Act globally, inform locally

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
26 July, 2016
Editorial: 15
Fecha de publicación original: 16 abril, 1996

Date of publication: 16/04/1996. Editorial 015.

Each bird sings its own song

The electronic news stand is on its way to displaying 3,000 newspapers from all around the world. 3,000 newspapers which have leapt into cyberspace from the printed press, although logically enough, without abandoning wood pulp. If it is already difficult to find the time to read two newspapers or more a day, one or two magazines and keep up to date with what is said on T.V. and radio, the task that we will now face is truly monumental. We will not even have the language barrier to console us by filtering out some of the material, for at the rate simultaneous translators are going we will soon have 3,000 newspapers available “online” in our own language. Fortunately, for the moment, the media themselves are helping us in the selection process because the vast majority of those who have moved into the virtual news agency have done so maintaining the format and content which they had developed for the printed press intact.

Hardly any aspects of the digital culture have made their way into their offer. If this already represents a serious obstacle to their being able to play an important role within the electronic media, it will soon become a decisive factor as the latter becomes awash with a vast variety of “non-traditional” information. In other words, the information which arises from the activities of internauts themselves.

The most noticeable feature of the newspapers’ assault on online space is the way they still so closely mimic the format of the printed press which reaches readers first thing every morning. This factor, which should have been, and was, the first step to testing out the new digital territory, seems to have become consolidated. What looked like the main highway of the information society, full of bright promise, has only led down a dark alleyway.

The outcome is less surprising than it seems. Newspapers have moved into the Internet taking with them not only the layout of the printed press which is deposited in news stands every morning, but also its habits, organisation, and its own particular quirks. This will not be easy to change in the short term because, we are dealing with a business and publishing model set in stone over decades. The giant step of admitting that digital communication is bound to play a crucial role in the future of these companies, has not gone hand in hand with the necessary reflection on how to adapt to it.

The advantage of a traditional newspaper on the Internet is that readers know where and how to find everything. It is as familiar as consulting a reference book. People can navigate by memory from the sports section to International politics, from the T.V. section to the opinion pages. And from there onwards, it is as hermetically sealed as the printed paper. Perhaps one can send an electronic letter which will be politely answered in due time. But very little else. Interactivity, the essence of online culture, is a distant and vaguely amusing word for the the editorial staff.

Power over information content remains firmly locked in the editors’ treasure chest and only the chosen few have the key to it. In the face of this, the networks are constantly revolutionising this structure and attracting a legion of internauts (individuals, organisations, new companies), who cannot be described solely as “readers”, to new information media. They are not readers because it is by their active participation that the complex process of elaborating the information content which is disseminated throughout the Net takes place.

Digital information is radically different from that offered by “the printed press”. Never before, as is now possible on the Internet (or, more accurately speaking, in the interactive information distribution systems between computers) has the individual been able to enjoy such a degree of participation in the movement of information and opinion. And, never before, has such a sense of belonging and interest in the development of the media been felt.

Newspapers are faced with an undeniable dilemma: if the electronic media represent a natural extension of their activities and a platform for the continuity of their activities in the future, they have no other choice but to cede that part of their power which the digital media demands of them. The editorial staff, just like any other digital Tom, Dick or Harry, will have to apply their experience and professional skills to establishing, in the global terrain of cyberspace, the local information relationships demanded by the readers through debate and a permanent discussion with them.

In time, every journalist will have to become an internaut. And each media will in turn have to decide how the editorial staff establishes relationships with cyberspace. Newspapers which do not take this leap and are happy to merely transfer the printed press into bits, deprive the reader of the best that newspapers have to offer and subject them to the rigours of the worst the electronic media does. Professional journalists are still in the best position for analysing and interpreting news, but in the electronic environment the news cannot be treated like a sausage making machine. The promise, which the undeniable contribution the written media can make through its capacity for analysing and interpreting information, has not yet been fulfilled in cyberspace.

A taste for good writing, the creation of special areas online devoted to social sectors which have abandoned newspapers or have grown beyond the printed media. Professional resources dedicated to analysis and research into subjects which concern those who should naturally be consulted on them (urban degradation, employment, immigration, race, new cultures, etc.), but continue to be publicly defended only by declarations of principles in congresses and symposiums, and not in the daily reality of the media. These are only some of the more visible symptoms of the distance that still separates newspapers from the digital culture, despite the fact that they have taken the fundamental step of moving into cyberspace. If they want to become privileged players within the information society, now is the time for them to reinvent themselves and take it over.

Translation: Bridget King