotcom boom in the first edition, we see the second edition attempting to deal with a proliferation of activity in the recent past.

The decline of print is one old story which accelerated significantly after the first edition: we now find ourselves in an industry where in the UK more journalists now work online than in any other medium. But an equally rapid increase in mobile consumption, and non-web platforms, represents a new change.

The histories of online journalism’s various business models — from native and programmatic advertising to metered paywalls and diversification — take up a significant part of the chapter. We now have a lot of mistakes, and a few successes, to learn from (we might even finally be past the era of ‘golden bullets’ and the ‘original sin’ myth).

Analytics and metrics have become part of that history too, as our use of those has become more sophisticated.

Then finally, we have a history that is only just beginning: a history of information wars, and of journalism’s attempts to retain its independence amidst widespread monitoring and manipulation by state actors and web giants. This might just be the biggest story of all — perhaps I’ll be able to write about what happened next in another six years…


1 thought on “A potted history of the last 6 years? How the Online Journalism Handbook changed between 2011 and 2017

  1. Pingback: Now available under Creative Commons: my book chapter on data journalism | Online Journalism Blog

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