Understanding New Media

by Nirmaldasan

The Internet revolution has ushered in an era of instant publishing. Every site on the World Wide Web is an electronic publication. Even an email message is considered as a published document. What about search engines and directories? They are interactive publications. So are sites where you play chess and other games.

Among the millions of sites on the Web, there are newspapers and magazines too. The new media, also known as Web journalism or online journalism, deals with these. But it begs to disagree with its print cousin on certain points. So a ditto reproduction of a printed magazine or newspaper on the Internet may be considered a part of new media but not the whole of it.

Communication is really a two-way process. Besides the `Letters to the Editor' column, some newspapers and magazines have set aside space for readers to air their views. This is just one step towards interactivity. Phone-in programmes on radio and television have also made broadcast journalism interactive. But it is the new media that has democratised journalism and has made the consumer an integral part of the news discourse. Bulletin boards help generate debates on various issues. And readers air their views on certain topics at sites such as the BBC's Talking Point.

Another fascinating feature -- a characteristic that has made the Web interactive -- is hypertext, a non-linear information structure. The Web contains nodes of information on different servers connected by links. So readers can choose to explore cyberspace by clicking links of their choice. While broadcast journalism presents a purely linear narrative, print media has some elements of hypertext. For instance, a pointer like `See also Page 5'. Moreover, news stories are arranged in blocks on a broadsheet. So the reader is free to move from headline to headline with ease. But it is only the new media that can capitalise on the benefits of hypertext. By just clicking on an email link, readers of an article can contact its author or they can navigate to other related articles through links in the text itself.

The new media has limitations too. Breaking news on the Web may be easier than in other media and online researching may produce very good interpretative stories; but reading online is more difficult than reading print. Then there is the digital divide. So new media cannot be a mass medium. Media convergence may set things right. But this is a technological dream that may not materialise in the near future.

Journalism Online