The New Media’s 6 W and 2 H questions

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
9 October, 2018
Editorial: 244
Fecha de publicación original: 5 diciembre, 2000

He who has a house of straw, fears fire

Is journalism in a state of crisis? If we take into account what experts and representatives of the sector are saying at the conferences and congresses that abound at the moment, the answer is a definite yes. From the media being increasingly concentrated in the hands of groups that are more and more clearly identifiable as multimedia corporations, to their loss of credibility as they become more sensational, the profession is suffering from a wide range of ailments. Is journalism in crisis because of the Net? Agreement on this is also considerable. And, finally, is online journalism in crisis? Symptoms favouring an affirmative answer to this question also abound, in the light of the difficulties many cyberspace media have been undergoing over the last year. The reasons for this, it seems to me, are that we have still not learned to take full advantage of the Internet’s potential for creating new media in areas that the traditional media have so far dealt with only superficially or which have been impossible to cover because of the way social relations operate there.

When the problem of the media on the Net is analysed, people tend to think of the media we already know and the way these are manifest in virtual space, although the Internet offers us much more diverse and wide-ranging possibilities. From the perspective of the journalistic profession, examples abound of media where we have done what we please and what we think will please others on the basis of classic traditional media criteria. Thus competition between these and the new media has arisen, from Yahoo down to the information policies of portals or many virtual newspapers that all compete for the same information space. Nonetheless, further examination shows that the dispute to a large extent resides in the race for immediacy and the possibility of combining various technologies to package and distribute news. Not very innovative for so much Net.

The well-known saying “it’s the content, stupid” is left by the wayside despite the respect everyone purports to hold it in. The problem is that content on the Internet is not the same as that which comes from the media in general or even from the more or less thematically specialised which we see at the newsagent’s. It doesn’t even come from that source, any more. In my opinion, one of the most important factors contributing to the journalism crisis is that we have made a great effort to provide the information that we –the journalists and the communication companies– think Internet users want, while we have hardly racked our brains or imagination to find out what they really need and how they could participate in the content generation process they are interested in. The distinguishing feature of the Net is that it allows for audience participation, both in the production and consumption of information and knowledge.

Journalism has been based for many years on a number of formulas aimed at obtaining the best news. Among the most famous of these was the 5 W- questions formula (What, Who, Where, When, Why). Today we should go back to using these questions as guidelines for building new online media especially as far as content is concerned. However, we would now need to add another two W’s and 2 H’s to the classic five: With whom, How, and How much . The questions could be posed like this:

.- What are you offering? In the first place, is it redundant information or our own creation? Before supplying what you wish or what you know best, find out where information is lacking, erratic, does not flow in the direction of potentially interested sectors or doesn’t get to the parts where there is an explicit demand and which are always forgotten and put to one side (“They never inform us and we have a right to know!”)

.- Who are you offering it to? To those who already have a wide range of sources for accessing the same information you are giving them? What demands are you trying to fulfil? That which you have at hand and therefore think all the world will be interested in? Or specific demands that can only be satisfied on the Net?

.- Where do you offer it? Where on the Net? On your own site or within a wider structure where the demand is transported in a natural way and where an audience already exists such as those spaces dedicated to health, education, training and citizen networks, etc.?

.- When do you offer it? All the time or just periodically? What kind of discriminatory criteria will you apply to information for which immediacy is not very important and others for which, on the contrary, it is? Are you going to put it all together in the name of the slogan “the faster the better”? What value does the time factor have for injecting quality into the information?

.- Why are you offering it? Does the sector of the population you are aiming it at have any other way of obtaining it? Can you only do this with the help of a team of journalists or could they take on the role of intelligent nodes working in cooperation with a public for whom the information is very relevant

.- How do you offer it? In a static way, on a page, or a mobile way, combining distribution lists, web, mobiles, TV, etc.?

.- With whom do you offer it? This question is critical and the key factor to offering exclusive content. To what extent do users participate in your information system? Are they just readers or do they contribute to the editorial line generating content? To what extent does the interaction between readers and your team become the driving force behind the information product? What alliances do you forge with them and to what extent can they forge alliances with you? How is the virtual space of your media designed to promote this participation? Is it based just on appealing to the internauts’ good intentions and claiming that “you can publish here”, and that “this is your page”? Are you doing them a favour or are you working with them?

.- How do you offer it? Via systems that you control from the server, such as web pages, or by putting e-mail, the only personal and untransferable information storage system users have at their disposal which does not depend on the whims of your company, at the very centre of your production and distribution process?

.- How much does it cost? A key factor in the whole operation. Among the criteria that should establish the price is the added value of the information on offer, particularly, its originality and the possibility of making it grow by recycling or repurposing it into new information and knowledge products thanks to user participation. This involves, among other things, specific training of journalists so that they can work in direct collaboration with users.

Media based on this criteria, whose basic objective is user participation in content generation, interaction between them and growth of the information and knowledge processed by the media, is an opportunity detector on the Net. There are a multitude of knowledge areas out there, social activities, personal and collective interests, organisational needs –both, commercial or of other kinds– that require specific media, customised to their demands and which, nevertheless, have still not found the right communication vehicle for being expressed on the Net. Education and training, for example, from the traditional education system to new initiatives generated by the Internet, has hardly any media of its own, where the interests of those involved can be manifest, from students to teachers, parents, pedagogues, experts, researchers and all those who, in one way or the other, develop educational resources on the Net.

Journalism, as we have known it till now, is undergoing an identity crisis not only because the Internet has suddenly become a shared newsagent’s where more than 6,000 media are on display, with all the repetition and fierce competition that this common space and common news implies. The basic problem is the 300 million internauts that cohabit in the virtual communication space, whose need for information and content we try to rein in and hold on tightly to, claiming to be the ones who know “what is right for them”. In places where new sectorial media have arisen, with a large amount of user participation in content generation, as is the case with citizens networks or the many sites dealing with health, the much vaunted problems of the Internet, beginning with content credibility, simply disappear. The reason is that those that consume the information take part in its production as well. This is the best guarantee of reliability and quality control. And it is against this rock that the traditional media are crashing when they go sailing onto the Internet.

Translation: Bridget King