Many people think that there are few journalistic differences between writing for print and writing online. By starting with defining journalism as ‘the communication of current issues and events to the public in a way that is structured and governed by principles such as accuracy and fairness’, both online and print journalists work by writing and publishing content to inform society about issues that would have otherwise been hidden.
Print journalism categorises work published in newspapers and magazines. Usually consisting of reports, stories and reviews, this form has many strict characteristics that journalists abide by. On the other hand, online journalism is the production of journalistic content on the internet, which also has its own set of characteristics. In an article on hosbeg.com, the differences between print and online journalism are looked at, included are some of the following:
- Journalists who work in print are restricted by the amount of white space they are given for their story. Each newspaper will allot a specific amount of a page to each report, which must be accurately filled by the journalist. Online journalism does not have this problem, meaning that stories can be infinitely detailed and as lengthy as the journalist wishes.
- Print journalism comes with tight deadlines to meet to make the editing and printing times throughout the day. Each story must be written, edited and compiled at the same time for the edition to be printed and distributed. Online journalism usually does not work to deadlines as it can quickly produce content as a story breaks. Features and other timeless stories can be uploaded periodically throughout the day, meaning that once a story is written, the journalist can move straight on to their next piece.
- Online journalism is the quickest way to report on breaking news. Its content can be easily written and updated as a story breaks and evolves. Print journalism on the other hand struggles to distribute ‘breaking news’ as quickly as it is only released at certain times in the day.
- Journalism which is produced online can be viewed anywhere by anyone who has access to the internet. This means that the audience is much broader than print journalism, which is usually restricted by geographical boundaries. Whether it be a nationwide newspaper like The Times, or a regional newspaper like The Dorset Echo, the audience reach is restricted by accessibility which creates boundaries.
- In terms of cost, running a print business is expensive and requires many components for production, but running an online business is relatively cheap and simple to set up. Buying a newspaper has recently become more expensive to bridge the gap between shortfalls due to diminishing circulation numbers. Usually, online content is free for readers.
- Online journalism often encourages interaction from the reader, with the inclusion of comment boxes, videos, images, GIF’s and votes, it is easy for an audience to immediately share their views on the article. Print journalism cannot offer this directly, only through a ‘letters to the editor’ page, which still doesn’t guarantee that the opinion will be published.
- Finally, print journalism needs to be edited and checked thoroughly before being printed as mistakes cannot be edited and the articles cannot be deleted. Once printed, the article is concretised forever, meaning journalists need to be extremely careful when quoting sources and interviewees. Online journalism on the other hand can be easily changed, rearranged or deleted from a webpage. Also online journalists tend to lean less on interview sources and more on hyperlinks to other pages which provide better context and background to their stories.
With the fundamental differences between the two forms addressed, where does a journalist stand when writing for each form? Are there similarities between online and print journalism or are they just as different as their forms.
In an article written by Farhad Manjoo explaining reader habits, he claims that many online readers do not make it half way down the page and most not even making it past one full scroll. This has greatly affected the way that online journalists write in comparison to print writers. Online journalists are constantly fighting against other links, advertisements, videos and media for the attention of their readers. This means that the hook used in their story must be direct, informative and interesting from the get go and they must give the most important information in the opening lines. In contrast, readers of print journalism have invested time and effort into buying the publication and presumably give more attention to the article. Although the inverted pyramid form is used by both online and print journalists, online writers will often cram as much information into the first line as possible, therefore if the reader is lost, they have still done their job.
The second difference between the two styles is the article length. The length of a print article is dictated by the amount of space that is allocated to their story, meaning that the style of a print journalist is often concise, factual and direct. Online journalists on the other hand are not restricted by this, meaning that their articles can be much more detailed and lengthy if needed. This, however, does not mean that the online articles are always longer by nature, as said before, the vast majority of work written online is still kept under 1000 words to maintain the attention of the reader. Both print and online journalists work to include the vital information within the first paragraph and secondary information towards the end.
Sourcing requirements for print journalists are often so stringent that it can feel as though nothing can be said in print without a reliable source quote. Online journalists on the other hand are often allowed to exert their own authority and include their opinion into their articles. This difference comes down to the speed of publishing work- online journalists can include hyperlinks to other source material to generate a better background and context, whereas print journalists are expected to quote professional and reliable sources in their work to make their articles credible. This means that print journalists need to work harder to gain interviews, sources and quotes whereas online journalists can rely more loosely on the work of others and their opinions.
Because of the availability for interaction with online journalists in comment boxes, social media and ‘vote’ systems, digital writers can often come quickly under fire by their readers. Unlike print journalists, who can still be contacted over social media and through editor letters, but are less likely to be directly criticised for their work. Online journalists are often encouraged to read the comments of their readers and sometimes participate and respond to the criticism that they receive, whereas print journalists are less likely to hear about their criticism even if it is still around.
Finally, because online content is easier to produce and access, it will be no surprise that online journalists are often paid less than print journalists. But, because of the time saved in pitching ideas and meeting deadlines for print, often online journalists have the opportunity to make more money per hour than print journalists. With online outlets producing significantly more content than print outlets, online journalists often compensate the difference by producing a higher volume of work.
So to anyone who still thinks that online and print journalism is the same thing, or that online journalists and print journalists do the same job, I hope that this article has outlined some of the major differences between the two to convince you otherwise.