How the World Wide Web has impacted news

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As someone who started her journalism career using a manual typewriter, I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years.

I can still remember phoning through stories to copy-taking telephonists when the newspaper was on deadline; and driving batches of hand-typed stories and photographic prints (black and white, at that!) from our district newsroom to the print works 40 miles away!

I’ve marvelled at the arrival of the fax machine, only to be replaced by email; I remember using phone boxes before mobile phones were invented; and transitioned from manual to electric typewriter to a stand-alone Amstrad computer (remember them?) to networked PC, laptop, tablet and Cloud technology. All in a relatively ‘short’ space of time!

But surely the biggest change for journalism – and my subsequent profession, PR – has to be the growth of the World Wide Web, invented 30 years ago this month.

Now, news is everywhere – available to us 24 hours a day, seven days a week on our mobiles, tablets and PCs. No waiting for the next day’s papers or that evening’s TV news bulletin. Everything is open to near-instant scrutiny and, thankfully, the opportunities for governments and businesses to ‘bury’ bad news are much less.

But it’s not always a good thing. Suddenly everyone thinks they’re a journalist and stories and videos can be published online with little or no thought to fact checking or the legal implications of libel or slander. Newspaper websites appear to ignore stories that are important to the communities they serve in preference for sensationalist or misleading ‘click-bait’ headlines and articles. Fake news is more and more prevalent.

As the World Wide Web turned 30, its founder Tim Berners-Lee had a warning for us all, saying that it is “too easy for misinformation to spread on the web”, with most people finding news and information through just a handful of social media sites and search engines.

In his open letter he called on governments around the world to crack down on a range of problems, including scammers, hackers, on-line harassment, ad-based revenue models which reward click-bait articles and the viral spread of misinformation; and to clean-up the World Wide Web.

For all our sakes, let’s hope it doesn’t take another 30 years!