" All the news that's fit to display in your browser. "


Overview

The first part of this case study will give an overview of the service under scrutiny, in this case, the New York Times. After summarizing the sections of the Internet Newspaper (i-news or i-paper), the
analysis section deconstructs the components of the paper, from which I can draw conclusions. Finally, I will summarize what I have found.

Introduction

The New York Times stands at the fore-front of American journalism. For this reason, this case study could be viewed as the most important one. I believe that the Times has made an effective transition from print news delivery to the on-line realm, and the the following paragraphs detail the reasons behind my conclusion. I will take special care to highlight differences from the print edition, where the user of the site derives added value from the new medium.

The Beginning

We begin by examing the first page one sees, the starting point for accessing the news and other information on this homepage. I examine news that was delivered on December 3rd, 1996 (no, I didn't start this project late, I just started taking gifs from sites late).

This page provides a good starting point for both the beginner as well as someone who is experienced with using the site. On the left, the user can use the menu to jump to specific sections or get an overview of what news is available, the middle displays a ".gif" of one of the prominent news stories of the day, and the right gives the user pointers to two top stories: one from the "regular " print Times, and the other from the "CyberTimes." Note that on the real home page, one can click on any part of the picture above to jump to the appropriate site; however, the pictures in this review will not provide that capability, for obvious reasons.

The Front Page

We begin by jumping to the front page, which is analagous to the front page of the print version. As you can see below, the page immediately reminds us of the Times. The headlines are smattered across the page, in the usual collection of Times-like fonts, and clicking on any of the regions will jump you directly to the appropriate story.

In the upper left, click on Quick Read Summaries, and you will get to a page of brief summaries of the top stories. This can be useful if you don't have a lot of time to read whole articles. Across the top, in the upper left, we can click and find out what the printed page looks like. This feature doesn't seem to have much use.

Finally, across the bottom, we see a group of six boxes, which form the control panel. This allows us to quickly jump back to the top-level page, go to a section overview page, check out the contents of the paper, search for articles based on keyword, go to the forums provided by the Times (much like news groups), or seek help. More on all of these can be found in the analysis section below.

Reading an Article

Articles have a standard format in the Times. Black text on a white foreground makes up the majority of each document. Each article optionally begins with a list of pointers to related articles in the Times itself, and optionally ends with a list of pointers to related sites on the web, often with more background information on the article. The occasional audio clip, graphic, or video clip accompanies the article, though I found this to be the exception rather than the rule.

The Rest of The Paper

The rest of the standard paper is organized as you would expect. There are a number of standard sections, including business, sports, metropolitan news, the arts, editorials, politics, the job market, real estate, and a travel section. A number of these sections have internet value-added. They provide more to the end-user on-line than they would in print form, and that is what I now highlight.

One good example of additional value gained through the electronic form is found in the Business section. One service provided here is the ability to look up market quotes by symbol. This provides a clear edge over the method found in the paper. Further, there is some background information on capital funds, bonds, mutual funds, and the like, all of which would not be printed in a daily newspaper.

The addition of portfolio capability allows a user to track a set of stocks (presumably the ones he/she owns) with ease and convenience. Just type in the names and amounts, and see how much you're worth!

This is also an example of information outsourcing that the web facilitates. The stock quotes, for example, are provided by Quote.com , a company specializing in web-delivery of stock prices. By letting an expert service handle these kinds of details, the Times itself does not have to be master of all information domains. I expect these types of information services to be commonplace in the near-future, if they are not already.

The Arts & Leisure section also provides some nice usage of the medium for better information delivery. The stories in this section tended towards the more colorful, with more pictures than the hard-core news articles. Current movie listing were available (with some search capabilities), and you could even dig up old reviews of that movie you've been meaning to see, but just hadn't had the time to go to (until now). Print form would require the reader to save movie reviews to achieve the same end.

The Travel section is another example of how the Internet will change news delivery. The travel section normally appears in the Sunday edition of the Times. On the Web, however, it is available every day, though it changes with the same periodicity. Some other specials in this section include the "Frugal Traveler ", which gives tips for cheap travel around the country, and a backlog of Travel Q & A, with a lot of handy answers about common travel questions from users. The Q & A demonstrates two strengths of the web: the famed buzzword interactivity , which makes it easier to write the newspaper and ask a question, and the archival nature of the web, which lets old information on the web stay around, the type of thing the print form of the paper wouldn't reprint every week.

The Classifieds and the Job Market use the web in just the manner you would expect: they let you search the contents with keywords. I tried out the search and had varied success. It wasn't clear to me that all the ads that one can find in the printed paper could be found here.

Finally, the Sports section takes advantage of the medium by taking a more national approach to sports coverage, with some information outsourced from The Sports Network . This site shows another big advantage of the electronic medium: statistics . Computers are wonderful at storehousing vast quantities of information (some would say that is all that they do). Sports statistics are one such example.

The CyberTimes

The CyberTimes marks the beginning of truly unique content intended just for on-line delivery. Although some of the previous regular sections of the paper have been enhanced for the medium, this section was created with the sole purpose of electronic use.

The C-Times has three or four daily stories on issues related to the web. On December 3rd, for example, the articles included something on buying personal computers, advertising on the 'net, and a story about flat rates and their effect on service usage.

These articles are somewhat different than the articles found in the rest of the Times, usually containing more links to related sites and more images. However, they still manage to retain the basic look and feel of the newspaper, and merge seemlessly into the package as a whole.

