Online journalism in the time of social networks

Coming out with a news website in the Philippines in 2000, when it was not clear what worked or didn’t, was not easy, but people behind did not let this daunt them.

One of the greatest challenges they faced in putting up the online version of the Sun.Star community of papers was the lack of a particular model or format to follow, said Nini B. Cabaero, editor-in-chief of the department that manages the Sun.Star website.

Adding to the problem, added Cabaero of Sun.Star Network Exchange (Sunnex), was conceptualizing a single online face for Sun.Star’s community of papers and bureaus from such diverse areas as Bacolod, Baguio, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Davao, General Santos, Iloilo, Manila, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Dumaguete, and Zamboanga.

Cabaero, interviewed last year for a thesis by University of the Philippines Cebu Campus graduating student Maria Armie Sheila Boco Garde, said they had to come up with a template for Sun.Star that’s different from those of the existing news sites at the time.

Fast forward 10 years later, the practice of journalism in non-traditional platforms like the Internet and mobile continues to change, but Sun.Star website personnel now know enough to anticipate and adapt to this ever changing delivery of and consumption of news.

The advent of online social networks like Facebook and Twitter has also added a new dimension to journalism.

Social media

Although social media may appear otherwise, they “aren’t as much a challenge to as a potential partner for news media,” said Max Limpag, Sun.Star Cebu page editor and owner of various websites on technology, running, and other topics.

“Social networks give news websites a platform to reach their audience. A media website’s news story can easily become viral among groups of friends because of the interconnectedness engendered by social networks,” Limpag added.

Media companies should make sure that their websites are plugged into social networks and should be prepared to engage their audience in the different networks, he further said.

Realizing the power of Facebook and Twitter as tools to add to or reach its intended audience, created accounts in these networks that have become additional venues for interaction between the Sun.Star website and its readers.

The website invites visitors to “like” Sun.Star on Facebook or follow it on Twitter and become part of its community of visitors.

“Apart from striving for multi-media publishing, media companies should also work toward multi-channel reporting. Twitter, Facebook and the other social networks are different channels with specific audiences as well as reporting approaches. Media companies should be able to maximize the use of these different channels in their reporting,” Limpag added.

The Sun.Star website currently updates in channels like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and has indeed reaped the benefits of new media tools in its reporting of events.

New journalists

Aside from the challenge of creating a unique online identity for Sun.Star’s community of local papers 10 years ago, the Sun.Star website also needed its online journalists to learn new skills and tools.

Cabaero said a background in journalism was not enough for a journalist to succeed online.

Used to years of reporting for traditional media like print and broadcast, journalists had to learn even such simple skills as writing for or story presentation on the web.

“We thought then it was enough that we get stories from the Sun.Star papers online. We know better now, of course. People read differently when they’re holding a newspaper or browsing the web. Research has also taught us that we make our content more attractive and understandable when they’re shorter and simpler or presented in formats other than text, graphics or videos for example. Multimedia storytelling, in short,” said Marlen D. Limpag, managing editor of Sunnex.

It is therefore necessary that online journalists must not only know how to write or edit but learn multimedia skills like producing and editing video or taking good photographs, Mildred Galarpe, Sunnex coordinator, told Garde in her thesis interview.

Some technical skills and familiarity with graphic software also help, added Galarpe.

With the deluge of information available online, a good online journalist must know how to filter and identify content, said Laureen Mondoñedo, Sunnex assistant content editor, in the same thesis interview.

Real-time web

The web, with its real-time characteristic, demands speed, and online journalists do not have the luxury of time when writing.

But while online journalists need to be fast, they cannot afford to miss out on important details, said Sunnex assistant content editor Ariel Catubig.

Real-time is reporting the news even while it is still happening, added Catubig.

Perhaps, the greatest challenge still to be hurdled by the Sun.Star website is technical capability. Its growing number of daily visitors, which even triple when there are developing stories, places a strain on website resources.

The Sun.Star website nevertheless continues to adapt, as it had for the past 10 years, so it can provide timely news updates to Filipinos here and abroad.