While several media conglomerates in the German-speaking world, among them Ringier and Springer, have prepared their online futures by merging independent newsrooms, in the U.S. several newspapers halted print publications entirely, offering online editions only. The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin, has surfaced among the handful of pioneers tackling such an approach.
At this point, the Capital Times may be the first newspaper in history with an intensely researched transformation from print to online. “Journalism as Process” – the title of a study (published in Journalism Monographs, Vol. 13, No.3, 2011) by Sue Robinson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, demonstrates how traditional boundaries and professional roles have vanished in the newsrooms of online newspapers, and how news is no longer presented as a “finite product, ” but rather created and updated as a permanent process of interactions between journalists and their publics.
According to Robinson, the separation of private and professional lives is dwindling, as editors who have become “netizens” no longer need to be physically present in the newsroom, but are instead required to be omnipresent around the clock. Among the citizens, a small yet persistently demanding group of actors has developed, which – by way of participation, linking, sharing and complementing information – contributes to the overall flow of information. Thus, they track stories frequently “along many paths much different than the one the local reporter had laid out.”
Yet a notable weakness exists in the research. With regard to the active public, or the “citizen journalists,” Robinson does not differentiate between “ordinary citizens” who communicate as lay persons and actors attempting to influence journalism as PR professionals. Therefore, perhaps the picture of the ever-grand and vast potential for participative journalism may be contaminated with a bit too much sunshine and a few too many lollipops. It is a beginning, and when viewed from the far distance, the cooperation between a small regional American online newspaper and one of the country’s leading journalism schools could be understood as a laudable collaboration.
Originally published in Schweizer Journalist, 12/2011 + 1/2012