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The Bytewriter

The Bytewriter Begins

Every other week this column will tackle the effects the Net has on Canadian journalism. It's a broad topic, yes, but someone's gotta do it.

So much of the content online is from American sources, and though the Net is global in nature, the perspectives still slant toward our southern neighbours. And with Canadian media struggling under the weight of budget cuts, buyouts and layoffs, CanCon new media is rare. Let's hope this changes.

Web-based publishing offers opportunities for magazines, newspapers and broadcasting outlets to stretch and expand their audiences. This could mean expanding the local reach of a publication (Saskatoon's StarPhoenix can be read in Sarasota) or the audience (CBC Radio and Stereo are available to anyone, anywhere, with a connection to the Net and RealAudio). Reaching this potential audience is far less expensive than building new transmitters or doing direct-mail campaigns.

The online medium frees the reporter from the traditional time and space constraints of the old media. Links can be established to documents that expand or explain the actual story, thereby allowing an "investigative" piece to be produced for a much lower cost.

What to Expect...

In this column, I'll be talking about producing effective online journalism as well as discussing how freelancers can use the Web—and their CV—to create a mini-publication that provides editors with a quick and easy way to sample writer's work.

I'll be looking at new media trends (like pushing), issues (making money online) and developments (the MBone, a new Net data carrier), as well as ethical questions that this unregulated medium is creating for journalism. But I'd also like to examine sites (like Salon, Word, and the CBC) that are using the Web's full potential to encourage readers and journalists to break the limits of the old media's time-spatial limits.

Most importantly, I want to hear from you, the reader. One of the great virtues of the Net is instant interaction, and I'll always be eager to hear tips about new media journalism and discuss the issues you want to learn about.

As this is the first column, I'll qualify some of the conventions used here and explain who I am. First, when I say old media, I'm not being derogatory. The term's just the easiest descriptor I know of for the print- and broadcast-based media. I'll use it to differentiate between new media (online journalism), multimedia and media (journalism as a whole). I'm also going to assume you're familiar with the Net and know it's jargon. And, hey, if you're not, read Yahoo! Life's Lingo—a dictionary of Net terms—or saila.com's The Condensed Net Glossary.

Who is this guy?

I first tasted the Net in the fall of 1993, through an account at Toronto's Ryerson Polytechnic University, where I'm about to graduate with a degree in journalism. At the time, Unix was king and email was nothing to a good fax. By mid-1994 I was using gopher to dig up databases around the world and the newsgroups to share ideas with only a few hundred others.

My first glimpse of the Web was in the fall of 1994. Someone responded to a Usenet posting I made about Jack Kerouac by directing me to a URL (it was Levi Asher's Literary Kicks site). Using the text-based lynx browser I went to the site, and once I got orientated—navigation was keyboard based—I was hooked. Seeing how hypertext linked words from one page to other relevant articles throughout the world was revelatory for me.

Jump to 1996, when I became the online editor at the Ryerson Review of Journalism, and managed to bring the magazine to the Web (with the help of Rachel Ross, Mark DeWolf and Siobhan Roberts). So here I am, working as the site's Webmaster and doing this column. I've also done a few articles about online newspapers and journalism, one of which will published in the Spring 1997 Review. I don't pretend to be the most qualified voice on this subject (read Jon Katz, Brooke Shelby Biggs, Steve Outing and other digerati for that); I just hope to shed a bit of light on it from a Canadian perspective.