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Major Characteristics of Online Newspapers

Online newspapers are the popular expressions of the evolving media landscape...



The media is considered an important ally in development communication. Development communication strategies such as information-dissemination by means of media outlets such as online newspapers are effective in raising public awareness on purposive actions towards development.  Awareness on development projects and initiatives is needed to provide people the appropriate knowledge in order to participate and, thus, to contribute in the success of development projects and goals . 
Over the last two decades, with the onset of the information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the popularity of the internet, the media landscape has been radically transformed and has expand its reach, paving the way for innovative and more engaging media outlets and communication tools.  Online newspapers are popular expressions of the evolving media landscape. Since internet-based information dissemination and acquisition are becoming more and more entrenched in everyday life, online newspapers reflect the need of people to have free and easily- accessible news and information on any device, in any format and in whatever hour of the day. 
The major characteristis of online newspapers are (1) availability, (2) convenience, (3) mobility, (4) timeliness of content, (5) reduced geographical barriers, (6) interactivity and personalization of content, characteristics that make communication easier, faster, cheap, and accessible to all. Personalization and interactivity of content can also provide a two-way or transactional type of communication wherein the participants in the communication process have equal power and status. Thus, they are given the possibility to exchange roles, have more control in their discourse, in order to reach mutual understanding. Close interaction between participants in the communication process can also facilitate in evaluating the effectiveness of the “message”,  and the eventual updates given to the “message” can be tailored based on the “effect” and “feedback” provided by the various “receiver” of the message. Thus, communication is more collaborative in nature. 
The growing importance of online newspapers can be seen from the  figures from Alexa (a United States-based company that provides commercial web traffic data and analytics).  Alexa figures reveal that among the top 500 sites on the whole world wide web include those that offer news and commentary: the CNN ranks 72th , the New York Times ranks 95th  and the Daily Mail ranks 138th .  In the Philippines, on the other hand, the top sites according to Alexa ranking include four websites that deliver 24/7 breaking news on local and international issues:  the ABS-CBN , the Inquirer, the GMA Network and Rappler . 
              Picture 1 “Top Sites in Philippines According to Alexa Ranking”
     
