August 1997

New Directions for New Media

A Report From the CITI Conference In New York City

by Chris Lapham

It is, ironically, both the best and worst of times for the new media industry. The best means having the opportunity to create for and work on an emerging medium. The worst means there are no clear signposts to follow. Hence, new media devotees are literally inventing new reasons and ways to communicate.

Some of these devotees packed the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information (CITIıs) spring conference called "The Collision of Conduit and Content: Changing Models for News and Entertainment Publishing." The 100 or so editors, managers, students, scholars, producers, writers, researchers, and business executives in attendance were, as usual, looking for answers and a clear cyberpath to follow. What they got instead were knowledgeable opinions and informed debates about the direction of this fledgling industry from some of its leaders.

"I don't see a lot that is new. It's a struggle now to find break-through applications for this new medium. They haven't been invented yet."

-- John Carey, director of Greystone Communications

"I don't see a lot that is new. It's a struggle now to find break-through applications for this new medium. They haven't been invented yet," said John Carey, director of Greystone Communications, a telecommunications research and planning firm. Carey believes Web development is stalled because there is not enough solid information about users and how they actually make use of their Web experiences. "We don't really know what's going on," he said. "How are people using it? Are they doing multiple things? There is no in-depth understanding now of the use of the medium, we only have superficial knowledge. There is no book, such as 'The Press and the Public' for the Web," he said.

One of the key factors preventing the creation and development of innovative and highly useful Web applications is the current perception of it: "We have embraced this medium in terms of other media. But it is a whole new media model. We have to create this model in a completely different light. We haven't found a form of this new media yet," he said. "The models are way ahead of behavior. We need a reality check of where things are versus where they might be. There is a bottleneck in the technology network," said Carey.

Despite these sobering realities, there was a consensus about the silver bullet, the driving force, that is shaping this new medium. Many agreed that interactivity is the 'epa center' of new media content."We strive for interactivity in everything we do. I want to engage the computer owner (*not the computer user*) with good content, something that is important to their lives," said Allison Davis, executive producer for MSNBC and a passionate and lively speaker. "Television is finite: I have more bandwidth to tell a story. This is a wonderful choice medium. That's the key to telling good stories online. We want to engage people in a multi-tasking way," said Davis, who believes new media professionals need to evangelize and help to win over those not yet online.

One way to do this is to create profoundly compelling content, according to Joan Feeney, editorial director for CondeNet. "We're in the business of creating things that people need," said Feeney, whose company publishes popular magazines such as Vogue, Gourmet, Conde Nast Traveler and Glamour. Last year she launched Epicurious, a Web site that contains 7,000 recipes visitors can search. Feeney believes her primary challenge is giving people information they can't get any other way, and doing it better than anyone else.

The Art Form Should Drive The Technology

One of the reasons new media professionals are having a difficult time reaching their goals is because the technology is driving the art form instead of the other way around. "We're being held back by vision and by technology. Applications will come. We have to pioneer and continue to grow. We need to focus on the rate of adoption instead of technology," said Jay Bobowicz, vice president for the Hearst New Media and Technology Group.

Bobowicz then showed conference goers some of the cutting edge examples of work Hearst has developed. He displayed screens from Home Arts, an Internet service using content from Hearstıs magazines and other resources. Popular sections include: Plant Lunch, puzzles and fiction to entertain workers at lunch time; "Diary Of A Pregnancy," a special series by a Hearst staff member; and a 3-D walk-through of beautiful rooms from the companyıs decorating magazines. Bobowicz pointed out that five percent of his companyıs Web sites are interactive but these sites get most of the traffic, especially "Diary of a Pregnancy."

In general, successful uses of the Web tend to help cover the cost of distributing information as with intranets and extranets, which can help cover the cost of distributing information. Sites that allow business transactions also are proving their worth as are online classified ads. "Nothing can save the print classified franchise. Classifieds are so much better in a searchable database environment," said Adam Schoenfeld a vice president from Jupiter Communications, who predicted rapid adoption of personal digital assistants (PDAs) allowing users to take their online newspapers to the "four-Bs"--the beach, bus, bathroom and bedroom.

The best way to reach the growing, often novice online population is first to understand them and what they want, need and expect from information and entertainment. Mark Thalhimer, director of the News in the Next Century Project for the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation presented his extensive research on the American News Consumer. "Technology hands a level of control over to the reader," said Thalhimer, who believes programming for the mass media is very tough. That's because news consumers want, above all, good local news, which is still very difficult to produce and deliver in an automated way.

According to Thalhimer, mass media is gone forever. And what will take its place is still evolving.

Chris Lapham ( is a technology writer, Internet consultant, and a contributing editor of CMC Magazine. She lives in the Capital Region of New York State.

Copyright © 1997 by Chris Lapham. All Rights Reserved.

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