That New News: Content in the Digital Era



From April 2008-April 2009, Sue Robinson spent over 225 hours watching a newspaper in the Midwest receive a digital makeover.  The newspaper, which allowed Robinson to observe on the basis of anonymity, laid off 20 reporters and editors, promoted one reporter with online magazine experience to section editor, and stopped daily production of its print edition to free up resources for its online version.

Among the journalists, there was a divide between those who were “new world”, with their twitter accounts, blogs, and laptops— and those who were “old world”, and struggling to make space for technology or outright refusing to change.

Here is a particularly amusing exchange between a couple “old world” journalists adapting to their strange new habitat:

Reporter 1:            I guess we’re getting laptops now.  I feel like I need one.  It would make my life a lot easier so that when I am on vacation I am not faced with an overwhelming number of emails when I get back.  But, I also feel like  we’re being co-opted into the 24-7 world, man.  It never ends.

Reporter 2:              I am too old for this shit.  I can’t wait until I retire.


The time period of this study was basically just the jump off point. Since 2009, newspapers have had to cut resources from their print edition and put them into their digital product.  And the trend is continuing to grow. Over the last year, the Chicago Tribune saw a 6% rise in digital circulation, helping to offset the 11.8% fall in print circulation it saw over the same time period (Channick 2014).  So by now, those “old world” journalists that were stuck in the days of print have most likely either evolved or become extinct—professionally speaking, I mean.


At this point in my blog post you are probably thinking to yourself, “WHAT? Newspapers are going digital? I didn’t even see this coming! The internet is so cray!”

Just kidding.

I know you know that news organizations are all online now.  What I don’t know, and what I don’t think you know, is what that means for the content of online publications.

With new school journalists rushing to post things on their publication’s website, and then their publication’s twitter account, and then their publication’s blog, and then their personal websites and twitter accounts and blogs—is the quality of reporting diminishing?

According to a content-analysis study of articles in the New Orleans Times-Picayune done at Tulane—yup.  It totally is.   In 2012, the Times-Picayune cut down its print publications to 3 a week in order to focus on online content.  Students at Tulane analyzed articles published in the print version of the publication in 2011 with articles published online in 2013.  The study revealed that stories published in the online edition were more likely to be on topics such as sports an entertainment rather than on politics, education, or courts and they cited fewer sources.  The students also concluded that the online stories tended to be softer.

Of course, reps from the Times-Picayune say that the study had fatal flaws that led to false information.  You can read this article in the Columbia Journalism Review to see complete results yielded from the study, as well as the refutations made by the publication here.

But this is just one study done on one publication.

In Chile, I was introduced to CIPER, Chile’s online publication dedicated to investigative journalism.  Their website publishes one or two articles a week, putting its resources into investigating leads to reveal corruption—like when it broke the story that Chile’s government manipulated census data.

So, there you have it—an example of a publication whose quality of journalism declined because of the new digital platform, a reliable investigative publication that would not exist without it, and the opportunity for every publication, present and future, to use the platform for good or evil depending on their priorities.

Here’s hoping they go the right way.



Channick, Robert.  Chicago Tribune Circulation Up 6% as Digital Gains Help Offset Print Declines. (2014, May 1). The Chicago Tribune.Retrieved from

Robinson, Sue. (2011).Convergence Crisis: News Work and News Space in the Digitally Transforming Newsroom. Journal of Communication, 61, 1122-1141.

Starkman, Dean. (2014, January 14). Tracking Digital-Era News Quality Declines. Columbia Journalism Review.


3 thoughts on “That New News: Content in the Digital Era

  1. This is a very interesting post! I think the quality does diminish in online publications, because everyone wants to get their news out there first. It’s almost like a contest; who can get the biggest, best headlines out, with the most accurate info, with the fastest publishing capabilities, with the most impressions? Unfortunately, the accuracy and quality of the article seem to become after thoughts, as long as that news outlet broke it first. The 24/7 news cycle has a whole new meaning now. With publications trying to tap into millennial markets, it is absolutely vital to publish stories on various social media outlets. I remember a teacher telling me that Twitter isn’t a social media platform, but rather a type of news feed. This really stuck with me, because that truly is how I check my news. I wake up in the morning, scroll through my Twitter and Facebook feeds, and only click on articles that catch my eye. I wish I had a better process, but I have to admit that only the clever, witty articles are the ones I seem to fully read. It would be interesting to do a comparative study of headlines throughout the generations, based on events that were occurring and what was deemed most important.


  2. Love this post! I somewhat agree about use of online publications. Everyone wants to be the first to break the news about something. But with the notion with “new school journalists” rushing to post things on their publication’s website, and then their publication’s twitter account, and then their publication’s blog, and then their personal websites and twitter accounts and blogs I do believe the quality of reporting is somewhat needed in today’s world. Although its another story when it comes down to credibility, but overall I like how the digital side of reporting news is taking over, but on the other hand I believe that print will never die, because its automatically and still to this day taken as a creditably source.


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