(a survey of 21 most popular Belarusian news web-sites)
The use of the Internet as a news source has increased in Belarus during the recent years. Meanwhile, in spite of the new possibilities opened up by online tools and technologies, Belarusian online media seem to have based their strategies on traditional journalism techniques. A survey of Belarusian mass media online conducted by e-belarus.ORG in 2006 revealed that the number and quality of Belarusian media online initiatives showed them to be in the period of infancy. The overwhelming majority of them fell within the category of the news sites with very limited editorial news and some form of participatory communication.
The new study of the 21 most popular Belarusian news sites is meant to describe their experiments with the idea of participatory journalism, and to make an assessment of Web 2.0 features offered by these sites. The list of 21 sites selected according statistics presented by akavita.by, all.by, alexa.com rating systems includes 10 online versions of printed media, 10 online news sites and one online service of radio station (See Table 1. List of sites surveyed).
Table 1. List of the surveyed sites
Average visitors per day. Source: Akavita.by
The survey addressed two questions:
1) to what extent do the most popular Belarusian news sites adopt user generated content initiatives;
2) what Web 2.0 features are characteristic of Belarusian online journalism.
To answer the question, we adopted a selection of criteria suggested by Neil Thurman [Thurman, N. (2006) Participatory journalism in the mainstream: Attitudes and implementation at British news websites]:
To determine the degree to which selected online media are using the Internet, we checked presence or absence of the following elements:
Data collected from the news websites was obtained during the period December 2006 - January 2007.
According to the survey, the most popular readers' participation format is "comments on stories". This feature is available at 11 of 21 web-sites. Questions and answers are offered by 8 web sites. Polls as well as message boards are offered by 7 web-sites, and only 3 of them (sb.by ; http://www.nn.by; http://www.telegraf.by) give place for readers' comments on posts in reporters' blogs. Two web sites (http://www.kp.belkp.by ; http://www.nn.by ) allow readers to publish their own stories.
The most "participatory" media providing 4 of 8 listed formats for citizens' participation are www. tut.by (polls, message boards, questions and answers, comments on stories), http://www.kp.belkp.by (message boards, questions and answers, comments on stories, readers' stories) , www.nn.by (polls, readers comments on reporters' blogs, comments on stories and readers' stories), borisov-e.info (polls, message boards, questions and answers and comments on stories). The most popular "kit" includes comments on stories, questions and answers, polls and message boards. None of the news sites offer "have your say" and "readers' blogs" formats (See Table 2. Readers' generated content by news site and Graph 1. Readers' generated content by format)
Table 2. Readers' generated content by news site
Graph 1. Readers' generated content by format
Our research shows that web-sites have not made many Web 2.0 features prominent aspects of their websites. The most common online feature offered by the news web sites is RSS feed (15). 10 web sites have blog rolls (external links). 7 sites offer "Most popular" function. 3 web sites - http://www.sb.by, http://www.nn.by, http://www.telegraf.by/ - offer reporter blogs. The use of other Web 2.0 features is more than limited: 1 podcasting (http://www.svaboda.org/), 1 mobile version (tut.by), 2 websites offer video (http://www.naviny.by; http://www.pressball.by/). None of the sites offers tags and bookmarking. (See Table 3. Web 2.0 Features by news site and Graph 2. Web 2.0 Features)
Table 3. Web 2.0 features by news site
Graph 2. Web 2.0 Features
It is interesting to note that there is no direct correlation between the number of features and popularity of a news site (see Table 4. Formats of citizens' participation and WEB 2.0 features by news site). Among the top 10 sites, there are http://www.bdg.by (offers only blog rolls), belaruspartizan.org and afn .by offering RSS feeds. Whereas web sites which occupy lower positions (www.nn by,www.telegraph.by, www.nv-online.info) offer more than 5 features.
Belarusian online journalism is more occupied with introducing Web 2.0 features than with providing opportunities for citizens' generated content. 5 of 21 web sites under survey do not offer any format for readers' participation, while only one of them do not provide any Web 2.0 features (see Table 4. Formats of citizens' participation and WEB 2.0 features by news site).
Table 4. Formats of citizens' participation and Web 2.0 features by news site
The survey of the 21 most popular Belarusian web-sites conducted during December 2006 - January 2007 revealed that Belarusian online news sources are experimenting with some formats of citizens' generated content and Web 2.0 features. However, there is no direct correlation between the number of features and popularity of a web-site. Belarusian online journalism is more occupied with introducing Web 2.0 features than with providing opportunities for citizens' generated content. The most popular "kit" for citizens' generated content includes comments on stories, questions and answers, polls and message boards. None of the news sites offers "have your say" and "readers' blogs" formats. The web -sites under survey have not made many Web 2.0 features prominent aspects of their websites. The most common online features offered are RSS feeds, blog rolls, and " Most popular" function. None of the sites offers tags and bookmarking.
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