Traditional News Organizations Have a Decided Edge
The enormous resources required to create a news-gathering organization ensures that only the very largest ones could operate independently of a traditional newspaper or television station (Eric Meyer email, March 13, 1997). In addition, an independent online publication must find a niche to distinguish itself from print media in its local market. Newspapers already have a brand name; readers nationally will turn to them for information on specific local events that have national interest, such as the Oklahoma City bombing, the TWA 747 crash, the JonBenet Ramsey trial, or the Olympics. Newspapers in these markets that provide up-to-the-minute information operate more like a broadcast station such as CNN (Eric Meyer, 1997). On the other hand, online newspapers that follow the assembly-line approach of their print editions because they don't have resources to update stories continually are essentially "shovelware." A large owner or partner with resources to enable the online edition to offer readers updated information could help enhance news coverage, guarantee more hits, and consequently more advertising revenue. That could ensure support of the online edition. Pouring resources into the online edition, however, could upset staff of the print edition, particularly if they are not well integrated into the online edition.
Traditional news outlets also have an edge over other media service organizations in providing content for personal newspapers or for subscribers who prefer to get their mail more quickly and efficiently on email instead of having to wait for a Web page to appear Presstime, March 1997, p. 42). Mercury Mail sends more than 325,000 subscribers more than one million email messages daily, ranging from news and sports to stocks and entertainment. (Presstime, March 1997, p. 42).
Newspapers have another edge in the archives they provide for which they sometimes charge a fee. Newspapers record a history of their cities, and their archives are suited to online searches. In February 1997, Infoseek Corp. launched a free service incorporating searchable -- and eventually, archived -- content from the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, San Jose Mercury News, The Washington Post, and MSNBC. (The Wall Street Journal, December 24, 1996, p. B6). The San Jose Mercury News and other Knight-Ridder Inc. newspapers offer Newshound -- a clipping service from 60 publications (Presstime, March 1997, p. 43). The Tribune Co. also has interests in the Web Internet search and indexing firm Excite.
Newspapers may have several advantages over new media concerns but who controls the technology that delivers the content to readers? This key issue may drive traditional news outlets to leap into alliances with those developing the technology before the news outlets understand their readers. Control of the "last mile to the home" -- into the household on a computer or Web-TV -- helped spawn "push" technology. Pointcast Inc. software passively displays news and advertising on idle computers; it automatically downloads graphics and multi-media content onto the user's computers. Pointcast has nearly a dozen newspaper affiliates and commands monthly fees from national advertisers that approach $50,000, according to Presstime. (March 1997, p. 42).Participants include The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, The Miami Herald, The New York Times, Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., Star-Tribune in Minneapolis and others (Presstime, March 1997, p. 43). Backweb Technologies is another "push" company.
There is much discussion about whether "push" will take off. ("Questioning push" online-news@planetary news listserv, March 24 & 25). Walter Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal says "push" technology "can be a real distraction" from the work he does on his PC. "The information presented is too often irrelevant, and in some cases it's corporate press-release propaganda masquerading as news. Keeping the information updated is also a clumsy process for the majority of PC owners, who aren't constantly connected to a corporate computer network but must dial into the Internet over a phone line" (Mossberg, March 1997). He pinpoints the dilemma computer users as well as new media companies face: "Is the PC a place where you work or at least initiate activities on your own? Or is it a receiver like your TV, where things get 'pushed' at you? The Internet industry seems to think it can be both at the same time. But I think the mix will be hard to sustain." He complains about little teasers popping up on the screen while he's working.
Web-TV has also prompted heated discussion among new media experts about whether it is interactive or passive (email@example.com listserv, April 1997). Some say it's passive like television; others say television isn't passive, and that switching channels is interactive behavior.
Recent legislation permitting cable companies and regional telephone companies to enter each others' markets also poses a problem for newspapers in the online business. Newspapers lobbied to keep telcos out of the news delivery business. Their fears were summarized in 1994 by George W. Wilson, chairman of the American Newspaper Publishers Association task force on telephone competition: "Depending on how they are used, these distribution systems will strengthen or shatter the traditional links between newspapers, their advertisers and their readers. In short, the phone companies could reshape the media triangle." (Dizard 1994, p. 158). Wilson fears that the phone companies could attract a large portion of classified advertising by offering customers easy access to electronic bulletin boards. Miller is concerned that any merger of telcos and cable firms will reduce competition (1996, p. 122). Deregulation that allows single ownership of TV stations and networks, local and national cable franchises, regional newspapers or wire services, and other telecommunication services would eliminate a diversity of voices because advertisers would want to seek large audiences (Miller 1996, pp. 123-124.) Small newspapers and radio stations that serve local communities or immigrant groups would not have a voice.