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Recognising the Continuum of Online Journalisms

The final speaker in this Future of Journalism 2017 session is Avshalom Ginosar, who suggests that we can no longer address online journalism as a unified social institution. We have moved here from an old institutionalism that addressed the formal, relatively stable structures of the journalistic field, to an old institutionalism that focusses on the formal as well as informal, complex and evolving processes of journalism.

Does this mean that there is now a new news ecosystem, as JD Lasica has put it? Are there new professional rules, norms, and beliefs, and is online journalism still the same social institution as the conventional news industry? If journalism has been seen as the fourth estate, then are online news media a new fifth estate, as Bill Dutton has suggested?

The journalism literature offers three possible answers. First, perhaps traditional journalistic conventions are still just as relevant, and only the platform has changed while the institution remains the same. Second, perhaps some traditional conventions remain relevant, but others are replaced by new approaches, and the institution of journalism is being renewed. Third, perhaps new conventions are being established, and an entirely new institution is coming into being. So, which is it?

Online journalism offers a number of different faces, from mainstream news Websites to news blogging and beyond. Many news blogs adopt some or all of the traditional professional practices and norms of journalism, but many also change key aspects; perhaps we are therefore now dealing with a variety of possible journalisms, especially in the online context.

Not all such online journalism endeavours is dealing with current events; are regularly active; have institutional associations; have an editorial structure; have journalistic motivations and aims; have a business model; employ journalistic practices and ethical norms; use conventional formats; produce journalistic content; or offer levels of user participation that advance far beyond standard journalistic approaches. There is therefore a continuum of online journalisms from more to less conventional models.

What does this have to do with truth, then? Attitudes towards truth, objectivity, and related matters similarly differ across sites, and this also affects audience expectations. The more journalistic sites are also more likely to employ traditional mechanisms for fact-checking and truth-telling – and Avshalom is currently conducting a study of independent news sites in Hebrew to systematically explore the way that these sites address these questions. For them, truth is important – but as a means to an end, and not as an end in itself.

It is necessary, therefore, to recognise the variety of journalistic outlets in our research, and to fully may the continuum of news outlets that now exist. Our expectations of these sites, as users as well as scholars, must vary accordingly, too.