(This is my final paper for the Course CFJ 305: Online Journalism at the Konrad Adenauer Center for Journalism at the Ateneo University)

My affair with online journalism started even before I completed my journalism degree. Just a few months after I was introduced to the Internet and got my first e-mail address, I was already uploading to the Web articles from our student paper. It was then that I learned that in terms of logistics, doing online journalism is easier than the traditional method. We did not need a lot of money to publish hundreds of extra copies of the paper for distribution to our schoolmates. All we had to do was to print exact number of copies and publish our URL on the print version and invite people to visit our website.

Our paper’s online version even reached the alumni, who gladly welcomed our experiment with the Internet. Some of them asked if the website replaced the student paper. Others sent their regards to their favorite professors. Many reminisced about their college years. Those sentimental comments from them made me realize another feature of online journalism: its interactivity. Their feedbacks instantly became part of the content of our website.

Initially, the website only served as an online version of the printed paper. Later on, we added more content. What we lacked in our print version due to space and financial constraints, we were able to fill with the website. While the two-page flyer that served as one whole issue could contain only one or two news stories on one side and a cartoon, an editorial, and a commentary piece on the other side, the website could accommodate all these plus the news and feature articles from the newspapers produced by journalism classes in our college.

Outside the university, the national dailies that went online also started with having an Internet version. The Manila Times–where I worked after college–and BusinessWorld were the first newspapers to get wired. The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s initial online presence was also an Internet version of the newspaper’s printed edition.

An example showing the ease that journalists could do online journalism, the staff of the Times even maintained its online presence and delivered news and commentaries for about a week after its print version closed down due to pressure from then Philippine President Joseph Estrada. But since the paper has officially folded up already, and the Times people had to look for new jobs, the website eventually went offline. But before it did, it advised its readers to support the Inquirer’s site.

Inquirer’s online presence eventually evolved into INQ7.net, a website co-owned by the Inquirer and GMA Network, Inc.–where I now work as a researcher and online database content provider. INQ7 demonstrated yet another feature of online journalism: convergence. News stories from the Inquirer were posted side by side with audio and video reports from GMA Network’s Channel 7 and DZBB radio.

For its part, ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation teamed up with the newspaper Today–which later merged with another newspaper–in putting up abs-cbnNEWS.com. The portal now carries content from ABS-CBN radio and television stations and the new Manila Times.

Indeed, the advent of the Internet changed journalism. What used to be static and permanent newspaper pages are now complemented with dynamic, changeable webpages. The talking heads are no longer just a series of one or two-paragraph quotations from news personalities. They could now be seen on the computer screen and heard on the PC speakers, despite the often undesirable quality of video and audio. While print version goes through air, land and sea to be delivered to the subscribers, the new media could now be accessed through the information superhighway.

Thus, the development of technology is a major determining factor for the future of online journalism. As previously written, most online news sources started as Internet versions of the published newspaper. Eventually, more advanced Internet tools such as browsers and media players allowed the delivery of multimedia content. As new tools are developed, innovations to online journalism are introduced.

Earlier this year, during a conference where media practitioners from all over the country gathered to discuss issues concerning the Philippine media, I happened to be seated beside JV Rufino, editor of INQ7. At that time, news content from INQ7 could only be accessed through the website and forwarded e-mails. I asked him if INQ7 will allow RSS distribution of their content. They are working on that, he said. And true enough, a few months later INQ7 articles became available through RSS.

In between session, we also talked about gadgets. Since I acquired a Palm device, I’ve been accessing INQ7 and other news sites using AvantGo service, which allows me to save the site on my Palm for offline reading. JV, on the other hand, could access their publication directly on the Internet using a newer Palm device that lets him to go online anytime he wants.

With these technological advancements, online news sources are no longer fixed on our desktops. Like the good old newspapers, they could also be carried anywhere we go. Newer concepts such as Wi-Fi for airborne access promise even better mobile access to online publications in the future.

In the Philippines and elsewhere, the changing media also help change societies. While text messaging is widely recognized as a major contributor to the downfall of Estrada, online journalism could also claim its share, since the Internet was among the major tools employed by the anti-Estrada forces. In fact, various news websites were put up before and during the EDSA People Power 2. Among them were CyberDyaryo, HotManila, Guerilla Information Network, and Sick of the Times. These online publications carried investigative reports by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), which also has its own site.

Earlier this year, the PCIJ made available for download on its blog the controversial wiretapped conversation between an election commissioner and Philippine President Gloria Arroyo–who is accused of rigging last year’s election. PCIJ’s blog has also been giving regular updates on the issues connected with the Arroyo crisis. Just recently, a local court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the PCIJ blog after it published the profile of a personality identified with a cabinet secretary. This was a historical development–the very first in the Philippine blogging scene.

Such development leaves us wondering about what is in store for online journalism. If journalists’ blog could be restrained in a country dubbed as the home the freest press in Asia, how would online journalists in countries such as China and Singapore fare? This early, Internet content is censored in countries like China. I believe that while technology, particularly the Internet, could be used against governments, technology is also the tool that police states could use to clip online journalists’ freedom.

But then again, in the country where the concept of people power originated, online journalists–with the help of supportive netizens–could assert its freedom against government restraint. In the given case of PCIJ, Filipino bloggers have denounced the TRO and asked other netizens to barrage the Supreme Court with e-mail messages protesting the TRO. As long as the citizens could freely access the Internet, online journalism could prosper.

Aside from the issue of freedom, this PCIJ case also highlights the blogging phenomenon as well as the legal and ethical issues involving online journalism.

The issue of blogging poses another question: will journalists eventually give way to bloggers? Anyone who has access to the Internet, skills to set-up a blog, and story to tell can publish on the Internet. Nowadays, even journalists maintain their own blogs (and PCIJ’s was even slapped with a TRO). This trend also alters the traditional, one-way delivery of news from the news source to the audience. It was seen during the recent disasters in Asia and the United States, where blogs became important sources of information. In some cases, Internet traffic of a non-media person’s blog could even surpass some media organization’s website. In the Philippines, a lawyer and housewife whose blog became very popular even got herself a column in a print medium.

Do these developments spell the end of online journalism as we now know it? I don’t think so. Journalism, whether in print or online, requires certain skills that only trained journalists possess. One’s online presence does not necessarily translate into a huge audience. A media organization–or a website, for that matter–must have credibility and the readers’ trust, which is earned through the years. Many netizens would of course always prefer a trusted source of information to an unknown site, no matter how interesting the information the latter posts on his or her blog.

Other issues that online journalism faces are ethical and legal. I think ethical issues are most of the time universal, so online sources whether a big one like the Guardian or a local one like MindaNews (of Mindanao, Philippines) would definitely agree on issues such as accuracy and fairness. The legal aspect of the future of online journalism, on the other hand, is difficult to to foresee owing to the various laws in different countries. What is legal in one country may be illegal in another, and it poses a problem for a medium that has become an international one, such as online journalism.

As for me, I intend to pursue what I started when I was still in college. Doing journalism online will always be an interesting work for me.