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Web 2.0 is a term Internet entrepreneur Tim O’Reilly popularized to describe a stage in the development of the world wide web as a platform. It refers to a set of technical changes that facilitate the creation, dissemination, and sharing of digital content. Web 2.0 frames users as collaborating in the production, shaping, and distribution of news and information, rather than passively consuming content that others create. Web 2.0 provides the infrastructure for potentially geographically dispersed individuals with common interests to connect and collaborate via the Internet without any central coordination. The new generation of Internet services and devices, often called ‘social media,’ includes blogs, wikis, social networking sites, web applications, mashups, and folksonomies. Web 2.0 is a relatively new and underdeveloped concept in communication and journalism research. Studies to date indicate it has affected the news media in three broad ways.
First, Web 2.0 extends the notion of a participatory media culture. During major news events, users have taken on roles once reserved for professional journalists (Newman 2009). The terms used, often interchangeably, to refer to the activity of users who gather, report, analyze, and share news and information include ‘participatory journalism,’ ‘user-generated content,’ and ‘citizen journalism.’ Participatory media reduce the hierarchy of owners, producers, and audiences and undermine the journalists’ control of gatekeeping. In the first decade of Web 2.0, news organizations strictly circumscribed opportunities for users to participate in news production. The mechanism most often adopted was audience comments on stories (Singer et al. 2011). Users may contribute raw news material and comment on finished journalistic products, but journalists retain editorial control. The online mechanisms reproduce past practices, such as letters to the editor or radio call-in programming.
Second, the news media are incorporating the ethos of Web 2.0 into journalistic practices on an ad hoc basis (Singer et al. 2011). In collaborative initiatives, or ‘pro-am’ journalism, professional journalists work with users to cover stories or topics, supplementing existing news gathering and enhancing output (‘social news’). Networked, distributed, and real-time services such as Twitter are influencing the dissemination of news. New social media allow immediate sharing of short fragments of data. First reports routinely come from those on the scene rather than from professional journalists. Immediate services such as Twitter may compress news cycles, particularly in countries with high levels of Internet connectivity and mobile telephony. Social media may also potentially speed up the spread of rumors or wrong information. Newsrooms face pressures over what to report and when, shifting from being first to instead curating and verifying content (Newman 2009).
Third, Web 2.0 blogs and other social media focus on openness, connection, and sharing. The news media have widely adopted blogging by journalists, who see the conversational, informal, and often personal format as a way to connect with audiences and demonstrate transparency. Journalists have similarly incorporated Twitter into their daily routines as a way to share content, develop relationships, and build community. The use of social media has led to a debate over journalism ethics, particularly over how these media blur the professional and personal. Newsrooms have set editorial policies for social media due to concerns about trust and credibility. Research so far indicates that journalists are adding social media tools to fit their existing norms and practices.
For the audience, sharing and discussing news can now take place online through social networks. In some settings, exchanging links and recommendations is a form of cultural currency in social networks (Purcell et al. 2010). A large segment of the audience then relies on their electronic social network to alert them to news of interest. But social networks may limit the breadth of information people receive. On Web 2.0, audiences appear to consult multiple sources on multiple platforms (Purcell et al. 2010). Social recommendation may extend the reach of news content and drive traffic to it. Websites of large, mainstream news organizations include social networking functionality to let users share links (Singer et al. 2011), impacting business models based on delivering large, aggregate audiences to advertisers.
- Gillmor, D. (2004). We the media: Grassroots journalism by the people, for the people. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.
- Newman, N. (2009). The rise of social media and its impact on mainstream journalism. Working Paper, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. At https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2017-11/The%20rise%20of%20social%20media%20and%20its%20impact%20on%20mainstream%20journalism.pdf
- O’Reilly, T. (2005). What is Web 2.0: Design patterns and business models for the next generation of software. At https://www.oreilly.com/pub/a/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html
- Purcell, K., Rainie, L., Mitchell, A., Rosenstiel, T., & Olmstead, K. (2010). Understanding the participatory news consumer. At https://www.pewinternet.org/2010/03/01/understanding-the-participatory-news-consumer/
- Singer, J. B., Hermida, A., Domingo, D. et al. (2011). Participatory journalism in online newspapers: Guarding the Internet’s open gates. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.