Digital Delivery

The interest in the internet is exponentially growing with increase in online activities. More people are logging on to do things online. Given its quick and efficient means of information delivery, internet is emerging as one of the main sources of dissemination for national or international news all over the world.

Knowing is an instinctive and shared human need. No one likes to be caught unaware, more so in today’s fast paced societies and in the face of globalization. The right to information has been recognized as a fundamental human right, intimately linked to respect for the inherent dignity of all human beings.

The United Nations, in 1946, had recognized freedom of information as a fundamental right, discriminatory laws and practices across some of the nations notwithstanding.

In Pakistan, traditionally, print, radio, and TV (and now multi-channel satellite TV) have been news sources available from where at least a sizable segment of public gets their news.

Though “waiting for the morning papers, whole family together watching TV news bulletin in the evening every day and sitting with additional newspapers and magazine on long Sundays is still an old and established pattern with many,” says a retired bureaucrat and an avid daily reader Kazim Hussein.

Use of the internet for reading (and viewing) news is now growing among people with higher incomes and more education – apparently because they are more likely to have internet access in the first place. Youth is another section of society that is getting news from online sources; interestingly, before the internet adolescents have mostly been oblivious of what is happening around in the world. Now heavy users are accustomed to getting news from the internet and they think of it as a news source besides so many things.

Any discussion in the context of news delivery in Pakistan is not complete if those large areas are forgotten which are not covered by any news source of present times; living in total insularity: people cannot read newspapers that do not reach there or reach days late.

One finds people in rural areas who get the newspapers occasionally through any one going to the nearby city and then ask young school boys to read it to them. There are hinterlands that are not served by any television booster or are not connected with national electric grid. Worst still even transistors radio is not affordable by so many.

Information Superhighway is far from them and policy makers and planners need to think of ways to connect them with the rest of the world before they are connected to the cyber world. Some local publications already have powerful presence on the web. What they should do to increase online readership?

“Use new technologies to match the newspaper’s existing cornucopia of content to satisfy each individual reader’s unique mix of interests, understand that neither newsprint nor the web nor digital editions nor wireless is the answer, but that the true convergence of all those into a single unitary product not only is necessary but likely within 10 year,” writes long time online news consultant Vin Crosbie in Online Journalism Review.

News – information about specific events – is valuable when it is timely, accurate and complete. Quality of news has improved much beyond those five Ws – what, when, where, why, who – that are still taught in the journalism courses.

News worthiness (the quality of being suitably interesting to be reported) and what is newsworthy and what is not has also changed. These days news (also views, opinions, comments and analyses) travel fast and shape the public opinion as the events unfold across the world.

There are two prominent parts of interests as far as the news from internet are concerned: general readers who go online and come across news on the websites they visit and come to know about what is happening in the world where they live. Even web mail users can get glimpses of headlines when signing in to get their email at Yahoo or MSN websites.

Others access the news from news broadcast websites or newspaper websites (foreign first and then local newspaper) purposely and interpret what they find there as per their own perceptions. Kazim Hussein says, “But this still is not a regular daily activity.”

The internet’s popularity as a news medium seems to come from many features: Up to the minute news and updates arrive continuously and can be accessed anytime, anywhere.

Users are not limited in their choices; they can get news, views, background, big pictures, similar stories, and related in depth material from variety of sources. And most of it (not all) is free. Any thing that is of more permanent nature can easily be saved on magnetic disk or printed to be used later or shared with others.

What is more, users can experience the contents of the news story at their own rate, over and over again. These characteristics are contributing to more and more users making internet their convenient news medium of choice. On the other hand, one of the major criticisms of internet is that the source and accuracy of information may sometimes be difficult to determine than it is in other media. So far many people have doubts about the accuracy and reliability of internet in general.

“News and views from western sources that are viewed with interest in this part of the world sometime lack objectivity. Moreover, some news channels seem to prefer to get it first than getting it right,” says Jamal Shah, a university teacher.

Jamal Shah thinks, “The lack of local news undermines people’s sense of society.” Similarly, there are more hard news stories on internet than there are softer one and what ever entertainment-infused soft news are available from the well-known sources are about cultures, celebrities and lifestyle that are less familiar here, some that cannot be mirrored in our society.

There is a trend of putting content of online news publications behind the walls of subscription or forcing readers to go though a time consuming multi pages advertisement viewing exercise before any one could read a story in the premier section. All those who have visited and tried for a Day Pass to premier contents will know what that means and how it can put off any reader instead of making him repeat his visit.

Similarly, some other publications serve up the first couple of paragraphs of a story and ask readers to subscribe. That is another turn off and search companies are trying to find ways of dealing with the paid contents in their searches.

Search companies (working closely with publishers) are taking initiatives to improve the news delivery by facilitating users to track what they are interested in. Services, such as Google News which offer ability to customize could help users find specific news easily.

Google News tells its users what is happening in different areas of human activities by looking at thousands of news sources, and then ranking them. In the same manner, has a news service that collects news links from over 3,000 online publications.

AltaVista, allows visitors to search by area, time frame and publication. NewsNow has 10,000 news sources as against Google’s 4,500, but its advanced search is paid. In order to retain their readers, news publishers are also likely to employ technologies to satisfy each reader’s individual quest.

As if the glut of news coming through internet was not sufficient, Weblogs came up as yet another means to disseminate news, personal views and opinions to a large audience?

Weblogs in nature are against the basics of story telling and do not pass through an editorial process. But still they are being read. Blogs’ pull lies in their unmediated value. Blogs tend to be spontaneous, telegraphic, unprocessed, truthful, personal, often involving the readers keenly and moving them passionately.

During Iraq War when the blogging was at its peak and many professional journalists had created own Weblogs, there had been hot discussions that blogs may supplant the conventional news sources. It does not seem likely though news blogs may continue to make inroads as a supplement to traditional news sources or a kind of “personal journalism” as they are some time called.

News blogs have still not picked up as a popular trend in Pakistan where as they are already a phenomenon in more connected countries. The buzzword for the future, no matter what platform, is interactive multimedia, which both represents user control as well as the multiple forms of media incorporated into a single format.

Tanvir Ahmad, Pakistani studying computer sciences in the US, “IT (information technology) advancement and incorporated media systems will transform the methods of delivering the news in the not to distant future. A combination of audio and video and pictures and animation and graphics and text put together in a way so that people can explore a story.”

The usual lines that once used to mark the boundaries between radio, television and print media are fading fast. Use of internet as a source of news dissemination is likely to rise in coming years. Users that have integrated internet in their lives are ready to get their news from internet. A stacks of the newspapers may still be sitting by my bed, may be.

How do you get your daily news?

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