April 26, 1999
With more people going online to receive their news, media correspondent Terence Smith looks at the Internet news industry and how the Web is changing the face of news.
TERENCE SMITH: Every 100 days, the volume of traffic on the Internet doubles. And every year as estimated five to seven million more American households go online. For most, it's a means of communication.
|A new source of news.|
COMPUTER: Welcome. You've got mail.
TERENCE SMITH: But for more and more people, it is becoming a source of news as well.
DONNA SHALALA, Secretary, Health & Human Services: I'm in heaven with this new technology.
TERENCE SMITH: The latest poll shows that close to 20 percent of all Americans are now getting some of their news from the Internet.
MIKE HENRY, Engineer: It's made a real change in how I get my information. There is no question about it.
TERENCE SMITH: Like many Americans, Mike Henry, an engineer in Tucson, Arizona, first began using the Internet for work. But now he goes to the Web for news.
MIKE HENRY: Certainly when a news event occurs in the world, somebody will find out and tell everybody else, and pretty soon everybody's at that Web site looking at whatever that really spectacular news event was.
TERENCE SMITH: The war in Kosovo is one such event. Since the fighting began, news consumption on the Internet has been up an estimated 30-40 percent. Many people click on at work. Merrill Brown is editor-in-chief of MSNBC on the Internet.
MERRILL BROWN, Editor-in-Chief, MSNBC on the Internet: Nobody can listen to the radio at work on an ongoing base. Almost no one has a television at work on an ongoing basis. Everybody has a PC.
ANNOUNCER: Get the day's most important news right at your desk.
TERENCE SMITH: When MSNBC.com started operations in 1996, 50,000 people a day were visiting the site. Now that number totals a million routinely.
MERRILL BROWN: Compare a million people a day to the kinds of audiences that go to the most successful cable networks and this is in a medium that's only about 25 percent penetrated. Internet use is really only starting to happen.
|Just a click away.|
TERENCE SMITH: Quick access to a variety of news sources is one appeal.
DONNA SHALALA: Every morning I swing around the country and see what Americans in different parts of the country are reading.
TERENCE SMITH: Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala scans dozens of news Web sites online at the start of her day.
DONNA SHALALA: There really is a culture inside the beltway and it's very important that we know what's happening around the country.
TERENCE SMITH: The Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the Arizona Republic.
DONNA SHALALA: Here's the big story. It's an HMO story about a major health care insurance company cutting the salaries of doctors. And this is the kind of thing I want to pick up -
TERENCE SMITH: Why?
DONNA SHALALA: -- because this is what is making people nervous about organized care. Often what's on the front pages of the newspapers here, the New York and Washington newspapers, aren't at all what people in other parts of the country are concerned about.
TERENCE SMITH: She also keeps tabs on what influences other newsmakers.
DONNA SHALALA: This is what the Anchorage Daily News was running today.
TERENCE SMITH: Why Anchorage?
DONNA SHALALA: The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee is from Alaska.
TERENCE SMITH: There you go...
DONNA SHALALA: I want to know what he is reading in the morning.
|Easier access to information.|
TERENCE SMITH: In a global marketplace, news is becoming more critical. Paco Ollerton, a cotton farmer in Casa Grande, Arizona, says news affects his livelihood.
PACO OLLERTON, Cotton Farmer: What's happening out there makes a lot of difference in what happens with the cotton market, so I watch the news seven nights a week.
TERENCE SMITH: But since his family hooked up to the Internet at home two years ago, his TV news habits have changed.
PACO OLLERTON: The weather guys, you know, they usually have I would say two to four minutes to do their spew(sic) and they are talking about weather across the whole United States or the continent and off the Internet on some of the weather sites, I can actually get four to five-day forecasts and actually satellite photos showing a storm track. And I can do that at my leisure.
TERENCE SMITH: He finds he is using radio and television less and the Internet more.
PACO OLLERTON: It's more attuned to what I want than what I can get out of the regular medium.
TERENCE SMITH: In a nation of two-income families with ever-longer commutes, a chronic lack of time has contributed to a general decline in television viewing. Paco's wife, Karen, teaches and helps with the farm while raising their children. She sees the Internet as a time saver.
KAREN OLLERTON, Cotton Farmer: It's actually given us the opportunity to get information quickly, and then give us time to do other things. I love the Internet. It's really helped our family.
TERENCE SMITH: The speed of the Internet has made it a major source for time-sensitive data. Mike Henry:
MIKE HENRY: Once in awhile if you're wondering about selling a stock you have to call up your broker before; now you can monitor away. You feel like you're about as up to date as anybody else is, you know. You're right there on Wall Street in a way.
SPOKESMAN: The Dow ended up 878. NASDAQ was up 68.
|Delivering the news online.|
|TERENCE SMITH: At their daily story conference, the editors
of the Wall Street Journal discuss what will go on the front page
of the next day's paper. It's been done this way for years. But now there
is a new journalistic kid on the block: The Wall Street Journal
Interactive Edition. The newspaper's managing editor, Paul Steiger, said
a few years ago he realized that there was no choice but to go online.
PAUL STEIGER, Managing Editor, The Wall Street Journal: There is always the concerns that, you know, you're eating your children. I mean, you know, you're putting something out there that is going to compete with your own basic publication. But for a nanosecond you think about that and then you say, "Hey wait a minute, if we don't do it somebody else is going to do it." And so then where will we be?
TERENCE SMITH: While the circulation of the newspaper has been flat for nearly a decade, the interactive edition numbers, though smaller, keep growing.
TERENCE SMITH: You sound to me as though you're ready to put this material out via either medium.
PAUL STEIGER: Of course. Of course. I mean, you know, what we're about is finding news, finding trends, analyzing them, sifting them, choosing what's important, and then putting it in the hands of people who can use that information. And we don't care what's the best mechanism for getting it.
