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Ubiquitous Online News, Framing the Net, and Webcasting

An Early Start...The last day of AoIR 2004 has dawned on us. I've had the bad luck to have been given the 8.30 a.m. timeslot for my own paper - standing in an empty theatre at the moment waiting for people to finish their breakfast and make their way here. The session I'm in - ostensibly on 'online news and journalism/Internet vs. traditional media' - contains a pretty eclectic bunch of papers, so we'll see how many will show up in the end… They have ten more minutes.

Quality before Quantity Well, still not a great turnout for my paper, but nice to see the AoIR executive well-represented, both Nancy Baym and Matt Allen showed up and asked some probing questions. My paper on "Ubiquitous Online News: Content Syndication and the Semantic Web" went well - interesting to see that most of the questions afterwards were directed more at the wider issues surrounding gatewatching and open news, and less specifically at the topic of content syndication; this suggests to me that there will be a fair amount of interest when my book comes out (hmm, perhaps in time for a launch at AoIR 2005 in Chicago?).

Sabryna Cornish is next, speaking on the framing of technology and the Internet by traditional media. How a new technology is adopted provides societal cues to its potential future; framing of that technology in the media can affect its possible futures. Frames supply the central organising conceptualisations for society's understanding of new technologies. Sabryna did a content analysis of the framing of the Net in the New York Times from 1989 through to 1995, focussing on specific phrases (e.g. Internet, information superhighway, etc.) which were coded as being used in positive, neutral, or negative contexts.

More than 150 phrases were identified, and Internet was used often without the definite article 'the', which might point to a different conception to what we have today. Early on, too, definitions of the Net were still very fluid, and journalists struggled to come up with a useful shorthand phrase to describe it. Initial definitions dealt predominantly with technological aspects. The term 'Internet' took some three years to be incorporated into society - Sabryna suggests a progression through a variety of stages knowledge (about), persuasion (to use), decision (to use), implementation (in practical use), and confirmation.

Does the initial portrayal of a technology need to be positive in order to drive adoption? The Internet was initially portrayed mainly in a negative sense (security, chaos, abuse, etc.); 65% of mentions were negative, 20% were neutral, and only 15% were positive. Most of the negative articles were placed in the front section of the paper; neutral articles were mainly in business or technology sections (and there wasn't much of a real technology section in the NYT at the time). Sabryna is looking to do additional research into this, looking at other U.S.-based media and expanding the time period to develop a broader perspective.

David Park is the third speaker, looking at the importance of Webcasting for 'radio underdogs'. He's been involved in college radio and had the experience that when the station began Webcasting its college hockey games some interesting pockets of new listeners emerged. Many broadcast stations, of course, are now offering their own Webcasts as well, but often they don't feel that Webcasting is really an important area yet. There are interesting effects to do with the possible death of distance through such technologies, however, where specific local scenes might be able to feed into one another through Webcasting.

The small number of formats in traditional radio has been seen as stifling, so new approaches (especially in college radio) might be interesting here. Small college FM stations which develop Webcasting have a number of issues to deal with here - both in licencing (for the new distribution model) and in their programming philosophy (local or otherwise, a freedom of formats). The local orientation is often codified into programming requirements for college stations, and such codification often also shapes the local scene; there is a 'broadcast radius' sense of what a local culture will be - but may this disappear as Webcasting starts?

Webcast audiences are of course also much more measurable, which perhaps makes the audience more 'real', and they can also be traced geographically through IP analysis. Fundraising might also become much more easy online, as stations can funnel listeners from their Webcast interface through to advertisements or funds pledging interfaces.

David has done a number of interviews with college radio stations, to find out what Webcasting approaches they might take. Webcasts are widespread in college radio, and they have begun to play a very large role in fundraising as well. A majority of listeners of Webcasts remain placed within the traditional broadcast radius, however, which means that the loca focus remains strong (and there seems to have been no change in the local focus of programming, either). Listeners from outside the broadcast radius are usually alumni and other former locals who have moved on to other areas - so the Webcast remains 'local' in a certain sense, or what David calls 'translocal'; it reinforces the local programming philosophy of these stations. This shifts programming times, though, as ex-local audiences in Japan or Europe might log on at workday times there, meaning a new audience for unusual timeslots at the site of the original broadcast.