The Global Digital Divide

Trends in online news structure varies internationally, said an international panel at the 7th International Symposium on Online Journalism. The quality of online journalism in their respective countries is improving, though at times a work in progress complicated by the digital divide.

Guillermo Franco, editor of Colombia’s, reported that in 2004 most online newsrooms in Latin America operated with a staff of less than eight journalists, the vast majority of whom were ages 20-30. The 2004 survey also showed that online journalists were paid less than their print colleagues and viewed as a lower class of journalist.

The updated survey shows that online journalists are older than they were in 2004 – 28 percent are 30 years or older – and are gaining the respect of their print colleagues.

Franco said that 79 percent of online news sites believe user-generated content is significant. However, most sites edit and control the content posted by users. According to the survey, 53 percent of sites have deleted user comments. Franco believes this is not just a case of censoring profanity, but of criticisms of the news sources themselves.

“We do not have a very good history of democracy in Latin America,” Franco said.

Vincent Maher is director of the New Media Lab at Rhodes University and editor of Grocott’s Mail Online in South Africa. He emphasized the huge disparity of wealth in South Africa which naturally leads to a digital divide.

Maher said that the goal of New Media Lab is to create technology without boundaries.

“It highlights ways that media can alleviate the social divide created by Apartheid,” Maher said.

Grocott’s Mail Online uses only free software available to the public and does not distinguish between citizen journalists and trained print journalists. The Web site has a high level of interactivity allowing users to rank and comment on all its content.

Paula Jung Rocha, a master’s student at the Univesity of Texas-Austin and associate professor at Centro Universitario Feevale in Brazil, gave an overview of internet use in her home country.

Rocha said that 15 percent of Brazilians have internet access in their homes, a number that?s steadily increasing. She gave a brief history of online news in Brazil and said that three television stations are creating content specifically for the Web.

ISOJ 2006: International Perspectives on Online Journalism, from Knight Center on Vimeo.