Online Journalism Conference at USC: A Japanese Perspective
Takahiro MIYAO (Professor, GLOCOM)
An "online journalism" conference, co-sponsored by the USC Annenberg School for Communications and the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, was held at USC in Los Angeles, California, on March 14-15, 2002. This is the fifth annual online journalism conference hosted by the Online Journalism and Communications Program (Director Larry Pryor) at the USC Annenberg for Communications. The detailed program is available at http://www.annenberg.usc.edu/online2002, and there was a live webcast at http://www.ojr.org (Online Journalism Review).
As indicated by such session titles as the future of news, the economics of online publishing, content that works, getting trained for convergence, and promising platforms, participants turned out to be not just "online journalists" in the narrow sense, but a large union of online activists and journalists of all kinds. There seemed to be two main points that were extensively discussed: (1) prospects for "convergence" between traditional journalism and online journalism, and (2) innovative approaches to making money online.
Regarding the first point, discussions centered around vast differences between traditional and online journalists (and even between the former and the general public) in their attitude towards online news media. Traditional media journalists still seem to have doubts about the "credibility" of online news. In this respect, we might be reminded of somewhat similar discussions on convergence between communications and broadcasting at an international forum that was held by GLOCOM in Tokyo on February 26, 2001 (See http://www.glocom.org/debates/200104_wwvi_sympo/index.html). But their similarity is only apparent, since a large number of online journalists who belong to organizations affiliated with traditional media such as online editors of major newspapers attended the USC conference, whereas virtually none from traditional media were present at the GLOCOM forum. This difference may come from the fact that Japanese traditional media, especially broadcasting, are still enjoying their privileged status, protected by various regulations, while U.S. media, whether new or traditional, are under intense market pressure to find new business opportunities.
With respect to the second point, several new and innovative approaches to revenue were suggested by panelists in various sessions on the second day. For example, application of games to news reporting, adoption of text-based mini-ads for local businesses, etc. were discussed as effective means of reaching certain communities as revenue sources. However, there seems to be no consensus emerging from extensive discussions on "magic formulas" to make money online, and as a result, trial and error processes should be continued for some time to come.
As an outside observer from Japan, my overall impression of this conference is that most of the participants who were squeezed by the crisis atmosphere due to the bursting of the IT bubble and the terrorists’ attacks last year were still poised for "soul searching" and wondering how to "do it right" faced by the "third wave," which is the main theme for this conference, meaning a big wave for convergence of traditional and online journalism activities in the market. One indication of such reserved attitude on the part of most participants was the fact that all the discussions focused on local, regional, or national markets at most, and no one mentioned international or global markets that online journalists are actually facing in cyberspace. As one of the few participants (probably the only one) from abroad, I commented in the final discussion session that they should not forget their global audiences, as their local content could have enormous value in the global context.
In any case, it is clear that the U.S. is well ahead of Japan in the development of online journalism (no comparison in terms of the number of specialized online journalists!), as indicated by the very fact that those two excellent journalism schools, with emphasis on their online journalism programs, have alternately held this kind of conference for the past five years. Japan definitely should learn from their effort and experience in this new and important field in order not to be drowned by a big wave of online journalism on the global scale, while U.S. media, both traditional and new, may well be surfing through the "third wave" for their convergence in the near future.