Written by Nina Büchs
Peter Olsthoorn (1960) is a Dutch investigative journalist and author of books as The Power of Google and The Power of Facebook. In 1995, he was one of the first internet reporters worldwide. During his career, he gained experience as a local reporter at the Economisch Dagblad, went as a European correspondent to Hungary and Prague and founded Planet Multimedia, one of the first European e-zines. In the interview, he talks about how the internet changed the job as a journalist and which challenges the media industry faces today.
International Angle: You have been a journalist since 1978. How did the job as a journalist look like in the past? And how has it changed?
Peter Olsthoorn:As a young reporter, I had to take the train to get to the library, where I searched for information by browsing books. Also, I went out a lot, to speak to people, organizations or companies. This was the way I gathered information. Since Google has been developed, desk research is playing a bigger role for journalists. Today, I invest much more time in searching information online. The intensity of the research is even 10 times higher than it was in the past, because of the huge flood of information. So, collecting information has become easier. But that’s not just a benefit for journalists. It is also a problem: Through the overload of information, the intensity of research and the lasting progress to select relevant news, it is much more difficult to produce quick content. The information streams are not only more complex, but always evolving in time and they never end. Maybe journalists should stick less to their screens and meet more people in real life or observe.
International Angle: Does that mean journalists must deal with more challenges today, than in the past?
Peter Olsthoorn:Well it’s true that the internet also provides more challenges for journalists because the public is much more informed than in the past. Today, readers and viewers know as much as the journalist know and even more, because with Google, they have the same sources as you as a reporter do. And the story or information is harder to make exclusive. If you write an article about a specific subject, there might be newspapers or organizations that have already published the same content online. So, on one hand, the internet is easy for getting information. But on the other hand, you need to be much faster than your competitors to publish a story. Today, we are in a constant hurry of getting and publishing information.
International Angle: Nowadays, some experts say that journalism, especially newspapers, will die. How do you see the future of journalism? Do you think we need new strategies to survive?
Peter Olsthoorn:I think that newspapers will survive. They will still be used to provide important news and background stories. But we, as journalists, need to change. The next generation should adapt to new technologies and create new formats. Instead of focusing on words or TV shows, data and infographics will become more important. Also, journalism needs to ask itself: How do we reach the public? We need to be aware that the reader’s expectations have changed, so journalists need to be more simple, light and entertaining to address this generation. Most of the people are more interested in news that match their opinions than they are in bare facts. Furthermore, they want to be entertained and not just read and process too many facts. Sometimes I need to rewrite my articles, because the editor in chief says there is too much information in it. Today, the main need for readers and viewers is to get entertained, for example by lifestyle journalism. That’s a development I understand, but for a hardcore journalist it’s hard to accept.