Traditional media have accepted the internet as new channel for content distribution even though television is still considered most relevant media.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 08/09/12
Reading and working outside offices is a new trend in the Balkans. [Nada Bozic/SETimes]
The internet has increasingly broadened the accessibility of online media in the region but a debate has ensued about the veracity of information and the usefulness of the diverse internet venues to news consumers, experts said.
Users list the speed, convenience in obtaining and checking information as well as the ability to choose or exclude content, as online media's advantages.
"Online media's most important advantages are interactivity and the possibility to communicate with numerous consumers at the same time," Jelena Zugic, associate professor of business at the Montenegro Business School in Podgorica, told SETimes.
"[Nevertheless,] users must be very careful to avoid being manipulated, she added.
Zugic explained online media still does not have the credibility that print media and television do but it allows for a two-way communication between journalists and readers while using the same platform.
"The big change in the paradigm 'we write -- you read' has shocked the traditional information access and distribution models. Now journalism becomes a conversation, a dialogue," Stanislav Bender, professor of journalism at the Vern Academy in Zagreb, told SETimes.
Bender explained virtually all media in the region have also developed online iterations.
The influence of online media is firmly connected to its traditional format, argued Igor Aleksic, president of the Vojvodina Association of Journalists.
"[I]t is considered cheap news production, without significant costs or desks. Without at least some breaking news, they are not interesting because users have numerous choices elsewhere," Aleksic told SETimes.
Both traditional and online media have advantages and disadvantages, experts said.
"The budget to develop the online media is significantly lower, especially now during the recession," Jan Jilek, vice president of The Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe, the official representative of The Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe in Croatia, told SETimes.
Lilek explained citizens in the region use the internet and watch TV simultaneously to enhance their experience; in Croatia, consumers spend a little over 17 hours per week on the once dominant television and 15 hours on the internet on average.
Those who follow the new developments and adjust -- prosper, while those who remain conservative in time lose the game, Jilek added.
A significant value added is that online media the increase in media independence, according to Vanja Ibrahimbegovic Tihak, institutional development expert at Internews BiH, a USAID programme to strengthen media independence.
She explained that the Internet is an interactive medium that offers technical possibilities to transcend all other media albeit at a price.
"Most popular are the sites launched by people, usually experts for technological -- communicational tools without journalist education. They have an impact on the news quality which is, according to research, a bit lower than in traditional media," Ibrahimovic Tihak told SETimes.
Other experts argued online media is trusted by an increasing number of people and is particularly useful to the large émigré communities.
"Without the internet and online media, our diaspora would not have a chance to watch local television channels; it means a lot to them," Tomo Knezevic, advisor at the information society and telecommunications ministry in Montenegro, told SETimes.
Maja Hriesik, 33, theatre director originally from Novi Sad who moved to Lisbon, Portugal, is one of a growing number of people who obtain the latest news solely from the internet.
"[T]he internet news are the basic connection with people in Serbia as well as basic source about local developments," Hriesik told SETimes.
"I do listen to radio but watch television only if I have to," she added, reflecting the preference shift among regional consumers.
Others, like Sanja Jovanovic, a 30-year-old Belgrade resident with a Master's degree in communication who opened a "pay per click" marketing company, argued the internet offers media multiple ways to disseminate content.
"I advocate this kind of advertising and the work is going quite well because people are highly interested in it. The market is big enough because 'pay-per-click' can be interesting for each web site owner and there are just few of us ... so we do not have strong competition," Jovanovic told SETimes.
I am certain the future belongs online, she added.