Overview

Introduction

The Washington Post is another well-know print paper, and they make a reasonable foray into the electronic world of InterNews. While both the N.Y. and L.A. Times seem to offer their printed news form as the first and foremost reason for site access, the Post takes some pains to provide some extra benefits for on-line users, and as they say, there is more information than available in
print.

The Standard News

The post takes an interesting tack on delivering the news: they have a version of the news that is meant only for Internet delivery. If you want what is in the paper, a little button at the side of each section, international, national, business, etc., gives you a laundry list of all the articles in the printed edition. The button is shown below:

If you are not addicted to that, you can jump to the top three or four stories quite readily, or you can search for what you're looking for, or simply read one of the items featured in the day's digital section. You can get a better idea of what this looks like here .

Each section optionally has a list of news that is available only on-line, which is also demonstrated in the link above. This really lets the reader know: there is a point to being on-line.

The rest of the overview focuses on the wealth of electronic services provided by the paper, since discussion of the details of the business section can be quite dry.

Interact

Interact is a section of "Talk & Technology." Presumably, this is a good thing. They have links to discussion areas, random web links, and a bunch of other stuff, outlined below. In reality, Interact is really an e-zine in disguise.

The Web Exploration Society lets you take a tour of fifteen sites, which have been laid out nicely by the staffers, and sub-divided into five categories: for beginners, web resources, fun, special interests, and miscellaneous. This provides a good way to start surfing for those who haven't surfed much, but probably isn't comprehensive enough to be useful for the experienced web user.

Cybersurfing provides a weekly column on "Perturbations, pleasures and predicaments on the information superhighway." not bad, but not as much as the New York Times delivers. Meet The Staff allows you to find out who the hell is behind this on-line effort, and the result is amazing. Roughly 30 to 40 people are full-time staffers for the site .

There's a number of other areas in this section (too much for me to cover here), but the titles give you an inkling: Homework Maniac, a resource for kids doing their homework, Computer Tutor, Technology News, the latest A.P. and Post News on Technology, and so on.

Interplay with the Printed Paper

The Post has a feature that I expect to become more common, and it's called: For More Information. In the daily printed paper, certain articles are marked to indicate that there is more information on-line about the article. Presumably, the interested (and connected) reader can check out the web-site and find out what the big deal is all about. Usually, the web-site will provide one or two links to sites with more information. Four or five would be better, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.

As you can see, a synergy between print and electronic forms is possible. The key insight is that the electronic medium is perfect for this kind of background information.

Digital Specialists

The Post adds value to being on-line yet again with the addition of digital specialists , people who will answer you e-mail about questions in a specific area. Two current assistants to the readers are the TaxGuy and the Digital Trainer.

The former can provide the user with help on various tax issues, all the way up to the filing date. The latter can answer all the questions you might have about staying in shape and exercising. Is the paper liable for bad advice that the experts might give?

Washington World

Washington world is essentially the on-line metro section of the paper. There is local news for every region that the Post considers within the metro region, from Alexandria to Southern Maryland. More than just stories about local on-goings, W-World provides a huge variety of on-line services and resource guides for local residents.

One example of this is College Post: this service is aimed at the large group of college-going groupies around the D.C. area, including a ton of schools like Georgetown, and some others that I can't seem to recall. Some services include a site index (for those new to the site), a book exchange (where you can post what books you are selling), and beyond the mall (a list of attractions in the area).

Perhaps the most interesting service is known as date-a-base (pun intended), an on-line dating service for those crazy college kids.

One final example of what this enhanced metro section provides is called School Matters, and it is aimed at young kids in school. Not only is there a resource guide to the Web aimed at helping studying students, but also another one of those pesky digital specialists, this time an on-line research specialist, to answer questions about teachers, schools, and how to help your child succeed in the classroom (well, that was a quote from the page, if you were wondering, which I'm sure you were). There are also some services here that children won't be quite as thrilled by: an on-line way for parents to figure out when report cards are due. No more lying about that!

Television Database

Finally, let me briefly pontificate on a feature of the InterNews service allows the user to access an electronic T.V. Guide. This feature is even customizable, allowing you to construct your own personal guide to boob-tube viewing. Click on "Seinfeld" and find out what each episode in the upcoming months is about. Now isn't this what you had in mind when you think of the capabilities of the Internet?

Analysis

Presentation

The presentation, though at times a little bit color-rich bordering on gaudy, took a different approach than the conservative looks of the N.Y. Times and the plain ugly looks of the L.A. Times. The paper actually looks like a web page, as surprising as that may seem.

Quality of Articles

The quality of the articles varied. While the ones from the standard paper were of reasonable quality, I felt that some of the other specials were not quite up to the same standard. Of course, I may just be comparing apples and oranges, since it is difficult if not impossible to judge the writing quality of a section entitled "date-a-base."

Article Format

The format of the standard news articles was a good one, perhaps a subtle step above even the N.Y. Times. The articles occupied the right four-fifths of the screen, a discreet advertisement in the upper-left, the control panel across the top and bottom (see the next section), and a column down the left-hand side. This column is the interesting part of the layout, offering a set of related links along with a small paragraph that describes each link. I found this feature to be quite helpful in deciding whether to jump to a site or not.

Navigation Tools

As mentioned above, the control panel graces both the top and bottom of the page, and is shown in the picture below. The panel is succinct and to the point, allowing the user to get anywhere in two hops via the site index.

The ability to navigate throughout the entire site is somewhat hampered by a certain lack of uniformity. This lack can be directly attributed to the wealth of disjunct information available on the site, in the form of a variety of mini-electronic magazines, so perhaps it is forgiven. Given the variety of the site, I never had trouble finding my way around.

There is one small feature that keeps you in context . A small message warns when you are potentially leaving the site: Editor's Note: Some of these links will take you out of the WashingtonPost.com web site. To return, use the Back button on your browser. This ensures that you know when you are about to hit a link that leaves the web site, which did not happen on any other site I reviewed. A small, but useful, warning.

On-line Help

The first thing that help tells you is simple: contact them if you can't find the answer. Good attitude. Good for you, too, since the rest of the help page is somewhat brief. There is information on the site (organization, availability, and a little company history), some help with getting on the Internet (doesn't make too much sense as an on-line guide if you ask me), ways to reach the staff, and the usual "Web Basics" aimed at users new to the concept of the Web.

Search Capabilities

I found that the search capabilities are better than most other newspapers. They exceed other newspaper searchers with the ability to search by headline, author, or keyword, with the usual data range limitations applicable. You can also look for AP articles, Post articles, or items especially from the on-line service. Soon, they will have archives back to 1986. The wonder of computers!

Timeliness Of Content

Here we have a daily newspaper plus a number of regular features which others might call e-zines. In terms of how often these things are updated, about once a day and maybe once a week/month, respectively. Some A.P. news is up to the minute, though.

Use of Multimedia

The raw news makes little use of pictures, and good use of hypertext. There is essentially no audio or video to be found. The specials make more heavy use of pictures, but still no audio or video.

On-line Forums

The usual on-line forums exist; this one is called " Washington World Talk " Nothing more than a set of newsgroups with a nifty name.

Electronic Partnerships

Finally, we note that the Post has less affiliation with other sites, but this may be because it subsumed another site some time in the past (about three years ago).

Summary

The Post provides a reasonable take on InterNews; the medium is the message, and that is well understood here. There is a lot of value added to being on-line, and this might the site with the most besides news. The true convergence of on-line newspapers and magazines can be found here.


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