Journalism and the web: More important than ever

Letter to the Editor:

There is no doubt that the internet has had a dramatic effect on journalism, specifically in newspapers and print publications. Right now, though, technology is definitely something to be thankful for, in regard to journalism. 

Most students at Rider University know that The Rider News is only publishing online, at least for the rest of this semester, as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As an alumnus and a former Rider News editor, that is also of interest to me. But it is not only college newspapers making decisions about how to continue their work; the news industry, in general, has been adjusting as this situation continues to evolve. 

Given that reporting and editing newspaper content involve face-to-face interaction and collaboration, how do journalists effectively continue the important work of keeping readers informed about an unprecedented public health crisis, while also protecting themselves and others from the spread of the virus?

The internet is becoming a big answer to that question.

As I write this article, employees of the company where I work have now spent two weeks working from home. With thanks to electricity and internet access, we are able to continue producing newspapers each day, just as if we were still in the office. Today’s technology allows collaboration to continue even as everyone is adhering to the stay-at-home mandates issued by state leaders.

The internet allows us – working “separately yet together” – to continue editing stories, writing headlines, designing pages and ensuring that each paper gets to its respective pressroom on time for printing and delivery to communities in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Additionally, certain programs enable direct communication between both individuals and working teams of editors in different locations. Besides email, we also make frequent use of instant messaging.

I work with editors based in central Pennsylvania. I have never actually met them in person, as their office is a couple of hours away from mine. But each day, we make an ongoing, long-distance collaborative effort by means of the internet, as stories are selected for publication, questions are raised during the editing process, facts are checked, placement of stories and selection of photos are discussed, and ultimately a new newspaper is produced. This was our regular routine even before the current crisis.

In addition to working with the Pennsylvania editors, I am also able to see the latest developments being monitored by the team of editors who produce our nation and world pages – for example, the recent news that the United States has surpassed China and Italy as the nation with the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world. Often, these developments affect the decisions we are making about content that is more local or regional. For instance, if we are running infographics with the latest numbers of confirmed cases and deaths, that information needs to be updated throughout the day. 

Technology lets us safely and effectively communicate during this unprecedented crisis. That is especially important because many people rely on newspapers to receive up-to-date, accurate information. Newspapers are also shifting gears in order to better serve their communities as the pandemic continues. Here are a few examples:

You may see fewer pages in the sports section of your local paper – after all, there are no sporting events going on right now. Weekend event listings have also been put on hold. Instead, papers are dedicating additional daily pages to important news relating to the pandemic. Special content might include pages for children and parents who are now required to transition to homeschooling.

Numerous organizations are offering free access to their digital newspapers – essentially a replica of what you would see in print, but accessible by means of your PC, tablet or smartphone – in order to ensure that important information is easily and widely accessible.

In the Garden State, NJ.com announced the formation of a Community News and Resource Desk, staffed by reporters and editors throughout the week to help readers obtain important information about whether certain places are open or closed, how to get tested for the virus, and ways to meet other important needs that arise, for instance. NJ.com is also offering a free Coronavirus in New Jersey newsletter.

Yes, the internet has changed things for print – but it is also allowing journalists, aided by computers and phones, to continue reporting the news happening outside their homes in the midst of an ongoing crisis that requires them to stay inside. As this pandemic continues, that work will be more important than ever.

Ron Panarotti, a Rider graduate, is an editor and product manager for Advance Local. He was the executive editor of The Rider News from 1991-1993 and recently completed Rider’s Master of Arts in Business Communication program. 

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