The C-Times also has some weekly columns about cyber-issues, including "Digital Metropolis ", which gives information about on-goings on the web, "Surf and Turf ", a grab bag of web stories, "arts@large ", about how arts are entertainment are going electronic, "Internet Q + A ", a session that allows users to ask questions about cyber-whatever, and "Hyperwocky", a miscellaneous column of electronic news.

There are two other features available from the CyberTimes page that should be mentioned. First, the Navigator feature provides the user with a guide to various parts of the web. A long list of search engines is available, a collection of reference material for journalists (perhaps this began with internal use by staff members!), a reference desk of pointers to various information sites on the web, a list of other electronic publications, some pointers to politics-related sites, and finally a list of web-sites for people in the New York region. I found that this page was a good resource (it's now one of my bookmarks); furthermore, it is probably a good place for beginners to start feeling their way around the web.

The second feature is the glossary, clearly designed with the novice web-user in mind. This alphabetical listing begins with Archie and the ARPAnet and ends with 'zine, covering a lot of common electronic terms (e-terms?) in-between. Probably a reasonable list for anyone new to the whole Internet craze.

Web Specials

Another section that appeared in the paper was specifically entitled " Web Specials. " This section provides a number of hyperlink-heavy and gif-gorged stories on various events and happenings, usually with a local slant.

This section was also more static than the rest of the paper, not changing daily or even necessarily weekly, but perhaps monthly. For example, This gave it less the feel of a newspaper and more the feel of a magazine.

Analysis

In this section, I provide an analysis of the various components that make up an InterNews service, along a number of different axes. This will form the basic review for all the sites that I visit in this article.

Presentation

I found the presentation of the site to be superb, with one major key to information presentation: uniformity . By having the top-level site of each section (front page, business, etc.) look and feel the same, the user is not constantly trying to figure out how to access the information, but what information to access, which is how it should be.

Quality of Articles

Articles in the New York Times are known to be some of the best in Journalism, and the web site keeps up the tradition. This should be of no surprise, as the majority of the content is directly the same as in the written paper.

Article Format

The format of the articles was clean, with a good text-oriented feel. The text was black on a white background, with just enough color to keep it interesting (i.e. the first word of each paragraph was a capital bold letter in red). Again, the presence of uniformity across articles was important in delivering a comfortable presence to the reader.

Navigation Tools

Each site seems to provide some form of "control panel " that allows users to quickly jump around the site. Below, I show you the Times' control panel.

The panel was easy to understand, but perhaps lacked in getting you to all the sections of the paper, often requiring two jumps. Further, when jumping to the box with the caption "section", you are given these options as sections of the paper:

Unfortunately, the naive user might ask: where is the sports section? How do I get to the obituaries? These are not found in the section index, but can only be reached through the "News By Category ", which is a text super-set of the above. I don't understand why this is the case, and it took me a little while to figure out how to get around exactly the way I wanted.

The one thing that was good about the look-and-feel was that it keeps the reader grounded . The context of a given page is easily understood by its look and feel, which helps to ensure that you don't get lost among the abundance of web pages.

On-line Help

As you could see above, help is immediately available through the control panel, and is quite useful in getting oriented with the site. Included is a welcome message, a quick tour of the site, a way to find the sections that correspond to the printed page, and some registration and contact information.

The tour is a good way to get situated with the look and feel of the site, and provides a nice way to spend 15 minutes looking at the days news as well.

Search Capabilities

The search capabilities of the site seemed to be quite reasonable; typing in a popular search phrase (e.g., O.J. Simpson) leads to quite a large number of articles. The searches can consist of up to three search terms, can be limited to a certain number, and can be ordered in any of up to six ways.

Timeliness of Content

One major advantage that the Internet could provide for news delivery is round the clock service. In print form, news reporting is tied to the delivery of the paper, whether in the morning of afternoon. The news on the web has no such physical limitation. However, the Times takes only limited advantage of that, providing the main paper in the morning, followed by a few updates throughout the day. It is not yet (and may never be) a round the clock news service.

Use of Multimedia and Hypertext

The Times does an adequate job of using links to related articles (within the Times itself) and related sites, although many articles have no links whatsoever. Note that there were very few hype-o's (broken links); I found about one per day, which is a good sign that the site is well maintained.

More advanced multimedia features (graphics, pictures, audio, and video) could be found in small doses, but this definitely was not the dominant form of information delivery. Perhaps it is just the roots of the service shining through: it's the words that counts to these people.

Electronic Partnerships

Finally, I comment on the last way an internet service can take advantage of the medium: using other internet services to deliver content. As I mentioned before, the Times does this in more than one way, with stock prices as well as sports scores. The Times has yet to embrace other local news services to truly provide a single paper that the whole country could read.

On-line Forums

These are the standard, run-of-the-mill newsgroup type things provided by many newspapers. Nothing special here.

Summary

The New York Times provides solid, on-line delivery of the news. The articles are well-written and sometimes provide useful links to other related sites on the web as well as related news articles in the Times itself. The look-and-feel of the site is terrific, and gives users a straight-forward method of news access.

The site provides a number of useful add-ons only possible in the electronic world, including stock prices, sports information, search capabilities, and guided access to the information on the site.

On the down side, the site was cleary still mostly a print paper, but on-line. News delivery still seems to be tied to the concept of morning delivery, and use of multimedia is limited. Perhaps time and increased readership will slowly alter this.


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