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December 20, 1998

Want the news fast? More people are turning to the Web

By Timothy C. Barmann

The day ex-governor Ed DiPrete pleaded guilty to taking bribes while in office was a historic one.

But perhaps less apparent was another milestone that day: how the local media used the Web to get you the DiPrete story.

Web users learned of DiPrete's surprise plea from local media sites as fast as anyone else tuning into the radio or television that Friday morning, Dec. 11.

The Journal posted a full story on its Web site, projo.com, at about 10:25 a.m., within an hour of a reporter first getting the details from the judge. And Channel 10 posted a video of DiPrete in court with his son, Dennis, on its Web site within an hour of the father and son's 11:30 a.m. court appearance.

There's more and more competition to get the news on-line first. The reason is simple: more people are now turning to the Web to get the news.

That's the finding of a survey release earlier this month by Jupiter Communications, a new media research firm in New York.

The study found that the majority of people who are on-line (76 percent) still tune in to broadcast and cable television for breaking news. But now 12 percent go to the Internet for breaking news, while 9 percent turn to radio and 2 percent go to a newspaper.

Newspapers are now starting to compete with radio and television's immediacy through their Web sites. And television stations are using the Web to get the news out before their news programs go on the air.

The Journal now has a full-time reporter assigned to write stories and news summaries exclusively for the Web site. That's unusual for a newspaper, according to Steve Outing, a columnist for Editor & Publisher who writes about interactive media. He estimates that only 1 in 10 newspaper Web sites have a full-time reporter, but it's becoming more popular.

"Simply repurposing what you can print doesn't get you anywhere," Outing said. "Cyberspace is a pretty competitive environment and you need to offer up something to on-line readers to get them to come."

What the Journal now offers through its Web site (http://www.projo.com) is news bulletins, or brief summaries of developing stories the newspaper is working on for the next day's paper. The feature, called the Digital Bulletin, was added last month, along with some other site changes.

The bulletins are updated twice a day, at noon and at 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, which coincides with the times the site has the most daytime visitors, according to John Granatino, director of electronic publishing.

But that schedule went out the window the day the DiPrete story broke. Projo.com's reporter, Ken Mingis, said he was on the phone with another Journal reporter stationed at Superior Court at about 9:30. Within the hour, Mingis had written his story and posted it to the Web.

At WJAR Channel 10, there was a similar sense of urgency to get the DiPrete story on the Web.

Mia DiBenedetto, who runs Channel 10's Web site (http://www.wjar.com), said she had posted video of reporter Dyana Koelsch's story on DiPrete by 10:30 a.m. that Friday.

It took her just four minutes to prepare and post the video from Koelsh's report, which included the courtroom scene.

WJAR appears to be the most aggressive of the three local stations in putting video on its Web site.

Earlier this month, the station partnered with a small Newport company, Hydro Active, to broadcast live over the Web President Clinton's speech from Newport during his visit to Rhode Island.

The station is moving toward more live offerings over the Web, and will likely simulcast its news programs over the Internet next month, according to Mia DiBenedetto, who runs Channel 10's Web site.

And those broadcasts will be stored on the site so those who miss the on-air news shows will still be able to see them at their leisure though the Web site, she said.

DiBenedetto said the station already has the necessary software and hardware to do live Webcasts. It is waiting for the go-ahead from MSNBC, which provides the station with the Web server for its local news content.

Maintaining and expanding these local news Web sites can be expensive.

Granatino said that the Journal, like most other newspapers, continues to lose money on its Web-site operation. He wouldn't say how much, but according to an Editor & Publisher report last week, large metropolitan newspapers are seeing losses in the millions of dollars annually.

The investment seems to be an all-or-nothing proposition in the highly competitive news business.

"The battle here is the Internet is still a growing medium," Granatino said. "We're an information company so we have to be there or else abrogate our role of providing quality local information in this market."

The competition among local media sites is good because it serves to draw more interest in the Internet, he said. "The more general interest there is in the Web, the more we believe that customers will find us."

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff writer. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.