TERENCE SMITH: You have literally a deadline every minute here.
NEIL BUDDE, Editor, Wall Street Journal Interactive: We say we have deadlines every minute or no dead lines.
TERENCE SMITH: Neil Budde is editor of the Wall Street Journal's Interactive Edition.
TERENCE SMITH: So, Neil, are we looking at a late version of today's paper or an early version of tomorrow's paper?
NEIL BUDDE: You're looking at the Wall Street Journal as it would have been at 4:37 PM if we published the Wall Street Journal at that hour.
TERENCE SMITH: Today.
NEIL BUDDE: Today.
TERENCE SMITH: Two-thirds of Wall Street Journal Interactive subscribers do not buy the newspaper. The journal sees them as a new audience. They tend to be younger and more technologically oriented. The attractions online? Speed, the ability to search archives and a wealth of data.
NEIL BUDDE: We have much greater depth than we're able to deliver in print. Print is constrained by a certain number of pages, of space available.
|A different audience?|
|TERENCE SMITH: Neil Budde believes that the journal's online
readership may exceed the 1.8 million traditional subscribers in as little
as five years.
TERENCE SMITH: You talk about the print paper the way one would talk about an old retired and much-loved uncle who hasn't got long to live.
NEIL BUDDE: I think there's still something very special about printed newspapers and certainly one like the Wall Street Journal.
TERENCE SMITH: Do you believe you'll see a day when the Internet and the Internet news replaces the newspaper?
PAUL STEIGER: Absolutely not.
TERENCE SMITH: Why not?
PAUL STEIGER: Because there are valuable impacts from both methods of getting information. The printed page has the virtue of portability; you know, you can take it into the bathroom. You can take it on the train. You can tear things out. It also has the advantage of serendipity. You can look at a page and spot a headline and not know that you'd be interested in it.
TERENCE SMITH: For those brought up on newspapers, old habits die hard.
KAREN OLLERTON: I like the feel of newspapers. I like to feel them in my hands. Right now I really can't pick up that monitor and CPU unit and take it with us to the farm and, you know, check in on the news.
TERENCE SMITH: But there are some signs that online news may be cutting into areas that television used to consider its own.
ANDREW KOHUT, Pew Research Center: When we look at the way in which Internet users say they use the Internet for news, it looks like television.
TERENCE SMITH: Andrew Kohut has studied Internet use for the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
ANDREW KOHUT: Local news, entertainment news, weather news, sounds like the 6:00 local news. We saw television give newspapers a lot of competition in the 60's and 70's, as that generation grew up. And the same thing is going to happen between the Internet and television now.
|Pushing the news envelope.|
|TERENCE SMITH: The Internet is having an impact on all news
organizations. Gossip-driven Internet sites like the Drudge Report are
pushing the mainstream press by posting frequently-scandalous stories
on an hour-to-hour basis.
NEIL BUDDE: I, you know, still sometimes worry about the issues of credibility and online that the proliferation of sites on the Web that may not have the same high standards as most journalism.
TERENCE SMITH: But news consumers say they wonder already about the slant and trustworthiness of traditional sources.
MIKE HENRY: When you're getting news, you're at the mercy of whoever is sending you that news, who's reporting that news. And I think having a million sources isn't too many.
TERENCE SMITH: For the moment, Internet users are turning to brand name news sites.
ANNOUNCER: Get your news first from ABCNEWS.com.
TERENCE SMITH: Andrew Kohut.
ANDREW KOHUT: We found relatively more popularity for television sites and relatively less popularity for newspaper sites than we did two years ago.
TERENCE SMITH: Why?
ANDREW KOHUT: Probably because of the promotional abilities of television, lots of crossover.
ANNOUNCER: Take our 20/20 survey at ABCNEWS.com.
ANNOUNCER: CBS.com on the Internet and on American Online.
TERENCE SMITH: More than half of America Online's 17 million subscribers are going to their news area on a regular basis. John Barth was until recently director of news.
JOHN BARTH: The largest trend are people who are there for breaking news or summary of news.
|Moving towards obsolescence?|
TERENCE SMITH: Barth says for the older audience, online news is a secondary source used in conjunction with television, radio, and print. Mike Henry and his wife, Sherry, still watch TV news and still listen to the radio.
SHARI HENRY, Homemaker: When I go to the Internet, it's because I want to know a little bit more about something I heard about on the news because they don't have time to give you a full story or enough background.
TERENCE SMITH: Television is still a companion.
PACO OLLERTON: I think the Internet probably removes the emotion away
from a lot of news stories. It comes across as a news flash on the Internet
and the news section and doesn't have the same effect.
JOHN BARTH: If you look at some of the younger users that we have, they are not watching TV and they are not reading the newspaper. Their greater reliance is online.
TERENCE SMITH: The Henrys' daughter, Ann Hickox, may be speaking for her generation.
ANN HICKOX: I think it's easier to find what you're looking for because you don't have to flip through the pages. You can just, you know, click on something and find it.
TERENCE SMITH: Internet news providers say the on demand feature of the Internet, news when you want it, will heighten interest. Merrill Brown:
MERRILL BROWN: I think this question of lifestyle is what will bring people back to the news in consequential numbers.
TERENCE SMITH: When you wake up in the morning, the managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, do you go pick up the paper, or do you go online?
PAUL STEIGER: Oh, I pick up the paper and I flip on the television. I typically don't go online until I get to the office. But a year from now, is that what I'm going to do? I don't know.
TERENCE SMITH: Paul Steiger may not know what he'll be doing. Many others will be online. Some of the latest projections suggest that the number of American households using the Internet will eclipse those taking a daily newspaper by as soon as the year 2002.