Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Jan Boesman wins price for best thesis

I know that this blog is supposed to discuss some recent trends about online news media, but sometimes the pride becomes dominant. Internal powers force me to say that yesterday, one of our students of the post-academic course in journalism won the price for best thesis. This means that last year our student has written the best thesis of all the Flemish students. In "Race, why is cycling white?", Jan Boesman investigates the reasons why we seldom or never see black people in cycling.
Congrats, Jan, and all the luck in the future!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Online readers = readers (2)?

In this article of the online newspaper HLN.be, the journalist is making the same mistake as the one of Gazet van Antwerpen few days ago. When conducting an online poll, the results must be interpreted with caution and never be generalized to a population they never deserve: online readers are online readers, and not just readers.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Online readers = readers?

When conducting an online poll, one have to be very careful when interpreting the results, especially when generalising the results of the sample to a whole population. In this article on the news site of the Gazet van Antwerpen, de journalist is paying attention to the lack of representivity of an online poll: instead of writing that the 'Flemish citizens' (a population often used in Flemish newspapers) do not agree with the political coalition in Lier, he states that the 'readers' do not agree. But the good work is only half done ...

Besides the possible confusion thanks to the word 'reader' (all Flemish readers? Worldwide readers? Print or online readers? Oh ... only the online readers of the Gazet van Antwerpen) , this generalisation does not take into account the fact that the sample is not drawn out of all the readers of the newspaper, but instead is based on a self-selection of online readers. Thus, the title of the article should have been "online readers of the GVA do not agree with ..." or even better "online readers of the GVA who participated in the online poll do not agree with ...". But of course, this doesn't sound right.

In the article itself, the interpretation is rather good: the journalist explains that the sample is composed by self-selecting, online readers of de GVA, but nevertheless, the title on top of this article leads to some extent of confusion for readers who do not read the whole article.

More about this kind of statistical difficulties and challenges on this site.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Van Thillo: "there is no bad medium, only bad titles."

During a guest lecture last thursday at the Lessius University College in Antwerp, Christian Van Thillo, CEO of 'De Persgroep' (on of the biggest multimedial publishing companies in Belgium and The Netherlands) nuanced the dominating view in traditional journalism that newspapers, radio and television stations are doomed and will be replaced by online counterparts. Van Thillo suggested that instead of seeing the online and digital revolution as a threat, traditional publishing companies must use this evolution to broaden their activities and even to reinforce and combine the power of the traditional titles.

Some of the most important conclusions of his lecture:
  • In belgum, the penetration rate of newspapers is, in contrast to other countries and regions, very high.
  • In Belgium, quality newspapers (like 'De Morgen' and 'The Standaard') are selling more copies then 15 years ago. Only 'De Tijd' is not doing well, propable because of the more generalistic course of this financial newspaper.
  • Popular newspapers are losing buyers. The most sold newspaper in Flanders, however, is 'Het Laatste Nieuws' and this paper is even more succesful then ever.
  • Because of the free character of the internet, there is indeed a challenge: The revenue of a newspaper is obtained by both selling copies and selling advertisements. Each of these activities stands for approximately 50% of the revenue. Both activities are under big pressure because of the internet: online readers can comsume news articles for free and advertisers can advertise on websites and blogs.
  • The challenge for publishers is to make use of this new medium and to incorporate the online environment into the whole publishing structure. Van Thillo suggested that there is no bad medium, there are online bad titles. So instead of having fear of the internet, it is better to use the internet and to have the biggest news website online. The strategy of De Persgroep is make sure that the company has in each medium the biggest title: the most popular television station, the best sold newspaper, the best sold magazine, the most clicked news site etc. Titles who are not doing well, will be sold or stopped.
  • While there are multiple online news sites, newspapers have the possibility to become the biggest news media online. The experience and the know-how of the offline media is priceless, even on the web. It is no wonder that online news sites like HLN.be, Standaard.be and VRTnieuws.net are among the most popular news media online in Flanders.
  • I-watch, the interactive service of the television stations of De Persgroep, already reached 30.000 downloads a week. Van Thillo suggested that this proves that the public is willing to pay for content-on-demand and that this could also be the case online. By combining both the traditional and online news media, publishing companies could reinforce their position on the media market. For example: after covering the concert of Clouseau on television, a message on screen tells the viewer that on the online counterpart, other concerts can be buyed and watched online. In this way, the traditional and online media are working together to reïnforce the marques of the publishing companies.

