2 Assessing the State of Online Journalism

Imagine a library that carries the equivalent of 4,925 daily newspapers from all over the globe. Stop imagining: it's here. The Internet provides more news content than that every day, most of it free. So it's not surprising that increasing numbers of the world's estimated 359 million-plus Internet users are going online for their news.1 Of course, the Internet provides a lot of information of dubious value and origin. Anyone with a computer, a modem, and an axe to grind (or an agenda to promote or a product to sell) can create a credible-looking Web site and publish “news” for a global audience, right alongside the news provided by the world's established news providers (witness the PairGain Technology Internet hoax, which I discuss fully in chapter 8). How can a news consumer tell what's reliable? It's not necessarily easy, and it makes going online potentially hazardous. The first step is to look for recognizable, trusted brands.

The quality of much of the news online is as high as that of leading newspapers, news magazines, or television or radio outlets, because much of it comes from those media. Yet that fact prompts another question: If online journalism is little more than another delivery system for these older media, even a potentially better delivery system, what's all the fuss about? In terms of journalism, what's the point?

For many online journalists, the point is to engage the unengaged. Some of us envision a kind of news that, as it upholds the highest journalistic standards, will allow news consumers to understand the meaning of the day's events in a personalized context that makes better sense to them than tra-

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