Online journalism is a sector in constant evolution. Democratised with the opening of the Internet to a larger public around the ’90s, the apparition of online journalism content has put traditional media on the edge, forcing them to constantly renew their distribution and production model as well as their economic strategies (Bruno and Nielsen, 2012; p.7).
Not only ‘legacy media’ had to adapt to the Internet, but they also have, now, to face the challenge raised by the perpetual evolution of new information technologies since the last ten years. (Bradshaw, 2015)
On the other side, the Internet ‘pure-player’ medias had to overcome the anonymity of their new-born brand as well as the financial stakes by relying on short term solutions or unstable ones. (Nicholls, Shabbir, and Nielsen, 2017)
In this article, we will present two different news coverage of the same event by The Washington Post and Vice News, we will highlight how, and why, they handled it in such dissimilar ways.
A different past but an almost similar present
Founded in 1877 by Stilson Hutchin, The Washington Post is an American daily printed newspaper published in the Washington District. Highly regarded for its high standards of journalism ethics and professionalism, the media was awarded 47 Pulitzer Prizes (Czarnecki. J, 2016). The Post has contributed in revealing some of the biggest scandals in American history as ‘The Watergate’ story and ‘The Pentagon Papers’. In 2013 the newspaper was sold to Nash Holdings, a company founded and owned by the Internet mogul Jeff Bezos (Amazon).
On the other side Vice was created in 1994 in Montreal (Canada), relocated in New-York in 2001, it officially became Vice News in 2013. Now, its existence doesn’t exceed Internet boundaries. Their slogan itself carries a significant meaning by stating out loud the different approach of journalism the media is conveying: ‘Created by and for a connected generation’.
While ‘The Post’ is clearly inked into a traditional definition of journalism (objectivity, impartiality, systemic fact-checking), Vice is stamped under the sign of the ‘counter-culture’. The media bets on the globalisation of the information as much as the ‘glocalisation’, and praises itself in bringing insights from a worldwide perspective. With a presence in 50 countries and multiples sub-brands (Noisey, I-D, Broadly, Viceland), it has a high reach audience potential.
Vice News is not only a media, it is a ‘multi-media’, the brand managed to gain access of the most prominent TV channels like A&E Networks and HBO by offering not only entertainment coverage but also serious journalism reports (Ip Chris, 2015). Videos, podcasts, ground photo reports and local investigations, Vice is a brand sold to a certain audience by displaying a ‘young’ profile in its editorial choices as much as in its language codes. (Nicholls, Shabbir, and Nielsen, 2017, p.13)
From both perspectives it is, therefore, possible to identify The Washington Post as a ‘legacy media’ and Vice News as a ‘Digital Born Media’.
How the US media system forged The Post and Vice News
As the Internet developed itself with the evolution of personal technologic devices, ‘legacy born’ newspapers like The Washington Post had to eventually adapt their offer. The Post went online in 1993 (Czarnecki. J, 2016). The Post is one of the prominent legacy media presence in the web as it has been able to adapt, increase its presence on the net, and morph from ‘printed’ to ‘online’ in order to comply with the new standards of the communication at the era of new technologies. We could argue that the paper was a victim of its own media system.
Like Vice, The Post is an American born media and both belong to the ‘North-Atlantic Liberal Model’ which is characterised by an average diffusion of the press, a slightly politicized press but a highly professionalized and self- regulated journalism, and a domination of the market logic without any public intervention. (Hallin, Mancini, 2004b, Pp. 22-45)
The homogenization of the world media is dependent of the ‘bully model’ that are the United-States, as the culture is set on a liberal mode, which knows no restraint, but the economic issues that the business could face (Hallin, Mancini, 2004b, p26).
Even if we decided not to focus only on the impact of that the American culture itself on the development of the media practice, the homogenisation is still undeniable as another power is at stake: « The broader and more complex concept of globalization… is focused not on a single country… but rather on a complex set of interactions and interdependencies among different countries and their systems of communication ». (Hallin, Mancini, 2004b, p.27)
Nowadays ‘normal’ journalism is expressed under the North-American prism of objectivity and news value hierarchy. Vice might have started has a punk media and is still relying on its young accessible language but it does have integrated the bases of this traditional journalism culture practice and has upgraded it to reach a younger public. (Canter Lily, 2018, p.1102)
Audience and trust
Shock investigations versus serious professional features articles, The Washington Post and Vice News are not aiming at the same audience in today’s media market neither are they trying to sell the same product.
With around 22 millions of international visitors and 16 million visitors nationwide per month, The Post is a leader provider of trusted information at a global scale. The majority of its revenue comes from advertising and subscriptions. The audience of the newspaper is educated as 72% of them are college graduates with 42% being post-graduate. (Washington Post Media Kit, 2019)
On the other hand, Vice News, who has been a leader on the production of online media content, is now facing a more challenging time as 250 employees were cut-off their jobs last month (10% of the total workforce). Targeting 18-35 years old, the magazine is having a hard time attracting millennials and keeping the ‘regulars’ as they are aging and moving towards new information sources.
The media has also suffered from multiple disturbing revelations on the working condition, and while even facing lawsuits the media reputation has been largely undermined compromising further partnership. Indeed 70% of the audience is aged between 18 to 24 years old. The access to Vice News in multiple medium (Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Snapshat…) has guaranteed to the media an audience of 45.6 million users per month in Europe, Middle-East and Africa last year (Vice Media Kit, 2019).
