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Appreciating the digital difference

“It is the newsrooms that are embracing these differences, as opposed to fighting them, that are growing and innovating as the medium develops.”

The emerging field of digital journalism has been subjected to intense scrutiny over the past decade. This scrutiny has often focused on the ways in which digital is different than print and broadcast journalism — with the differences usually portrayed as shortcomings.

henry-blodgetSometimes, the criticism has been fair. A lot of early experiments in digital journalism produced experiences that were not informative or helpful for readers. Because the economics necessary to support high-quality digital news production had not yet developed, moreover, few digital newsrooms had the scale necessary to produce it consistently.

In recent years, however, most of digital’s early shortcomings have been overcome. And the field is now developing into a rich, deep, and extraordinarily versatile way to keep the world informed.

Companies like BuzzFeed, Vox Media, Gawker Media, Huffington Post, Business Insider (my employer!), and the digital divisions of some traditional publications now have big editorial budgets, and they are using them to produce and distribute digital stories that hundreds of millions of readers love. Importantly, these stories are designed for digital, not for print or television. They are not square pegs shoved in round holes.

Over the history of media, each new medium has developed its own “native” forms of journalistic storytelling. Story formats in TV and radio evolved to be entirely different than those in newspapers and magazines. In the early years of television, print journalism looked down on TV journalism, dismissing it as a playground for those who couldn’t report or write well enough to make it in print. Over several decades, however, TV journalism evolved to become totally different than print — and even more influential.

Similarly, digital journalism is evolving to be markedly different than print and television journalism. And it is the newsrooms that are embracing these differences, as opposed to fighting them, that are growing and innovating as the medium develops.

How is digital different? A thousand small ways, but three big ones:

  • Different editorial approach (from news gathering to storytelling to production)
  • Different distribution (multiple screens, software distribution instead of hard papers and pipes)
  • Different cost structure (digital economics cannot support print or TV — but they can support digital)

Over the next few decades, digital journalism will continue to grow and evolve rapidly, with today’s mid-sized newsrooms expanding to become global newsrooms of hundreds or even thousands of journalists. The depth of digital reporting and storytelling — both narrative and visual — will continue to grow, as will the precision with which publications customize their story selections for each reader.

So what will 2014 bring? This, I think, will be the year in which most observers begin to fully appreciate digital’s differences — and why these differences should be celebrated, not feared or criticized. Digital is by far the most versatile and convenient journalism technology human beings have ever developed. And with global social media, digital publishing, and digital newsrooms finally hitting their stride, the world has never been better informed.

Henry Blodget is founder and CEO of Business Insider.

Updating regularly through Friday, December 20