At the end of the lecture, I confronted Van Thillo with his statements that 'there is no bad medium, only bad titles' and 'De Persgroup will only focus on titles who have the potential to stay or become the best title in the specific medium' with the current situation of 'De Morgen'. This quality news paper is selling more copies each year, but stays far behind De Standaard, the other quality news paper. When following the suggestion that only the best title per medium will stay, I asked Van Thillo whether he was announcing the end or the sale of De Morgen. He laughed and asked if I was a journalist. He stated that De Persgroep still believes in De Morgen and even wants to invest in this title to do better than ever before. I made the suggestion to redefine the main purpose of the news paper and especially to invest in investigative journalism, a form of journalism that is not common in Flanders anymore. He agreed.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Theo Van Leeuwen about visual language

Yesterday, prof. Theo Van Leeuwen visited the Lessius University College in Antwerp and gave a guest lecture about visual language. Like in some of his books, which he wrote with dr. G. Kress (e.g. 'reading images'), he discussed the grammar of images and the connotations one can make when seeing some visual semiotics. A person who looks you in the eyes has a much stronger connotation that someone who's turning his or her back to you. Images that express a movement (e.g. English people with guns attacking some aboriginals on an Australian Island) are much more powerful than a visual enumeration of different weapons.

Regarding my research about the formal features of online news media and the effect on the cognitive information-processing, this sounds very interesting. Could it be possible that a heavy hyperlinked text is perceived to be 'stronger' or 'more striking than a low hyperlinked text? Does a news site with much interactivity elicits another connotation than a site with no interactivity? Could we even say that the features of interactivity, hypertextuality and of course multimediality can be seen as visual language? And do these 'virtual images' influence the cognitive efforts in the same way regular images do? To be continued ...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Compilation of articles about 'interactivity'

One of the first purposes of my Ph.D.-research is to analyse the different online news media and to make a typology, based on the key features of the internet: multimediality, interactivity and hypertextuality. This compilation made by M. McAdams is a great help if one wants to read a selection of great articles and chapters about interactivity. I did it and it helped me a lot to understand the complex concept of interactivity.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Television = best news medium?

Here and here are some nice insights into the opinions of news makers about the added value of new media formats. On the Westminster Media forum (14 november 2006), the assistant editor of Channel 4, Martin Fewell, suggested that blogs and other user-generated content will not be a threat but instead will be a complementary to traditional news. Fair enough, but what about this:
Appointment-to-view television news would, as he suggest, remain the best way for people to engage with news.
This is somewhat the discourse of most of the traditional news media: the online media are indeed a threat, but if we just embrace them a little bit, we would be stronger than ever before. The news media give us some opportunities to make the traditional media better. By saying that television news is still the best way to engage in news, he's in my opinion missing the opportunities of the new media. It is no use anymore to speak in terms of best medium or medium that would engage people the most. There is no 'the people' anymore, like is no 'mass' out there. One could get or engage with news in a way he or she likes best. Indeed, many citizens still consume television news, like many other go online for stay aware of the world. Maybe most citizens combine traditional media with new news media. For online news consumers, the statement that television is the best way to engage with news should sound strange. I guess it makes them even laugh.

But Martin Fewell has also got some opinions about transforming traditional content to its online counterpart, which is interesting for my research project. Earlier this year, he stated that:

"Delivering video content online requires a different approach; the experience of watching video on a PC, for example, is not the same as watching video on TV. It requires us to think slightly differently about the nature of that video - how that video links across to text, to other contributions from reporters, or to the background of a piece."

