What is Digital Journalism?

What is Digital Journalism

What is Digital Journalism?

Digital journalism represents the intersection of traditional reporting and technology, where news is crafted and disseminated through digital platforms. It’s a dynamic landscape, constantly evolving with the digital age, offering immediacy, interactivity, and diverse multimedia content. As we navigate this digital news revolution, how do you think it’s shaping our consumption of current events? Join the conversation and explore the impact.

Digital journalism refers to news and its accompaniments produced through digital media. It is increasingly incorporated into traditional print and broadcast journalism. Many newspapers also publish an Internet equivalent each day, and lots of television news stations have interactive sites that could offer podcasts, headlines or full stories, and a variety of other features. Since reliance on news has increasingly focused on getting news off the Internet, this remains a growing form of journalism that has negatively affected other forms of media, particularly standard print media.

Digital journalism can come from recognized and authoritative news sources, but individuals or small groups that may have a defined slant also produce it. Examples of the latter include sites like The Huffington Post and Politico, and the gloves are off on many web sites in terms of what can or will be printed. Since anyone with an Internet connection can find a way to write or publish a news story, the idea of leaving information out or hoping to hide any information is essentially over. What anyone says, does, or expresses can easily be shown on a YouTube® video, written on a website, or even on a tweet, and in a sense, digital journalism can be said to have launched the careers of millions of amateur journalists who work for free.

Smartphones have greatly enhanced the world of digital journalism as users always have a camera on hand.
Smartphones have greatly enhanced the world of digital journalism, as users always have a camera on hand.

Some digital journalism news sites that may be traditional in nature do pay their employees to write for them and are often considered more reliable sources of news. Others are unfortunately not careful about facts and truth value (an opinion is as good as researched material), and this usually leads to sites possessing a certain amount of credibility or lacking it. Credible sites certainly exist, and they may be connected to real-life newspapers or separated from them. The average person reading a site might not necessarily make this distinction, however, which can lead to a constant proliferation of misinformation and conjecture.

Print journalism has declined along with the rise of digital journalism.
Print journalism has declined along with the rise of digital journalism.

With the drying up of many traditional journalism jobs due to reducing staff on newspapers or the closure of some print publications, something predicted back in the 1990s when digital journalism first garnered notice, many wonder if they can get jobs as digital journalists. Those with impressive communications and writing or journalism credentials might easily fit into work at more credible websites, and others start their own blogs about the news using advertisement revenue as earnings or freelance for a number of different news sources. This may be lucrative or not very profitable. Many times, even on sites that are respected, contributions are not paid for, and a number of websites have citizen journalist positions. Public commentary on news may even be incorporated into television news broadcasts; in the late 2000s, CNN® began filling some of their broadcasts with public comments made on their website.

With the proliferation of a number of devices, making or obtaining news has never been easier, especially in free-press countries. A cellphone or smartphone could be used to record video of events, to type in a quick blog about a news issue, or to trade emails with sources for stories. This means virtually anyone can contribute to the sum of information/misinformation about what is occurring in the world, and many people enjoy this practice, even if it earns no profit.

It’s hard to know if digital journalism has a saturation point or if there will exist a time at which there will be too many online news sources and not enough profit to go around. This could be telling for not just journalists but also photographers, editors, and many others. Certainly, the reduction in staff and production at many newspapers has already had an effect on the jobs of printers, lithographers, and people who deliver the papers. This is seen as an unfortunate side effect of Internet development, but it is also viewed by many as an inevitable one that knows no reverse. Moreover, profit may only be a concern for trained professionals and is not an issue for citizen journalists, which may further diminish their ability to get journalism jobs in the future.


What are the advantages of digital journalism?

Digital journalism uses technology to present information to consumers. Technology brings several advantages to the table.

Extensive reach

Mobile devices have changed how people search for and consume the news. Push notifications tailored to a reader’s interests are delivered to their personal devices, allowing readers to access breaking news with just a click. With an entire world of information constantly at their fingertips, more people can access breaking news than ever, creating a new class of global news consumers.

Digital journalism takes traditional gatekeepers out of the equation, getting more news to more people. Startup outlets without a print component and even individual reporters with a following can distribute information to their audience without compromising the potential reach of their reporting. A digital journalist can quickly reach a global audience.

Real-time reporting

Print publications are tied to their print schedules. If a piece of important news happens after a newspaper or magazine issue has been printed, the information has to wait until the next printing to be shared with readers. Online journalism eliminates this problem.

Not only can the audience learn information instantaneously from the journalists themselves, but they have now come to expect this kind of real-time news reporting. Digital platforms allow for publishing breaking news and adding as many updates or edits as possible while a story unfolds.

Interactions with the audience

Digital journalists don’t have to wait to see how their readers feel about a story. Digital publishing platforms allow for real-time reactions like comments, shares, and likes. News stories often go viral the same day they are published, so reporters know what’s resonating and can dig in to get follow-up stories people are interested in.

