The digital transformation of journalism

A brief review of the main points of impact of the Internet on the journalistic profession and media industries.

Jose Luis Orihuela
6 min readJan 11, 2019
Photo: Rawpixel (edited)

Internet and changes in journalism

Technology has altered the information ecosystem by displacing media and journalists from the exclusive role of editorial mediation.

The Internet and social networks have given audiences and media sources the power to become media themselves.

Social networks have the capacity to define the public agenda in a much more immediate and global way than journalism can.

Analog media and digital media

In a technical (though not cultural) sense, today all media are digital. The information is recorded and processed digitally, although it is then disseminated via print, radio or television.

The quality of journalism has much more to do with the existence of a newsroom and a system of editorial control than with a particular technology.

What does not change in journalism

Journalism is a professional method to obtain, analyze, elaborate and disseminate relevant information through the technological channels available to reach the audiences. That is what has not changed.

What is subject to a constant review process are the available distribution channels, the needs of the audiences and what is understood as relevant.

Writing on the net

The unresolved task of online writing, paradoxically, remains the efficient use of hypertext links.

Internet contributes to public communication three elements that were not present in the analog mass media: interactivity, hypertextuality, and multimedia.

On the internet, writing can dialogue with users, can be structured in a non-linear way and can be encoded in any format.

Currently, the conversation has moved to social networks, hypertextuality is conspicuous by its absence and multimedia does not get through the barrier of the image.

News in the digital ecosystem

Social media changed the ways of information forever. The Internet changed the direction, volume and speed of information flows worldwide, and thereby radically altered all industries that depend more or less intensively on information.

In the previous ecosystem of the mass media, the news was presented in a package as part of a product (newspaper, magazine, bulletin or newscast) in which the media itself operated as an editorial context.

In the digital ecosystem, “news” is a unit that takes on a life of its own, detached from the media and recontextualized in users’ timelines.

Twitter, in particular, brought the urgency of real-time and the symmetry of the conversation and created an environment in which each user can make up his information diet based on the decisions she makes about the accounts she decides to follow.

Good practices on Twitter

The media with the best strategies on Twitter are those that do not concentrate all their activity on a single account but encourage their journalists and the various sections to maintain an active presence on the platform.

An inevitable example is The New York Times with 665 journalists on Twitter and 41 official accounts of sections.

Metrics and the quality of journalism

The social media metrics based on impact are a burden for quality journalism as they condition the issues, their treatment, and the headline style when orienting the publications exclusively to the click hunt. In opposition to them, engagement metrics that focus on the activity carried out by users with content (conversations, likes and shares) stand out.

Although audience research studies pre-date digital media, the Internet allows sampling of not just a limited audience but the entire universe of users in real-time. This opens up possibilities of product customization unthinkable in the era of mass media and converts audience analytics into real-time market studies.

The question, consequently, has to do with what is measured, who buys these data and how those operations condition the editorial decisions. This is where business models of digital media emerge or fall apart.

Success on the web

If the measure of success is influence (that is, the capacity of the content to generate changes in the ideas and behavior of the audience), then what is successful on the web is what captures the attention and involvement of the super users, who are the ones that seed the valuable content into their followers’ networks and turn it viral.

This is the process that has been verified in phenomena such as #MeToo, in which artists and many other groups of influencers (including the media themselves) have converted their grievances into a global movement.

The contribution of blogs

Blogs marked the beginning of the era of social media, and although social networks certainly eclipsed some of their functions, they remain basic platforms for building personal branding on the net.

Nowadays, blogs are part of the ecosystem of social networks (Medium is a good example of this synergy), so for that reason it no longer makes strategic sense to focus exclusively on a single platform.

Quality and platforms

With the launch of the iPad in 2010 and the subsequent boom in tablets, a new opportunity arose for long-form journalism on the Internet. The optimized versions of newspapers and magazines for tablets and the new generations of users whose native literacy was digital have changed the original concept of the Internet as an environment exclusively for breaking news.

The quality of journalism has much more to do with the existence of a newsroom and a system of editorial control than with a particular technology.

In any case, it is convenient to adopt a perspective of study that separates the technical nature of the platform from the quality of the content: not everything digital is necessarily superficial, nor is everything printed inevitably profound.

The training of communicators

The response of universities to the challenges posed by technological changes in the field of communication is quite inconsistent, sometimes opportunistic and almost always late.

In the Spanish-speaking academic field, there is still a minority of PhDs in Communication specialized in new narratives, transmedia communication, digital business or information visualization.

More institutional support is needed for the establishment of laboratories and research centers specialized in the study of the digital world and its culture, as well as in the development of new media.

The future of journalism

We have to distinguish the future of journalism as a profession and social function from the future of media companies that were born before the digital revolution.

The profession has a future, although it has to change a lot to ensure that it thrives. Journalists need better and more permanent training, they have to learn programming and business management, and they have to specialize in a strategic way (for example in the pharmaceutical sector or biotech industry).

Media companies, like those in many other sectors, must embrace the mantra of digital transformation. They have to rethink and redesign their entire value chain to adapt it to an irreversibly digital world, and they have to do so while their “analog” operations continue to generate revenues.

Pretending to exploit the advantages of the old environment until its exhaustion without seriously betting on its alternatives is a direct path to failure.

Jose Luis Orihuela is a professor, speaker and author, born in Argentina and living in Spain. He is a faculty member of the School of Communication, University of Navarra (Pamplona). Visiting scholar and speaker in 26 countries. Writer and blogger focused on the impact of the internet on media, communication and culture. His latest books are: Manual breve de Mastodon (2023), Culturas digitales (2021), Los medios después de internet (2015), Mundo Twitter (2011), 80 claves sobre el futuro del periodismo (2011) and La revolución de los blogs (2006). Publishing in eCuaderno since 2002 (, in Twitter since 2007 (@jlori) and in Mastodon since 2022 (



Jose Luis Orihuela

Profesor universitario, conferenciante y autor. Professor, Speaker and Author. Cultura digital. Digital culture. At: and