"Publishers and broadcasters initially had a naive approach to the web. When the internet took off, there was the naïve view that you'd take TV, radio or print content and shove it out in a different medium. Podcasting is another challenge for broadcasters, and one that should be more than just time-shifting radio content. The BBC has taken chunks of radio and turned them into podcasts. It's great content and a good way to listen for some people, but not really using the content in a new way."

Indeed, the online environment is not just the online copy-environment of the traditional media, but instead a platform (I don' like the word platform, can someone please suggest me another, more unequivocal concept?) with specific features, orders and effects. Watching video on television is not the same as watching video online. It demands a different process of viewing, the ppossibilitiesare different and eventually, the generated effect will be different.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Using CMC to announce cancer

Not only people like you and me use forms of computer-mediated communication (cmc) like blogs and fora, also VIP's do.
Kim Clijsters has been using her diary to announce some important messages to her fans, like the announcement that she'll stop playing tennis in 2007. A few days ago, Darlene Conley, better known as Sally Spectra from The Bold and the Beautiful, ordered the director of the television company to post a message on the discussion board on the TBATB-website to inform the fans that she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Exact 7 days later, 7 years in journalism, the Flemish media covered the item.

Interactive election results in online newspapers

In this article, flash experts discuss the use of flash animations in the presentation of the U.S. Elections of 2006. Also in Flemish Newspapers, the use of flash is common. Newspapers like De Standaard, Gazet van Antwerpen en Het Laatste Nieuws presented the results of the local elections of October 2006 in interactive flash animations.
The flash map of De Standaard opens with a general overview of the results of Flanders. But one can click on a city to see the specific results. It is also possible to ask for a trend analysis (200-2006) and an overview of the preferential votes. Another handy feature is the presentation of related articles when selected a specific city.
I've been looking for screen shots of ways of presenting results of past elections (e.g. local elections of October 8, 2000 and federal and European elections of June 13, 2004). The waybackmachine usually is a great help for this sort of tasks, but I seem not to reach my goal for the moment. Or the server is down, or the pages are not indexed. I'll keep trying during the next days. If someone has by any chance screenshots of earlier election presentations: mail me!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The start: Ph.D-project about online news media

This blog is made up to publish some thoughts and publications about my Ph.D-project: "Multimediality, interactivity and hypertextuality in online news media - the effect on objective and subjective knowledge."

Interactivity, multimediality, user-generated content, hypertextuality, immediacy, etc. are buzzwords nowadays. Indeed, there are some very interesting revolutions ongoing online. Since the start of the success of the internet (medio '90), the online news media have been evolving continuously. People are able to choose what content they want to consume and when, to react on news items and even to publish information on their own without being a professional journalist (interaction). News media are not restricted to text anymore when covering a news issue. Online journalists can make use of video, animated presentations, sounds recordings and so on to cover the news in the best possible way, according to the content of the issue and the target group (multimediality). At last, online news messages are linked to other bits and chunks of information by hyperlinks and often provide an archive with related items or stories (hypertextuality). These three formal features are the key-features of the internet in general and have always existed online. However, it is clear that during the last 10 years, these features have been undergoing some radically changes. Interactivity in '95 is not the same as interactivity in 2006 as multimediality in '95 was not as in 2006.

Together with the evolving features of online news media , the online media landscape and, both as a consequence and catalyst of these changes, the patron of media consumption have been changed. Especially with the upcoming success of news blogs, RSS-feeds, wikinews, news alerts, etc., the online news media have become an interesting research topic.
The main questions of my research are:
1) What are the online news media?
2) What are the key features of the online news media?
3) What online news media do students consume?
4) What cognitive processes are in play when consuming this online news media?
5) What is the effect of the features of online news on objective knowledge?
6) What is the effect of the features of online news on subjective knowledge?

My promotor for this Ph.D.-project is Prof. dr. L. d'Haenens (K.U.Leuven). The research will be finished in 2009. Feel free to ask me some questions and to send me further suggestions about this topic.
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