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"I think the crash has been felt less keenly in the UK because we didn't have so far to fall compared to the US," says Mike Ward, a former BBC journalist, author of the new book Journalism Online and principal lecturer in online journalism at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, UK.

"Of course, the whole UK picture is distorted by the presence of the BBC," Ward says. "The BBC is a big online player in the UK. It has a guaranteed level of public funding, so is far less vulnerable to market fluctuations. The BBC News Online brand continues to extend its influence internationally. But the corporation is also expanding its regional online operations, with new online centers opening up around the UK -- recession or no recession."

There is good stuff out there, but few people would miss it if it disappeared tomorrow.

One of the world's great newspapers, the Times of London, has a rather drab Web presence, relying chiefly on recycled stories from the print edition and on news agencies for breaking news. Last month word came it would soon begin charging overseas visitors for access to its site. Another paper with global reach, the Financial Times, also made headlines last month by announcing plans to move to a subscription model.

But the newspaper that has made the strongest mark in the online medium has been The Guardian, which has won a wide international following for its original online reports, Web specials, media coverage, multimedia Flash guides to key stories, top-rate weblog and a reasonable range of news audio, nearly unheard of on British newspaper sites.

Another site worth a look is Out There News, based in London, which bills itself as an Internet news agency and makes a virtue of  bypassing the journalist to get right to the news source. The site encourages people to post their experiences in some of the world's biggest news stories. (Check out, for example, the articulate journal of an Afghan describing the miserable conditions in a refugee camp in Pakistan, and the meaty reader discussion boards.) Out There News gave video recorders to farmers during last year's outbreak of foot and mouth disease among livestock so they could post their experiences on the site. The result is a refreshing, engaging counterpoint to some of the formulaic news treatments of the mainstream media, particularly television.

Danny O'Brien, editor of the cheeky Need to Know and one of OJR's 50 International Names to Know says, "This may be a misperception, but I think that journalism in general is seen as much less of a profession in the UK than in the US. There are few journalism schools, courses or professional requirements over here. That has its positive side: Journalists in general are often more freewheeling and given more leeway to be creative. On the negative side: If all the facts are right in a British newspaper article, it's either because we're scared of a libel case, or it's a fluke.

"I think this plays into the online journalism field here a great deal. There were very few purely journalistic plays in the brief dotcom boom here. The ones that did prevail were almost accidental, gathering success from the fact that their creators weren't quite as hidebound as the US press, and weren't desperate to gather as large an audience as possible because they were funding it themselves as an entertaining side project. The Register (an online IT publication) is the obvious pick here." 

Bill Thompson, a freelance journalist and broadcaster and a visiting lecturer in the Journalism school at City University, London, says the economic downturn has slowed expansion plans for new media in the United Kingdom but hasn't been too disruptive. "There are few pure online writers over here, with most Web content coming from the Web operations of print publications or broadcasters. As a result, fewer journalists depend on online for their income, and that makes the situation a bit calmer than it was at the height of e-zine fever three years ago.

"Perhaps because the infrastructure has never been adequate -- and over 90 percent of UK home users still have dial-up connections -- online journalism over here has rarely stretched the capabilities of the technology," he adds. "The good side of this has been a focus on good writing and solid journalism; the downside has been a failure to innovate, which has left online news sites peripheral in most people's lives. There is good stuff out there, but few people would miss it if it disappeared tomorrow."

Noteworthy sites

BBC News Online
Media Guardian
Out There News

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