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It didn’t surprise us a bit when it was announced in September that the 279-year-old Lloyd’s List newspaper would be available only in digital format after 20th December 2013. Online publishing is a market imperative. Those who defy it risk going the way of the Tyrannosaurus rex. The question is not how many more will shift away from paper and print but rather: how is the internet shaping the maritime press and where is it all leading to?

One trend that has not escaped our eye is the apparent uniformity of news content and style. Articles published in different websites resemble each other. Even the headlines read alike. This is not surprising. It’s a race for visitor traffic, page views and Google rankings. The best runners are those who follow the rules of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), which call for, amongst other things, the use of certain keywords and manners of syntax. For all the freedom it connotes, the internet will continue to dictate the way news is presented.

There’s another factor fuelling the homogenisation of the maritime press: the increasing reliance by editors on press releases. Nothing really wrong with this. The trouble is, press releases are often swallowed hook, line and sinker by news desks. Editors may shorten these articles but few would bother to re-write them. If time is of the essence in the traditional print media, it is even more so in cyber news publishing.

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Today’s copy-and-paste journalists are like the cattle rustlers of the 19th century

To be sure, one still finds original content in some websites. Unfortunately, those who offer what journalists of old called ‘enterprise stories’ are up against the rise of copy-and-paste journalism. We’ve seen a number of maritime journals and news portals engage in the practice. In some cases, the editors seem to believe that providing a URL link justifies the reproduction of entire articles without permission. They forget that the freedom of the internet does not bestow the right to filch articles and trample on intellectual property rights.

Looking at these currents, we’re glad that we quit maritime journalism in 2009 in favour of blogging. Even so, it’s a brave new world for the maritime press. We can see the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead – not least, the need for publishers to meet the demands of mobile computing. However the maritime press morphs, readers deserve more than what they seem to be getting at the moment. ~Barista Uno

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