July 1997

Root Page of Article: The Web and the Paradigm of the Front Page, by Flora J. Garcia

The Forking Paths

As newspapers move to electronic editions, the hierarchy from a traditional page is either painfully obvious (as in text-only formats where a reader chooses a section or type of story and then proceeds to the story and then must return to the top of the hierarchy to reach another story) or largely lost. Yet the progression of a reader through the front page, from headline to photo to story and so on, could be easily mocked and improved online.

The interface of the World Wide Web--and its use as a medium for news-- is relatively new. Several newspapers tend to commit massive amounts of information into their Web site. The Nando Times, for instance, often has more complete stories than their printed version. Yet visual elements are almost universally isolated from the text, and the design of the pages fails to give the pathing clues that the front page traditionally gives. But success with pictures is just the first step.

"Technically, the graphics, sound, and video images of the Web will make it a dynamic and entertaining experience," promised Internet World publisher Paul Bonington in April 1995. "While we're not quite there yet for full-blown multimedia applications on the Net, they will come." CNN's site leads the way in combining news information in a variety of modes, though other broadcast outlets also use this format.

But Eric Meyer, new media consultant and researcher, in Tomorrow's News Today cautions against allowing too much multimedia to creep into a site. The addition of visual elements that are generally more time-consuming to load than their textual counterparts is ill-advised. Meyer also cites research suggesting that graphics and text online--unlike in the newspaper--are processed by the same channel in the brain, making it less of a layering experience and more of an additive one for an online user.

Using the linking potential of the Web, The New York Times and CNN sites both have outstanding search tools that allow the user to find archives of particular stories or general dates and information about events. The New York Times provides community forums in which users may discuss everything from politics to the future of media.

Another aspect of online news that distinguishes it from traditional newspapers in the modern era is that it can be updated constantly with up-to-the-minute news, photographs, and analysis. "Our goal here has been faster and more. In that sense, we're closer to broadcast than we are to paper--as one colleague of mine puts it, we're like '24-hour news radio on the Web.' That takes the whole newspaper dynamic and speeds it up, so we're having to assemble news packages sometimes within a matter of an hour or two, tops, that would take our print colleagues four or five hours to put together," said Joyce Garcia, then the Nando Times' daytime news editor, now with The Chicago Tribune. --

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