- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Online journalists have become cautiously optimistic about their place in the gloomy news media landscape, with 81 percent reasonably sure their Web sites can turn a profit, according to a survey released Monday by the Online News Association and the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

“They appear confident there will be a shake out for the better,” said Jane McDonnell, director of the 1,800-member Washington-based association.

But the online genre is still a work in progress - and a little murky. Half of the respondents said it was acceptable for an online news outlet to express a clear ideological viewpoint.

“It is becoming more acceptable to report news with an obvious voice or bias,” the survey said. The finding is intriguing, considering that 71 percent of the respondents work for sites connected to “legacy media,” such as print newspapers and broadcast networks.

Two-thirds of those journalists also said such news outlets subsidized their operations.

Six out of 10 agree that the Internet is fundamentally changing journalism values - and not always for the better. Of that group, 45 percent said there was an overall loosening of standards - a trend that includes the popular notion that “anyone can be a journalist.”

They’re also a little conflicted. While 54 percent called features of community journalism, such as discussion boards and comment boxes, “essential” to their sites, close to one-third said that “allowing others to have a voice” had positive and negative results.

A quarter said the emphasis on speed - racing a story online - also had mixed results, though three-fourths said their content is edited before being posted online.

Meanwhile, the majority of online journalists is sour about the business: 54 percent said journalism was on “the wrong track.” But they’re ambitious - 92 percent are actively seeking to monetize their online content and create new revenue streams, which is tricky, at best. Despite huge audiences, no newspaper site is turning a clear and regular profit.

The weighty New York Times Web site leads the nation with more than 20 million “unique” visitors a month. Online revenue accounts for 12 percent of its total revenue - falling 3 percent in the first quarter of 2009.

Clever, lean and nimble “aggregators” are encroaching on its territory.

“There’s no news monopoly anymore. That fact has changed everything. People in the news business are saying the Internet is the future, and they better get onboard,” said Michael Wolff, media columnist for Vanity Fair and founder of Newser.com., which draws 1.5 million visitors a month.

The site’s motto is “read less, know more,” and it offers stylish graphics and ever-changing stories - reduced to a headline, one image and two paragraphs - from hundreds of outside sources. Newser.com was recently deemed “the future” of news by CBS News.

Is the New York Times threatened? Maybe. In February, the paper threatened criminal prosecution against Newser.com for using the Times logo to identify the original source of an entry.

“Our job is to figure out what form people want their news in, then find a way to arbitrate an incredible amount of news content,” Mr. Wolff said.

The survey of 292 journalists was conducted from Jan. 7 to Feb. 14.

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