In its last Digital Report (2018), the Reuters Institute has investigated the question of trust towards medias. The research revealed a strong incidence on the level of trust when linked to the variable of ‘political affiliation’. Out of fifteen medias, in the United-States, The Post achieved the 6thposition while Vice was ranked 12thjust before BuzzFeed and Fox News.
We could think that The Post, as an old media, would have difficulties reaching out the audience and surviving to the online challenges, but that would have been without considering the fact that The Post is providing a unique service which is timeless and trustworthy. Meanwhile, Vice News is suffering from its ‘marginal’ editorial line, as the same products (shocking, disturbing news) can be now found easily on other ‘copy-cat’ websites.
Professionalism vs. Sensationalism: The Washington Post and Vice News comparative analysis of the WOW Airline news
All flights were abruptly canceled by low-cost Icelandic company Wow Airline as they announced Thursday that they were ceasing all operations. Reporting on the news the same day The Post published a very complete article where Vice News failed to deliver some crucial information.
Journalism writing and content production
The first different aspect of writing that is obvious when looking at both news would be the headline itself. As The Post uses a traditional and timeless title, Vice News choose to put the emphasis on a type of vocabulary more sensationalist stating right away their position towards their audience: providing information but with a ‘fun’ aspect.
“Wow Air abruptly shuts down, stranding passengers” – The Washington Post
““Wow fuckin WOW:” Hundreds of passengers stranded after WOW Airlines suddenly shuts down” – Vice News
The tone of the article is set for Vice, the journalist writes with a hint of judgment and opinions as it is possible to see in the first paragraph…
“WOW Airlines, champion cheap flight to iceland’s Blue Lagoon and other favorites local of Istagram influencers“
… and the 8th.
“But in general fuel is expensive and the skies are crwded with tiny planes”
This last statement could have been embedded with a link to a source in order to back up the information. If the article shows plenty of customer angry tweets, it lacks useful pieces of information that were provided by The Post one day before (refund possibilities thanks to Hopper for instance).
For The Washington Post, the writing does not create an issue, the content is accurate but plain and without enough embedded links or media:
- Second paragraph: ‘early morning alert‘ could have been linked directly to the alert. Instead, it is displayed three paragraphs later.
- Fourth paragraph: a link is missing to the ‘Ireland’s Aer Lingus‘ proposition.
- Sixth paragraph: Screenshots and links to Wow’s tweeter account or posts would have been appreciated.
- Missing link toward, Hopper’s announcement in the 9th paragraph.
- Missing update of the post with a link to other Washington Post article.
Overall The Post article is full of information but does not give enough options to the audience to access the prime source of information. The embedded video at the top of the post is the only other media throughout the all post.
On the other side Vice coverage of the news did include Twitter’s posts from customers. The relevance is to be considered as they picked the most ‘incorrect’ ones in term of language
In order to give more insight into the desperate situation lived by the customers, both media could have reached, through Twitter, a customer in order to get a more powerful statement. Buzzfeed did.
As both articles opened on news in relation to the Wow air company bankrupt, Vice’s journalist gave more to think by offering some possible incidence the news could have on Iceland tourism and the house prices.
Online delivery and technical delivery
Both websites’ interfaces are different, one being classic (neutral tones, serif font) and the other modern (yellow highlights for embedded links, font without serif).
The Post gives the opportunity to communicate with the audience as the ‘comments’ area is enabled but with a certain restraint. It is impossible to engage in the conversation without creating a profile and providing information about ourselves first. This accessibility to this function is ‘central’ as it benefits the publisher by rewarding the reader and creating a ‘loyalty’. It enhances the feeling to be part of a community as you can interact not only with the writer of the post but also with the other readers. (Bradshaw, 2017, pp. 337-339).
The sharing options are available in both cases but The Post offers the possibility to keep access to them through a vertical ‘toolbar’ that stays on the left side all along while scrolling down through the article. Vice only offer three options (Facebook, Tweet, Email) and the icons are up against the article ‘byline’.
Visually Vice website is pure compared to The Post one as the article is displayed on the full-screen space without having any suggested other content on the side, the reader can focus on the story only.
We have seen that The Washington Post and Vice News are two media with a different background. If their audience is not similar their main goal remains to inform. As the Internet is more and more crowded a rivalry is rising to deliver information. ‘Legacy born’ media like The Post keeps a headstart as it is a trusted and accomplished newspaper. Vice News is slightly less professional as its aims also to entertain the young reader in order to keep their attention.
The hard news coverage analysis helped us identify the weakness and strengths of both media. If they did a successful job in providing the information, there is still a gap to fill in order to reach a perfect online delivery. However, this would be difficult as the Internet and online writing tools keep on improving. More and more the information is also reached through social media as most of the big news services are now conveying information through ‘stories’ on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, linking them to the full article. Online journalism is morphing in order to become more visual, short, accessible with a possibility for the audience to interact with the story.
NOTE: The Washington Post Article has been updated. The orignial article had the following headline, and was much shorter with no instagram pictures embedded. It has been enterierly rewritten by the author.
Word count: 2060
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