Interactivity, Online Journalism, and English-Language Web Newspapers in Asia

Article excerpt

English-language online newspapers in Asia were content analyzed using a five-dimensional conceptualization of interactivity. This study offers both an enlarged theoretical framework for studying Web newspapers and tests that framework in the cross-cultural context of Asian journalism. Although all of the online newspapers examined provided users with a relatively complex choice of news content, most did not rate highly on the remaining four dimensions of interactivity.

It has been asked of online journalism, "What's all the fuss about?"' After all, this argument goes, much of what passes for it today generally is content that has been "re-purposed" from a parent news organization's "legacy," or traditional media, operation. Admittedly, publishing re-purposed news stories on the World Wide Web of computer networks stitched together through the Internet is an example of journalism being done online, but arguably in the most basic sense.

Online journalism potentially means more than shoveling legacy news stories into cyberspace. Inherent in the architecture of its delivery system-the Net-is the technical capability for interactivity.2 And plugging into this feature "is supposed to be the most distinctive contribution of online journalism."3 But what "interactive" online journalism ideally should look like is a subject of some debate among industry commentators, and systematic research of its practice to date generally has been infrequent, U.S.-centric and guided by disparate definitions of the concept of interactivity.

One goal for the current study is to investigate online journalism's practical state through a more cohesive conception of interactivity. Contributing toward building a geographically broader perspective of how interactively journalism is being done on the Net is a second, and equally important, goal. To these ends, the applicability of Heeter's "Dimensions of Interactivity"4 will be tested against the online journalism of English-language newspapers in fourteen Asian nations.

Internet, Asia, and Online Journalism

According to NUA Internet Surveys, an estimated 25.6 million people in the Asia/Pacific region were logging onto the Net as of December 1998, accounting for 17 percent of that month's estimated global Netizen population of 151 million.5 That figure represents a nearly 48 percent increase over NUA's May 1998 estimate for the region.

Similar estimates possibly were on the mind of Singapore journalist Paul Jansen when he wrote that the Net "has become a tsunami" for Asia." The region's newspapers have experienced dramatic growth in demand for their online companions, he reported, adding that for the Web version of Singapore's top English-language daily alone, readership has grown dramatically from late 1995 to mid-1998.

Precise readership figures are difficult to obtain for Asian Web newspapers, but it seems probable that there is a large and growing-audience in the region for online journalism. Yet Asia seemingly has escaped the attention of scholars of the phenomenon. It is important to study the region, however, because much of what we know of online journalism is derived from research of it in the West and as such, may not be generalizable to the East. "Journalism in even the best of Asian democracies," according to Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, "deviates from the Western norm in two significant respects. The first is an understandable, if sometimes intense, sense of national loyalty.... [N]ational loyalty is a common thread throughout Asia. So is a heightened awareness of the community with which the media interacts [sic]."7

Journalism in Asia tends as a general rule to be more oriented than Western journalism toward helping to develop the nation and build national consensus.s Therefore, one might expect Asian journalists to draft the Net's capacity for interactivity into those efforts and, in the process, evolve their own form of online journalism. …