March/April 2001 // Spotlight Site
Online Journalism Review
by Stephen Downes
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: Stephen Downes "Online Journalism Review" The Technology Source, March/April 2001. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

It may not immediately resemble an academic Web site, an online course, or even one of the educational portals that have become popular recently, but the Online Journalism Review, published by the USC Annenberg School for Communication, illustrates a new wave of online learning.

The Online Journalism Review (OJR), as its name implies, is a periodical dedicated to the study of online news reporting. On any given day, its coverage may range from analyses of election coverage, to in-depth looks at new online journalism technologies, to summaries of how the online press has covered a story.

The key to OJR's perspective lies in its academic focus. As the site authors state,

Because the Annenberg School gives us an academic base a step removed from the travails of commercial Web sites, we believe we can explore issues with depth, vigor, and impartiality—even irreverence.

As an academic publication, OJR is principally engaged in describing and applying standards for online journalism. OJR thus demonstrates an emerging trend in online professional development: the description and application of best practices. According to the authors,

We also believe that standards used in traditional media can and should be applied online. Journalism ethics, developed over centuries, help keep a line between commercial and editorial functions, the goal being to maintain a publication’s credibility and trustworthiness.

OJR's Web site is simply designed and easy to navigate. At the home page, a left hand column contains a table of contents while a large right hand column lists and summarizes recent articles. Scrolling down the page, the reader finds more detailed contents for each of the major sections, as well as insets listing links from two affiliated sites, The Spike Report (a listing of new or interesting sites) and OnlineJournalism.Com, a daily briefing culled from online media around the world.

The table of contents breaks OJR's contents into categories: features, departments (tools of the trade, industry trends, Q & A, and working the net), columns and opinions. Each of these sections consists of a list of articles contributed by professional journalists, faculty members, and, in some cases, students at USC Annenberg.

The quality of the writing is consistently high, and the research is first-rate and based, frequently, on primary sources. OJR articles are widely read in the online journalism community, a fact evidenced by the lively—and not always polite—contributions to the OJR Forums.

Most of OJR's readers probably do not visit the site except to read a particular article. The site's primary mode of dissemination is its weekly e-mail newsletter summarizing the week's contributions. also offers subscriptions to a daily e-mail news recap.

As mentioned above, OJR models an emerging form of online learning. Its audience is faculty and students, as well as working professionals. It focuses less on classes and seminars and more on defining and applying standards and best practices. And it views education not as a set of classes in a given semester, but as a continuous stream of information.

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