In some cases, journalists can even use their interactions with readers to source content by embedding videos and static social media posts into their articles. The process of pitching stories to editors and developing source relationships has been streamlined by digital communication, making article ideas easier to execute. Content that references digital life, such as viral photos, memes, deep dives into forum members, online community explainers, and internet trend breakdowns, can make readers feel like they’re a part of the developing story—and in a way, they are.

Some of these interactions with the audience are less direct but just as valuable. Engagement metrics can tell editors how long readers are averaging on a story and how many unique impressions a story is getting. With a global audience of billions, any news item posted online can grab millions of eyes and elicit hundreds of thousands of reactions.

Reporter autonomy

Traditional journalism often tied a reporter’s name to the print outlet they wrote for. Once a journalist found a stable job with a legacy media publication, the smart play was often to stay at that outlet for their career.

Digital journalism has altered this landscape, allowing journalists to cultivate social media followings. Instead of a static binder of “clips,” journalists can keep a dynamic record of their commentary and reporting on social media feeds. Journalists who have built their brand can also use follower numbers to demonstrate their value to potential employers, which provides more leverage in salary negotiations.

In some cases, digital journalists who have built up a following don’t even need to write for an outlet to establish an impactful media career. Newsletters, podcasting, blogging, and live streaming have all become ways a journalist can do strong reporting while earning an income.

Innovative storytelling

A 2022 Pew survey  found that 63% of users get their news, at least sometimes, from news websites and apps. But 50% of users surveyed said they sometimes got their information from social media, and 60% said they sometimes get their news from search engines. Reaching these news consumers means leaning into less traditional news reporting methods.

Publishing on a digital platform allows journalists to incorporate visual and interactive elements into their storytelling. Digital journalists embed data analysis and visual assets that give their audience a way to conceptualize the facts they deliver. Video streaming services and social media platforms also present a host of opportunities for telling the news in a way that captures their attention.

This can include adding responsive charts, conducting real-time polls, using overlaid maps, adding audio components, and creating documentary films to pair with their story presentation. Digital journalists can collaborate with illustrators, data miners, filmmakers, and more to make their stories come alive.

Digital Journalism Student Working on a Story

What should aspiring reporters know about digital journalism?

Digital journalists don’t just need to understand the best practices for traditional reporting. Tapping into experts, cold calling sources and keeping careful interview records are essential skills, but they aren’t the whole job.

Dr. Tammy Rae Matthews, Assistant Professor at St. Bonaventure’s Jandoli School of Communication says, “Aspiring reporters venturing into digital journalism should embrace versatility as a foundational element of their professional repertoire. They should cultivate a heightened awareness of the innate challenges intrinsic to the field.”

Professionals need to know the difference between writing a headline for social media and a slug URL for SEO. They must grasp how to write compelling, shareable, and accurate copy quickly. They need to understand how to collaborate with other media teams, including illustrators, video content producers, and graphic designers. Above all, they must be highly adaptable and equipped to learn new things quickly as the industry evolves.

“Recognizing your strengths and expertise allows you to capitalize on your proficiencies, whether in compelling storytelling, data analysis or multimedia creation,” Dr. Matthews says. “Equally necessary is acknowledging what skills you appreciate in collaborators. If you have expectational narration skills, gravitate toward quality editors so you can produce sophisticated and professional packages together. Collaboration is the cornerstone of the journalism industry. Identify individuals who can complement your skills and enrich your team.”

Journalists writing online should have a firm handle on emerging technologies and a knack for anticipating and managing audience interaction. Most entry-level journalism jobs will require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree with a concentration in English, communication, journalism, creative writing or another related field.

Dr. Matthews warns people to “be aware of the challenges inherent in digital journalism, including potential idiosyncrasies with the programs they use. Practice is necessary. Regularly producing content across different platforms refines skills and fosters adaptability. Proactively addressing these challenges is crucial for delivering quality digital journalism.”

Expected skills for digital journalists include:

  • Understanding ethical considerations related to email interviews and finding sources online, including how to protect source privacy and navigate potential online harassment
  • Knowledge of industry-wide practices, such as editing and posting in a CMS and building posts with embedded media
  • Experience writing using style guides, particularly the Associated Press Stylebook
  • Practiced writing ability for consistently clean and accurate copy
  • Current industry best practices for making your articles SEO-friendly
  • Strong social media skills and an understanding of how to create viral content as well as how to protect your professional reputation online
  • Fundamentals of coding, photography, design and illustration software
  • Knowledge of current guidelines for writing sensitively about people from marginalized, under-represented, and under-served populations

Few people develop all of these skills naturally through their work experience. Writing talent can help you in journalism, but hard work and a solid education can help you maximize your potential.

That’s why many digital journalists choose to enhance their skills by continuing their education with a master’s degree.

A Master of Arts degree in digital journalism can help you hone your writing skills while mastering the best practices for reporting ethically and accurately. St. Bonaventure University’s (SBU) online Master of Arts in Digital Journalism helps students become innovative storytellers in today’s digital and print media landscape. In the online program, students develop their unique voice and brand as journalists. They also emerge equipped with a firm foundation of journalistic ethics informed by SBU’s Franciscan values.

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