Mass Net Media?
Early experiments are encouraging. HotWired, as this paper illustrates, has fostered lively
discussion about internet-related issues while drawing thousands of surfers to its pages, as has
Pathfinder, the Time Inc. service that opening in late October. Both magazines have
developed an interactive interface that allows readers to post in HTML, a feature that means
the publications can develop almost organically, tapping the ideas of readers and permitting
them to shape the environment as they explore it. Time Inc., especially, approximates the
ideal of the netpaper as home page of the future, with "Time Universe" providing links to
research materials, exciting internet sites and Time's own archives. On a more local scale,
Nando is fast beoming the homepage for the Triangle, offering local information, restaurant
and hotel listings and an entertainment server along with excerpts from the daily paper. The
advertising isn't up yet, but Bruce Siceloff, on-line editor for the newspaper, said they
ultimately expect the web site to be funded entirely by ads. The News and Observer's
approach provides a further model for the future of the netpaper because the publisher is
selling internet access to the Triangle, collecting monthly access fees while increasing the
"circulation" of the netpaper.
The News and Observer's strategy is a good one for local newspapers preparing to
face on the net. While the computer screen has its limitations, enterprising netpapers can offer
myriad resources to their communities and make money doing it. Making money should be
fairly easy once netpapers gather a large enough audience to attract area advertisers, a task
which will be challenging, but will likely become exponentially easier as local netpapers pop
up around the country. In such a scenario, the "newspaper" will survive, in the sense that
Thomas Jefferson intended it, informing the electorate and bringing together a community.
But the local-netpaper-as-community-home-page vision is not a given; any number of forces
could instead create a net dominated by entertainment providers but for scattered public
access channels too numerous and too amateurish to draw viewers away from one endless
movie-on-demand. To prevent the emergence of what Kapor and Berman call a
"superhighway through a wasteland," journalists must prepare to shape the future of the
netpaper, playing an active role as their editors and publishers contemplate on-line ventures.
Cyberjournalism is not about another outlet for advertising; it is a fundamental reshaping of
how reporters fulfill their role in a democracy. Journalists must insist that the netpaper
provide inexpensive access to information in order to continue informing a broad population
on issues that affect them. They must fight for software that creates dynamic links and
transforms rigid text into an evolving, nearly-alive organism. They must resist the set-top box,
instead encouraging netpapers to provide computer-based, truly interactive web access to
readers. Finally, they must engage the resources of the Internet in order to provide their
readers with "all the news that's fit to link."
Speaking to Il Congress de Mitjans de Comunicacio in Valncia, Spain, in October,
Infolab director Wayne MacPhail lays out such a vision:
Done properly, on-line systems—whether standalone products or home pages on the
Internet-can put newspapers at the centre of a growing, connected electronic community. That
community can share knowledge and experience and look to the newspaper for and its
journalists for explanation, background and filtering.
Someday, the netpaper will probably replace print newspapers , as more and more
of communities begin to move on-line for the information they need to know in order to act.
Yet the demise of newsprint does not mean the demise of journalists - in fact, the shift will
make good reporters even more crucial as intelligent guides to the overwhelming world of
available information. But to become cyberspace guides, journalists will first need to be
pioneers and explorers, learning what information needs to be filtered and where to find it.
For ultimately, as McPhail puts it, "In an world where everyone has access to information,
wisdom will become the differentiating commodity."
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Copyright 2002 Alison Stuebe
Alison's Wonderland / http://www.stuebegreen.com/wonderland/ firstname.lastname@example.org