InterNews: A Case Study of News Delivery on the Internet

by J.net staff member Remzi Arpaci

Introduction

" The Medium is the Message because it is the medium that shapes and controls the search and form of human associations and actions. " - Marshall McLuhan

The Internet as it stands today provides a new and unique medium for news delivery. The capabilities of on-line service are unlimited; there is tremendous potential for a combination of all previous forms of news delivery, from the depth of coverage found in standard print form, to the timeliness and comfort of voice-only delivery found on the radio, to the drama provided by video clips that one might see on television.

Two primary hurdles exist for this new realm of journalism, which I dub InterNews, before it can take hold and become the main news source for the people of this country. The first is technological: will the necessary infrastructure exist to provide what users demand? Will the bandwidth capacity be there? Will text be as easy to read on a monitor as it is on paper? The second is less technological, and more dependent on the journalists themselves. Will the creators of today's news content embrace the new medium, and take advantage of what it can deliver, or will they simply provide what they already do in an on-line format?

The technological question is difficult to forecast, as it depends on a number of sociological and technical factors, and will not be the focus of this essay. It is this second question I explore in the paragraphs that follow. This study consists of a critical evaluation of a number of today's InterNews services, concentrating on those derived from standard print newspapers and contrasting those to a number of other InterNews service providers. Though I believe the major print news services will be the determing factor in shaping InterNews in the years to come, I believe they will learn something from their electronic counterparts in the years to come, as journalists and others grow to understand the power and capabilities of the Internet as a medium for information delivery.

Print Newspapers Going On-Line

In this section, I critically examine a number of newspapers that have begun delivering news on the Internet. I will focus on two major aspects of this. The first aspect: how is the delivery of news different on the Internet than it is in print form? The second aspect, which is related to the first: What is the value-added provided by the InterNews services? Click on the images below to find out more.

We have now seen a number of major print newspapers that moved on-line, and the results have been good. The New York Times has provided us with the best in hard-core journalism, as was probably expected. The L.A. Times, while providing the standard news sufficiently, did not stand out because of that, but instead excelled at entertainment services, hinting at one strength of the on-line medium, specialization . We will see more of that below. The Washington Post also provided the raw news effectively, showed another facet of the coming InterNews services: the convergence of electronic newspapers and magazines . By offering a bundle of slow-changing magazine-like material, the Post distinguished itself from the other services.

All three services have made use of information outsourcing , pointing the user to other web-sites when their's are deficient. This kind of collaboration is only possible on an electronic medium.

Newspapers From Other Realms

Here I will look at three services that provide news only via the Internet, with no corollary in print form. This will provide a contrast to the newspapers that have moved on-line, allowing us to see strengths and weaknesses of the print forms versus on-line ones. Click on the images below to find out more.

In this section, we have seen a nice contrast to the InterNews services with print beginnings. ESPNet's Sportszone provides an interesting case study, as it shows the possibilities of specialization , not viable in the print medium (remember "The National?"), but successful in the realm of cable TV. Nando is quite another extreme, providing timely news delivery and not much else, but definitely taking the timeliness to its extreme. Both sites also makes use of more advanced technical features, including java applets and shockwave plug-ins, both of which weren't so popular on the print-derived sites. Finally, CNN shows what happens when a TV site starts an InterNews service: lots of pictures and little substance. However, we did see that CNN had the best remote control system, something all the other sites could learn from.

An Interview

In this final section, I show the results of an electronic interview with Steve Steinberg, a syndicated columnist for the L.A. Times, and contributing editor at WiReD magazine. I ask Steve about various aspects of journalism and the Internet.

The Internet has one other potentially large impact on news delivery: the number of news sources one can access. No longer are you relegated to the choice between the local paper and perhaps the New York Times. All InterNews services are equally accessible , more or less. As Steve was quick to point out about the net, "What IS different is the number of choices."

Conclusions

The Internet is an expansive medium, combining the capabilities of all previous mediums: the newspaper's ability to deliver printed articles, magazine's photo-glossy appeal, the radio's audio broadcasting, and the television's video delivery (although some bandwidth issues currently affect the TV ability of the Internet). As the information brokers of this medium all struggle to get on board the bandwidth bandwagon, a new media force is forming, with unclear implications for all of the former players. Who will dominate the medium? What will this new InterNews service look like? By examing the state of Internews today, we can begin to understand where we are headed, and what the services will look like.

First, I have scrutinized print newspapers that have moved on-line, including the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post, and found that they have all done a reasonable job of getting their original items of value onto the web: their articles. From this study, we have seen that the print rules in this domain, though some sites are better than others in use of pictures and hyperlinks. We have also seen the beginnings of convergence, with newspapers taking on magazine-ish subsidiaries, and information outsourcing , where sites specialize with what they do best, and hand the user off to other locales for particulars (e.g., stock quotes or sports scores).

Second, I have examined a number of on-line news services that do not have a corresponding print form. These have shown us a number of strengths of the Internet, including timeliness , with news delivered around the clock, and programmability , including small Java applets that can broadcast sports scores to your desktop continuously. While these sites had more visual appeal than some of the print sites, I found that beauty is only skin deep; without substance, pictures can only go so far.

Finally, I interviewed Steve Steinberg, a syndicated columnist and contributing editor to Wired magazine. Above all, Steve noted that the key to the Internet is the choice it provides us; we are no longer relegated to just a few choices of local or national options.

Let me conclude with a few observations I have made over the course of this examination. Uniformly, sites have taken advantage of the medium and its backbone (that is computers) in a number of ways. Almost all sites provide search capabilities , as well as access to archives. Is there a down-side to all of this? In the course of performing this study, I often felt the weight of information overload on my shoulders. The wealth of news on any single home page was enough to sizzle the synapses; this overwhelming feeling of missing out can only be alleviated by better understanding how to organize InterNews sites and allow users to have easy access to all the information.

Will any one media format dominate the others, or will they all fill niches as they currently do? It is hard to imagine the future without the Internet playing a major role. It is equally difficult to envision American homes without televisions or newspapers.

Will we see ultimate convergence of all these forms of media? In some sense, we are already experiencing a convergence, or perhaps collaboration, of the multiple forms of media. Take the example of the Washington Post, where the printed page points the reader to a web page of background information on articles. Though it was not considered in this study, MSNBC marries the mediums of television and the Internet.

Perhaps in the future, when one says: "I read the Times " in the usual snobbish manner, it will only mean: "I go to the Times home page first, and then they point me to all the news I need. " That pointer may lead to a television clip, an audio recording, a magazine article, or maybe just a printed page.