Aside from offering timeliness, convenience, mobility and availability of news and information made possible by the popularity of internet and the proliferation of ICT tools and gadgets, online newspapers have other characteristics that can make information dissemination more effective and interesting to the target audience.
The creation of news from the traditional means to internet-based has given online newspapers the chance to emphasize news and events with engaging interactive and personalization features that are updated throughout the day.  Users have the chance to participate in interactive features such as discussion boards or comment sections made available by online newspapers.  Thus, users are allowed to voice out their ideas on specific issues and be part of the online conversation.
 The interactive features of online newspapers can likewise provide both the user and the author of the news and information a two-way or transactional type of communication, diverse from the one-way type being offered by the traditional newspapers, in which the user is perceived as a passive player who (only) receives the news and is unable to respond or react to the news delivered .  With a two-way type of communication, on the other hand, both the “source/author” of the news (i.e. the message) and the “user/receiver” are active players in the communication process: participants in the process have equal status and power, who can both give and receive messages. What’s more, the communication elements “effect” and “feedback” are guaranteed by means of discussion boards provided to the “user/receiver”.  This denotes that both the “source” and the “receiver” are able to interact to each other to express their communication needs in order to achieve mutual understanding. And depending on the extent of interactivity between the user/receiver and the author/source, the message can be timely evaluated for its effectiveness.  Additionally, the eventual updates given to the message can be crafted and customized based on the “effect” and “feedback” expressed by the various “user/receiver”.
    The use of multimedia elements is another attribute of online newspapers.  Multimedia elements are audio or video clips that make news and information engaging, specially to young individuals who have a prevalent audio-visual culture than a purely text-based one.  Internet-based newspapers nowadays have become constantly-updated publications in which increasing importance are given to audio-visual news and information.  
    Online newspapers can also give users more information on specific issues than the traditional news media because there is no space constraints.  Online newspapers can feature links to related stories, statistics, studies, best-practices and other background materials to enhance comprehensibility. Online newspapers have also knocked down geographical barriers.  Access to newspapers is no longer limited to a specific city, region or country. Online newspapers can be read by people all over the globe, it’s enough that they have a laptop, tablet or a smart phone with an internet connection.  Thus, the online version of a traditional newspaper has even a wider reach.  
Structure of online newspapers. Users access news via the website of online newspapers.   A website is composed of web pages that are normally linked  to each other and made available online by a person, corporations, educational institution, government  or any kind of organization .   
 The home page of online newspapers.  Among the web pages made accessible to users, it is the home page the most important page on the website.  And as such, this gets more page views than any other pages on the site.  News is normally presented in a series of layered pages, with the home page containing the headlines, which are the most salient issues of the day.  Of course, users do not always get on the site via the homepage. This is because a website is like a building with many access points. Users can follow links from search engines and may land on the secondary pages of the site.  Yet, once they are on the site, they are likely to consult the homepage to read the most important news of the day.
The layout of online newspapersThe layout is the foundation of any type of websites.  It is like a map which guides users through content and graphics to make the stories and issues covered visually clear.  The layout of the home page is centered on providing categorized links to specific news, which may be located on the secondary pages of the site.  Links are what make the world wide web. Links are selectable connection from a word or series of words, image or object to another page on the same website or another website.   The most common link is the highlighted word or picture that can be selected by users by means of the mouse. The following are some elements to be considered in conceptualizing the layout of a website: 
. Header – includes the company or association’s name and logo, as well as the main navigation bar.  The header is usually found on top of all the web pages because this is an essential part of the main template of the website .  
.Color scheme – is the kind of colors used to highlight the various text on a webpage.  Usually, the combination of dark text on a white background is employed on news websites.  
.Font – is a graphical representation of text that may include various typeface, point size, weight, color or design.  The use of font in representing a news story or issue is important because this can enhance or weaken the impact of the story to users.  
.Images or pictures – have a powerful message in any media.  They can strengthen a news story, can indicate the position of people, places and objects,  and can help build the atmosphere. Image positioning is also vital in increasing the importance of the story.
.Multimedia elements – sound files, pictures, animations and video footage are considered forms of multimedia that can enhance a website.  If associated or linked with a news story or an issue, multimedia elements can captivate and attract readers. These can also be employed to draw readers to a specific issue or a single element out of several or to inform users of updated information.
.Navigation bar – is a user interface element within a web page that contains links to other sections or secondary pages of the website,  which may feature topics such as technology, world, entertainment, business or finance, opinion, sports, lifestyle, etc. Normally, the navigation bar  is part of the main website template, meaning it is displayed in almost all of the pages of the website. In most cases, the navigation bar is just below the header. Others, however, prefer to place the navigation bar on the left side, while still others may have it both on the right and left sides of the site.
.Tabbed content areas – allow users to see popular articles, recent articles, or even the most commented news of the day.  The active tabs are clearly highlighted and these easily explain the page in which the user is found or the other pages in which the user can explore.  Tabbed content areas are usually positioned in the side bar or in the main content area. This element provides users more control on what news and links they can browse or read.
.Banner ads – are one of the most dominant forms of advertising on the web.  It is the key source of income for most online newspapers. Banner ads are placed in the left or right sides of the site or even on the header. 
  As a conclusion, it is important for development communicators to know the major characteristics of online newspapers so they can evaluate its use in information or message dissemination. With the growing popularity of the internet, it is vital to have a knowledge of online newspapers to tailor messages that may cater to the young adults, who are the most interested and active users of this popular media outlet.

References:
. Casero-Ripolles,A. (2012). Beyond Newspaper: News Consumption Among Young People in the Digital Era. Comunicar. DOI: 10.3916/C39-2012-03-05
. Christensson, P. (2012, October 2). Header Definition. In Tech Terms. Retrieved 2016, Mar. 8 from http://techterms.com
.ICTs and New Media. (2016). In Article 19. Retrieved from https://www.article19.org/pages/en/icts-new-media-more.html
.Information and Communication Technology. (2008). In S. R. Clegg & J.R. Bailey (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of Organizational Studies (Vol. 2, pp. 664-667)
.Internet. (n.a.). in Tech Target. Retrieved from http://searchwindevelopment.techtarget.com/definition/internet
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