chapter  6
12 Pages

News making as an interactive practice: global news exchange and network journalism

ByAnsgard Heinrich

Professional news organizations have undoubtedly faced major challenges in the first decade of the twenty-first century. With the rise of the world wide web as an interactive platform for information trade, the business of information exchange has been catapulted into a global sphere that enables connections spanning the globe in a manner unthinkable just a few decades ago. What seems most striking in this respect are the changes in the pace at which information travels and the scale of information available. These changes in pace and scale have, in effect, accelerated so much that the practice of journalistic newsgathering, production and exchange are inevitably impacted. As digital technologies enable the transmission of messages loosened from spatial

constraints, we witness a shift from ‘place-based’ information networks into a ‘space-based’ arena of information exchange and the shift towards a ‘network society’ (Castells, 1996) that operates fundamentally differently from previous societies. Content of whatever kind criss-crosses the globe in virtually no time and news today takes place in a ‘digital space’ which creates new relevance factors such as ‘speed, connectivity, and flexibility’ (Hassan, 2007: 49). Much recent research in the field of journalism studies is dedicated to studying the

effects of the technological changes on newsroom work (e.g. Pavlik, 2000; Deuze, 2003; Straubhaar, 2007; Avilés et al., 2008). However, it appears that we are just at the beginning of this transformational process and coming to terms with it is a struggle felt by journalists in their day-to-day work just as much as by scholars trying to catch up with the ongoing changes that are shaking up the business of journalism. We have entered a state of ‘chaotic’ information flows, as McNair (2006) explains. These flows do not only reach from one end of a country to the other, but span the globe via digital connections. What information to look for, how to filter it and who

to choose as information sources are some of the questions journalistic organizations now readdress in light of these developments. The ever-increasing number of information providers that roam in a global space

of information exchange adds to the confusion as journalistic organizations are trying to identify where they stand now. Social-media platforms such as Twitter contribute to the erosion of traditional news production, with stories breaking at the speed of light and ‘ordinary’ users, independent journalists, pressure groups and many others feeding eyewitness accounts, commentary or links into today’s news-exchange chains. Side by side with traditional news organizations, platforms such as the NGO-driven blogging aggregation site Global Voices Online provide news updates, commentary or background information from virtually any digitally connected corner of the world. At the same time, mapping tools such as Ushahidi enable users to collaboratively put together maps filled with information on various crisis regions in the world. Journalistic organizations are not the sole information providers accessible any

longer, no doubt, so are they also slowly losing control to have the privilege of being the leading information providers? While the traditional practice of journalism is rather grounded in an authoritative approach towards information provision (‘We, the journalists have the power and privilege to set the news agenda’), how do journalistic organizations have to rethink their practices in order to fit into an increasingly interactive sphere of information exchange? To discuss these questions, one also has to reflect upon the notion of the ‘public’ that journalists serve. As digital technologies help members of the public to gain a voice and contribute viewpoints, information and their version of ‘the news’, the idea of a ‘homogenous’ public that journalism caters for is contested (Coleman and Ross, 2010). Rather, the numerous counterpublics within societies that form this rather heterogeneous group of publics have now become visible. Be it the Occupy movement or the people of the Arab Spring, these digital publics use digital tools to distribute their views. Yet how much of a ‘public connection’ (Couldry, Livingstone and Markham, 2007) is drawn through seizing the digital tools on offer by journalistic organizations? This chapter will reflect upon these developments by demarcating some of the

main characteristics of an emerging global news sphere that is shared by journalists and alternative media, i.e. digital counterpublics. Based on the paradigm of ‘network journalism’ (Heinrich, 2011) it argues that it is first and foremost a question of relocalizing journalistic outlets within the vast mix of voices at a time where information exchange takes place in increasingly interactive spheres. A network journalism sphere is made up of many digitally connected information nodes and allows connections to a diversity of other nodes. Seizing this diversity through collaboration with a variety of nodes – ‘old’ and ‘new’, ‘traditional’ and ‘alternative’ – might allow for more depth in coverage and that is where the potential of the sphere of network journalism lies. Relocalizing journalistic organizations within the sphere of network journalism, however, has to be met by a deeper understanding of how news flows function in a technology-driven, fast-paced and globalized sphere of information exchange.