London, Asharq Al Awsat – It was no surprise that the 2006 Innovations in Newspapers that was issued by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and INNOVATION, the international media-consulting group has suggested that modern newsroom should include a ‘radar’ unit. This task of this unit is to monitor radio stations, television channels and websites considering that news agencies are no longer the only sources for news.
The proposal came as an indication of the increasing importance of the internet for journalists, nevertheless the content was expected as it is apparent that there has been an increase in the number of stories related to website content featured in news bulletins. Such stories that rely on the internet as a source of information may be related to security matters or have a certain goal, for example the recorded video messages from al Qaeda that are posted all over fundamentalist websites. Therefore, it is inevitable that journalists who specialize in the field of terrorism would consistently check these websites.
On the other hand, other stories might relate to entertainment or eccentric news, for example, a few years ago, it was reported that a piece of chewing gum chewed by Britney Spears fetched US $14,000 through an online auction. Perhaps journalists encounter such stories whilst visiting websites such as eBay or Amazon.
Deputy Editor of BBC Interactive, Paul Brannon told Asharq Al Awsat, “There is an amazingly rich vein of content to be mined from social networking sites, blogs, user generated content aggregators and other more traditional sources” He added that he encourages all media organizations to keep an eye on the websites that may have ‘potential scoops’.
Director of the INNOVATION Company for media consulting in the United Kingdom, Juan Senor, stated that a large number of journalists still believe that traditional media ‘monopolizes’ the news field. He added that his relationship with newspapers and the internet has gone through various stages. He explains that the phase that followed the advent of the internet, namely between 1995 and 1999, was characterized by newspapers using the internet as a medium to publish newspaper content electronically. He adds, “Between 1999 and 2003, we noticed that newspapers were beginning to prepare exclusive content for the online editions.” After 2003, which marked the birth of the so-called citizen journalists, it became critical that journalists monitor the internet as much as they do other news sources from organizations and individuals, Senor said.
In this regard, perhaps the most recent example of that which Brannon and Senor discuss is the recent call for an investigation by the Pentagon into two videos clips that appear to show offensive behavior from American soldiers in Iraq. In one video Iraqi children appear running after a US military truck whilst who is supposed to be an American soldier shows the children a bottle of mineral water, promising to give it to the child who can keep up with the truck. The soldier carrying the water laughs and asks the children, “Do you want water? Keep running!” The soldier then asks the soldier who is filming the incident, “Are you getting this?” The second tape shows a person who is supposed to be an American soldier complaining about the orders that prohibit him from using arms against children who throw rocks at his military vehicle.
A spokesman at the Pentagon told Asharq Al Awsat that the ministry has already launched an investigation into the videos to identify the soldiers. The source of these tapes, which disturbed the Pentagon, was the YouTube website that specializes in video file sharing and that has enjoyed a significant increase in members from 3 million to 72 million in one year (between August 2005 and August 2006). The British newspaper, ‘Metro’, first reported the story based on the video clips from the website before they were broadcast by other media.
However, it is the case that material obtained through the internet is considered less credible, especially that the development of technology and access to it has allowed for cases of forgery and manipulation in terms of content. Brannon stated that in the case of the YouTube video, factors such as how the website received the video clip, the identity of the user who released the clip and contacting them should be looked into. The media department of YouTube didn’t respond to questions put forward by Asharq Al Awsat regarding the aforementioned video clip and the website’s policies concerning the video clips that appear on the website.
With reference to the policies adhered to by the BBC to ensure the validity of video clips such as those that feature on the YouTube website, Brannon stated, “Concerns I might have would be whether the video was authentic, whether it was shot by subterfuge or obtained illegally, whether there were copyright issues, whether it was defamatory and so on. Whether I would use it would depend the particular circumstances of the piece in question.”
Juan Senor of INNOVATION stated that the idea of a ‘radar unit’ would involve people having to monitor various forms of media including the internet and notifying editors of any big news. He said, “Verifying the content of a website is the responsibility of an editor as is the case with information that comes from any other source.” In this regard, Senor criticizes newspapers that have not heeded the changes that have taken place in the field. He says, “One of the main problems lies in the implementing of this concept regarding those who are over 30 years old who often do not appreciate certain forms of multimedia.” He adds, “The new generation of users wants to see the news that interests them when they want. This means that newspapers would need to follow the news 24 hours a day.” Senor stated that his company always advises the press to drop the ‘paper’ off ‘newspaper’. He also states that the ability to compete in today’s world depends less on technology and more on content. He concludes by saying that despite what is being said about the success of citizen journalists, the demand for edited material prepared by professionals will never cease to exist especially during this era in which information surrounds and overwhelms us.