The Digital News Race: How Media Meets the Demands of an Online-First World

Digital First Media

Every newsroom faces this challenge: News breaks, and it’s a rush to get the story online.

News organizations have been placing more focus on digital and social media for years.

The past year even has been a turning point for many news organizations, including newspapers that have cut back on print editions and put more stock and resources into their online presence.

Lynn Walsh, national president with Society of Professional Journalists, understands the online-first strategy. Walsh has worked with several online-only publications; today she leads the investigative team for NBC 7 in San Diego.

“People are wanting to get their news online or on their phone,” Walsh says. “[Newsrooms] have a responsibility to adapt to that — to provide the information the public wants and deserves.”

Every news agency – whether newspaper, magazine, or broadcast station – has had to adjust to the digital news beast.

Television, for example, must immediately release the basics of a news story. To risk waiting until the 5pm newscast could mean losing a story to a competitor – or worse – reporting old news.

Digital Shaping Global Newsrooms

The Independent News UKA year ago, Al Jazeera America announced plans to shutter cable TV and digital operations by that spring.

Al Jazeera staff reported that Al Jazeera America’s closure “coincides with a decision by its global parent company to commit to a significant expansion of its worldwide digital operations into the U.S. market.”

“As audiences increasingly turn to multiple platforms, including mobile devices, for news and information, this expansion will allow U.S. and non-U.S. consumers alike to access the network’s journalism and content wherever and whenever they want,” said the Al Jazeera Media Network, in a statement at the time. “By expanding its digital content and distribution services to now include the U.S., the network will be better positioned to innovate and compete in an overwhelmingly digital world to serve today’s 24-hour digitally focused audience.”

A month later, by Feb. 2016, another newspaper made international news – Britain’s The Independent became the first national newspaper to embrace a global, digital-only future.

It would cease print by the end of March.

And Local News Outlets

Editor & Publisher highlighted several newspapers that are mastering the digital game in 10 Newspapers That Do It Right 2016: Finding Success With Audience, Digital and New Revenue Ideas.

Among them: Wilmington StarNews in North Carolina.

Switching the newspaper’s focus to digital first involved a fair overhaul, including changing the paper’s newsroom budget meetings to emphasize web news and utilizing social platforms to build up community content.

Online News Association Executive Director Irving Washington says everyone’s producing digital news because of the cultural shift in how people consume information.

“It’s innovation in storytelling,” Washington said.

For news organizations that could use some guidance, UC Berkeley’s Advanced Media Institute produced a massive tutorial on The Transition to Digital Journalism in 2014.

In it, senior lecturer Paul Grabowicz, who also served as a longtime administrator at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, discussed everything from newspaper/print editions in decline or the elimination of print altogether to online competition and forums.

Wilmington StarNews Website

Wilmington StarNews’s website.

Wilmington StarNews Paper vs mobile app

Wilmington Star News e-print versus mobile editions.

So Many Moving Parts

So where’s it headed?

Some surmise 2017 might be the year of expanding into virtual and augmented reality.

“[Digital provides] new opportunities for journalists to reinvent themselves and how we tell stories,” says SPJ’s Walsh.

Whereas before, one would report and show news, now journalists must dive deeper. It’s linking to more information, adding a video clip, downloading items, and sometimes creating searchable data sets.

“It’s making the news experience richer,” Walsh said. “Virtual reality could be how everyone adapts and wants news. The key is to embrace what the audience wants.”

ONA’s Washington agrees.

At one point, the internet was innovative. So was the television.

“Innovation now has changed,” he said. “News organizations need to continue to pay attention to how people want to stay informed. The tools will always change. But it’s paying attention to the cultural shifts that are at the core.”

Want to know what’s coming up in the media world? You can track the latest industry news, moves, trends and updates on PR Newswire for Journalists.

Christine Cube is a senior audience relations manager with PR Newswire and freelance writer. Follow her at

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