[Editor’s note: Robert Hernandez of the USC Annenberg faculty will be posting frequent commentaries to OJR about online journalism this academic year.]
I’m a journalist, first and foremost.
It doesn’t matter the medium — pixels or paper, airwaves or WiFi — I want to produce it, distribute it, consume it and innovate it. Oh yeah, and I want to save it.
But the term “journalist” is a broad category that is only increasing in size, filled with diverse specialties and talents.
So, if I may, I’d like to be more specific: I’m a Web journalist.
No doubt you’ve heard of this term before, but recently I’ve notice a misinterpretation of the term.
Please allow me to clarify it.
When I first started my Web journalism career, a good friend and mentor pulled me aside and planted a concept that still guides me today: It’s not Journalism Online, it’s Online Journalism.
There’s a lot of difference between the two, besides rearranging the words. To me it is simple and powerful.
Think of it this way: Art Online or Online Art.
Take a photo of Mona Lisa, one of the most famous works of art in the history of mankind. Get a nice, hi-res image of the painting and post it onto the Web.
The single image on the Internet brings this classical piece of art to millions of people who never will travel to Paris to see it first-hand.
That is Art Online.
Now, think of art that takes advantage of, or is based on, technology and the Internet. It’s a type of art that can only exist because of the Web and the latest technology.
To do this, the artist has to be creative in both the artistic and the technical space. The artist must harness technology to captivate its intended viewer, listener‚ user.
Instead of describing it, take a quick trip and experience some Online Art here… but come back, please. Check out Jodi.org (I recommend these two pieces) or Seoul-based Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries (Here are two examples) or explore the collection at Turbulence.org (like this one).
This art piece could not exist without the Internet. Without eBay, of all things. It’s art that evolves and even generates revenue for its artist.
So, back to clarifying the journalism terms.
Journalism Online is what we use to lovingly call “shovelware,” which is taking existing “legacy” content and posting it on the Web. We know that there is immeasurable value in having the paper’s articles, radio show’s podcast and TV show’s newscasts available on the Web.
Text alone is perhaps the most powerful form of journalism on the Web.
But that is still Journalism Online.
What I do…. what I identify with… what I live and breathe is Online Journalism.
So, what is that exactly?
Well, it’s hard to explain but I look at the latest technology and opportunities only available on the Internet and try to harness them for the advancement and distribution of storytelling and journalism.
I look at FourSquare and see how we can use that to find eye-witness sources in breaking news events. I look at photo gallery widget by TripAdvisor, meant for vacation snapshots, and see how it could enrich our coverage of, say, the World Cup.
I work with engineers and see how our crafts can work together and create new experiences. Like when we took RSS feeds from around the globe and mapped them for a Seattle Times project. It was based on the addicting, but somewhat pointless Twittervision.
What can I say? I am a geek. A technophile. An iPhone addict.
But I’m a journalist first.
News judgment and ethics are core. Fear of and respect for deadlines drives me. The sick sense of humor we use to cope with traumatic news events is my warm blanket.
The newsroom is my home.
I’m just a mad scientist taking the latest tech to help advance the Fourth Estate.
I’m a Web journalist.
Well, at least until the new technology replaces the Web.