In today’s Times, I read a story that included a fallacy that I’m pretty fed up of hearing: The accusation that web-based news and journalism is overly brief and shallow, that it caters too much to the short attention spans of ADD-addled youths, and that the web is ushering in a new era of crappy journalism:

[Panasonic President Toshihiro] Sakamoto said he has a “dream” of seeing a newspaper presented beautifully on a television. (I hate Internet news, he said; it’s just a series of small sound bytes and quick updates. He’d prefer to see the entire paper).

I have to ask: Exactly which InterWeb is he looking at? Certainly not the one I am used to getting my news from.

My entire experience of Internet news has been deep and substantive, the polar opposite of this stereotype. All of the major news services have moved gracefully and effectively into the Web, IMHO. The most avid news consumers, too, now voraciously consume online news, including the new citizen journalism of blogs. So why does this myth persist?

I mean, it’s not like there’s any evidence. Newspaper web sites include not only the exact same full-length stories featured in their print editions, but they usually also contain tons of deeper content than their paper counterparts, such as background information, raw reporter’s notes, news from other news services, plus more photography, audio, and video. Even TV news web sites run AP and Reuters news stories, not to mention uncut transcripts of their TV reportage, and go far, far beyond anything they show on the air.

Web news is everything print news and TV news is — and more. There’s simply no way you can argue that Internet news isn’t in every way superior in depth and quality to the news delivered in other media.

The only reasonable conclusion I can make is that people who argue this don’t actually read news on the web but want to sound like they do. Maybe they watch short videos clips of news stories now and then, or read the home pages without clicking to read the actual articles. But they can’t possibly be reading real news web sites and contend that the journalism is lacking in depth and quality compared to other media. I suppose they can’t even conceive that the real news on the web is delivered in a traditional but time-consuming medium: Words.


7 responses to “How Deep is your Internet News?”

  1. “has a ‘dream’ of seeing a newspaper presented beautifully on a television.”

    What is he talking about? Even with a 1080p TV this would be a terrible way to present the news. I seriously doubt this man uses the web on a day to day basis.

    I’m guessing that he’s another one of those a 60yr old bigwigs who have their assistants print out their email and any important websites for them.

  2. Nothing you say about internet news is wrong, but I’m sympathetic with people who perceive a difference in quality between online versions of newspapers and their hard-copy counterparts.

    My local broadsheet here in Melbourne is The Age, which in the paper edition is generally serious and political, with some excellent feature and editorial writing. All the same stuff (or most of it, at any rate) is available on their website, and yet if you try to find it you’re constantly tempted by articles on the surface layer of bullshit: Nicole Kidman is pregnant, a child in Mexico has glued his hand to his bed, LindseyParisBritenyetcetera.

    Even the front page news on the website tends to be different from the broadsheet front page, with headlines and ledes constructed as invitingly yet obtusely as possible so that one clicks through to stories which frequently don’t meet the expectations they set.

    Clearly, a few web smarts will allow you to sidestep much of the crap and find the good stuff, but not everybody’s got skillz like us – and you’d forgive those people for throwing their hands in the air and saying “it’s all rubbish!”

  3. Not that I’m dissing 60yr olds. Hell my parents are really web savvy and even run their own WP blogs.

    Just dissing high level corporate types that are addicted to having someone else do everything for them. The internet is pretty hands on and takes some individual initiative to use, unlike TV you have to choose what you want to see/read/do. This can be a bit much for people attached to passive information where you are just presented with a piece of paper or a tv show.

    Luckly, I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid so I was prepared for this internet thing.

  4. @Colin: You’re onto something. Mr. Sakamoto is apparently trying to sell a 150-inch plasma TV, so he has a vested interest in downplaying Web usage in favor of leaning back and watching good old fashioned TV. And you’re right, he is exactly 60 years old!

    @Virginia Murdoch: Good point, maybe there are cultural differences. I also wonder if Japanese web sites tend to abbreviate their news in some way, or sensationalize it as apparently Australians like to do with their news ;-). Still, I hear this all the time from people who I imagine have actually seen and used the NY Times web site, which is manifestly a deeper and more substantive animal by any measure than the Gray Lady at the newsstand.

  5. Personally, I don’t believe that the medium is at all a factor. There are of course advantages and disadvantages of all our media delivery systems, but just because the Web is the new kid on the block, does not make it less capable than the rest – far from it in fact. The sheer amount of interactivity from the Internet just cannot be reproduced by some shallow, sensationalist rag (as in the paper is flat and non-interactive).

    Big newspapers have embraced the new technologies and design strategies online to create compelling experiences – one I can think of is, probably the best designed news site I have seen.

    As for the content – well, of course you will have stupid two paragraph ‘articles’ on nothing at all, and you have to sift through the rubbish – but it’s the same with a news-stand.

  6. I think this is just the usual cultural issue of people who are used to passive entertainment and media filters being exposed the previously-existing body of average and amateurish work out there through the internet, when they would have been shielded from it otherwise.

    By their definition, it’s all junk. Any medium that is capable of so much junk (despite the vast improvement in number and accessibility of quality sources) must be terrible; It’s the Andrew Keen, Internet-is-killing-our-culture fallacy.

  7. I really do believe that in many respects the web is outperforming print media. And as for dumbing down, well, if I want to read dumbed down news and opinions (do newspapers any longer have opinions?), I’ll pick up a newspaper.

    News via print media is dying. Yes, we know that news via the web isn’t always impartial, it always that good; but in that respect it differs not a jot from from newspapers–the only difference? I have to pay for a newspaper.

    Great article. And my comment gets published; now try getting a National Newspaper to publish your comment (letter).