The web has imposed new responsibilities on the journalist – responsibilities that go far beyond those of the traditional print or broadcast reporter.
Web journalists must report and write original information, just as traditional journalists do. They have the additional responsibility of finding the best information about the topic that is already available on the web and presenting that information through links. That process is sometimes called curating information.
Competence in using all of the tools of the journalist – text, pictures, audio and video – is another responsibility of the web journalist. And with knowledge of the hardware and software available for reporting must also come an understanding of when these tools are best used to present the information that the reporter has gathered. The choice of tools of reporting has many aspects, not the least of which that the reporter often choose the tool he or she is most comfortable and most confident in using.
Web journalists must also work with speed. The web is an immediate medium, ready to disseminate information as quickly as it is prepared. Reporters often find themselves in increasingly competitive situations where a few minutes or even a few seconds will mean the difference between having an audiences and not having one.
Once information is posted, journalists must be willing to promote their material so that those who are interested in it know that it is available and have some incentive for finding it. As they get better and more experienced, reporters should have an increasing and committed audience for what they do.
Finally, reporters should be willing to engage their audience. The interactivity of the web, referred to earlier in this chapter, allows audience members to be participants in the conversation that is generated by a reporter’s efforts. The reporter, in a real sense, has a responsibility to join in and even lead that conversation.
All of these responsibilities make the life of the reporter more interesting, complex and demanding. They give journalists an important part in generating and supporting the public conversation that is vital to a democratic society.
A version of this essay will appear in the ninth edition of Writing for the Mass Media. The new edition will be in print during the summer of 2014.