27 May 2010 Edition
An Phoblacht embraces the digital journalism challenge
BY ROBBIE SMYTH
‘Why do we need journalism, what is it for and what does it actually do?’ are not questions you might expect a newspaper to ask, but in truth these issues are on the minds of media news rooms across the world whether its print or broadcasting, daily, weekly or even on the web.
Journalism is changing, its audience is fundamentally different from five or ten years ago and the method of creating a simple weekly paper like An Phoblacht has been transformed by the impact of digital technology. From the writing of this article, to how it was researched and sent for editing, how it delivered to printer and how the finished paper is published, has all come on in leaps and bounds.
First on the web
All of this happens in a digital format. An Phoblacht was one of the first news publications in Ireland to move its layout and design functions onto computer using Apple Macs and a computer programme called QuarkExpress in 1989 which became the standard across newspaper publishing. In 1994 the paper began to put its content on line, again one of the first in Ireland to do so.
Today more and more of the audience has migrated from traditional to new media platforms whether it is a laptop, PC or the iPhone.
When An Phoblacht began using computers to create layout, Sky News and CNN were in their infancy. Now people don’t even have to wait to see the news on the hour, they can access and download bulletins whenever they please. Google news is the sharp end of the process of change. Its stories and headlines are generated entirely by computer, siphoning content from news sites around the world, and it’s not uncommon to find An Phoblacht articles on its pages.
It is this metamorphosis that is driving An Phoblacht’s decision to move from being a weekly paper to a monthly with a fresh daily updated internet presence. As we go through the summer the paper will launch a new look website, which will have more interactive features for readers, such as photo galleries of republican events, where before the paper would only carry one or two photographs with an article, and critically there will be space for readers’ comments.
There will also be more video slots enabling readers see and hear critical news events and happenings, and like the readers comments, there is potential for reader content to be included here also.
Citizen journalism is one of the critical features of new digital journalism, where your audience also becomes the broadcaster, writer, interviewer and commentator. This interactivity is crucial and we will be able to have a Phoblacht that is the sum of a greater number of parts.
It was citizen journalism that highlighted through mobile phone pictures and shaky videos uploaded onto You-tube the social devastation created by US government ineptitude after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In the aftermath of the disputed elections in Iran last year, it was citizen journalism accounts online in pictures and words that gave an alternative view of what was happening on the streets and in homes across Iran. In Ireland the political activists protesting against Shell have used the internet as a tool against the establishment view of the protests as did the M3 protestors.
Centuries of change
This process of change is nothing new. In the 19th century, developments in printing technologies, allowing greater quantities of newspapers to be printed in shorter time periods led to the first mass produced papers. Add in the technology of the telegraph providing daily news updates across huge geographical distances and distributed by an emerging rail network meant that in Britain it created a market where people waking up in Glasgow, Manchester or London could read the same morning newspaper.
The new publications moved from being driven by political commentary to the news event reporting that is still the bedrock of news media today.
However today, the morning newspaper reader is disappearing and young adults increasingly don’t buy or read newspapers. They still want to access news, but want it on demand and not hours or days old.
Older readers often want more in-depth news, more commentary and insightful analysis. Expanded internet content from An Phoblacht could support both these audiences.
The most recent Irish newspaper circulation and readership figures highlight aptly the challenges facing the modern newspaper. All the main Irish papers sold less copies in the last six months of 2009. But they all had more readers with significant jumps in some cases.
In Britain the Guardian was selling just over 284,000 copies on average daily in February, compared to an average daily sale of 340,000 a year earlier. Online the Guardian had 1.87 million daily unique visits to its website. The Mail online had the highest daily traffic with 2.27 million daily browsers.
Online news matters
The print news media sector is in a state of chasis, with some outlets closing and some changing beyond all recognition. In Dublin we have a free sheet paper the Metro, now produced by Associated Newspaper and Independent News and Media. Previously the two companies had competing free-sheets, fighting for circulation running up multi million euro debts for the companies involved.
In the United States some newspaper groups have gone into bankruptcy such as the Tribune chain which printed the LA Times, Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune. There are growing new news media outlets such the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast and Politico websites whose commentary and reporting can influence the national politics of the USA.
Politico journalist Mike Allen’s daily email news round up Playbook, was recently described by the New York Times as making him one of the “most powerful” and most “important” journalists in the USA, yet his articles appear only online.
There is also another aspect of the news media on the web, which is a positive force and needs to be harnessed. It is its ability to link up communities at the smallest of local levels. The internet has played an active role in creating virtual communities, increasing political participation and social interaction after decades of individualism have left many of us living behind locked doors, hooked up to the TV set.
Micro newspapers are one example of this localism. In Monaghan what began as the Carrick Gazette, a subscription driven online paper has morphed into the Monaghan Gazette selling local news as it happens. In the coming years expect a lot more of this type of paper.
Right to information
We need a news media service that reaches all of the people who support and embrace the republican vision. So we need a paper that reaches not just onto the coffee table but into your PC and your mobile phone. An enhanced An Phoblacht can in the coming months and years be that multimedia news source.
Finally there is another critical issue underpinning the development of an expanded web presence for An Phoblacht. It is that citizens, as readers and viewers, have a right to information and knowledge, they also have a right to a diversity of opinion and comment.
We didn’t need media oligopolies and cartels in printed papers, radio and television. We still don’t. The commercial media did not and do not present a picture of the whole world as it really is. A radical republican news outlet is one small stand against the prevailing orthodoxy.
Republicans didn’t give up the printed word to Murdoch, O’Reilly and the mainstream media and we won’t be surrendering the internet to either them or the Googles and Microsofts either.
COMPUTER WORLD: The paper was one of the first news publications in Ireland to move its layout and design functions onto computer
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.