Mari, Newsrooms and the Disruption of the Internet

2023-1 | Download PDF

Mari, Will. Newsrooms and the Disruption of the Internet: A Short History of Disruptive Technologies, 1990-2010. United Kingdom: Routledge, 2022, 120 pp., $56.00 (hardcover). Reviewed by Sara Shaban, Seattle Pacific University,

In Will Mari’s (2022) Newsrooms and the Disruption of the Internet: A Short History of Disruptive Technologies, 1990-2010, the author develops a framework for scholars focused on the history of the internet and its relationship to newsroom practices. The book is not meant to serve as a comprehensive encyclopedia of the internet; therefore, the reader should manage their expectations as such. Instead, the purpose of the book is to present a brief overview of the relationship between the internet and journalistic routines–a point of reference for future scholarship regarding internet history and journalism. Moreover, Mari aims to embrace a nuanced approach to this history and avoid simplistic narratives that focus on the missteps made by newsrooms’ reactions and adaptation to the internet.

Mari walks the reader through the complexities surrounding the relationship between the internet and the newsroom with a preamble of how newspapers first engaged with online spaces. Through a comparative examination of both the United States and Great Britain’s reactions and strategies when adapting to the internet, Mari showcases the need for case studies focused on internet adoption in newsrooms, rather than assuming a universal process for internet adaptation. By exploring the differences and similarities in early experiences with the internet and newsroom practices between the two countries, the study subscribes to the acknowledgment of uncertainty and disorder regarding transnational internet histories. Additionally, Mari explores how web-based tools (i.e., databases, email, audio, and video elements) changed newsgathering practices as well as storytelling norms. Mari digs through memoirs of the likes of Tom Rosenstiel and interviews with reporters like the St. Louis Dispatch’s Jennifer LaFleur to reveal the challenges that come with the inclusion of new technology in newsrooms–especially the training that comes with that introduction–an issue some journalists are still facing today. Mari continues to speak to contemporary issues by shedding light on when and how the internet presented new expectations regarding reader engagement, particularly the use of email and discussion boards. With these new challenges also come new opportunities, like the introduction of the “blogosphere,” which created more room for mobile journalism and an accessible entry-point for citizen journalism/reader-sourced content. Mari concludes the book with a summary of how the internet both did and did not disrupt journalism and laces the last chapter with a peek into how social media would change the landscape of news. 

Again, the purpose of this book is not to serve as an encyclopedic history of the internet or even as a comprehensive look into how the internet disrupted journalism. Instead, Mari’s short history is meant to be a guideline for those scholars interested in the internet’s impact on journalism. At several points in the book, there are opportunities to highlight specific research interests, and Mari provides an entry point to begin that scholarly journey. 

A secondary purpose for the book is to encompass a nuanced lens for viewing the internet’s disruption of journalism rather than focusing on online ad revenue’s ruination of journalism or creating lazy, stereotypical binaries between local newspapers (heroes) and Craigslist (villain). By leaning into the nuances of the relationship between the internet and journalism, Mari makes sure to include not only how journalism changed with the introduction of the internet inside newsrooms, but also how much journalism did not change. The author explores these complexities by looking at the journalists themselves and examining trade publications like the Columbia Journalism Review and Quill as well as memoirs from prominent news leaders and innovators like Alan Rusbridger (editor-in-chief of The Guardian from 1995 into the 2010s) and Rodger Fiddler (leader on experimental projects for Knight Ridder). The sample included in this study was meant to provide a representative reality of the rank-and-file journalism field. While some interviews were included in the book, more oral history would have been a significant asset to the study; however, the author acknowledges this from the beginning in stating that other scholarship focuses more on this type of data and more work is still in development.  Additionally, Mari’s book aims to embrace the nuance of the internet and journalism; however, he limits comparative analysis to two dominant Western countries, the US and the UK. The book lacks cultural context which is vital to a successfully nuanced outlook especially as it pertains to non-Western newsrooms’ adoption and use of the internet in journalistic practice. That said, Mari’s book does not promise more than it can, and does, deliver. The purpose of the book is to serve as a starting point, making the study useful for those interested in researching the history of the internet’s impact on journalism as well as undergraduate journalism courses focused on media’s influence on society.