Discussion topics... New approaches to news

Almost every week someone comes up with a new model for a news- or information-oriented Web site. Are these "online newspapers"? Do they take more advantage of the Web's capabilities? How do they compare to the Web sites of traditional print and broadcast news organizations? What are their strengths and weaknesses when addressing general or niche audiences?

I'll start with a few examples, and invite you to add to the list.

Here are a some Boston-area cases to look at:

Individual.com offers wire service news from AP, Business Wire, PR News Wire and other sources, sending "daily me" subscribers a collection of headlines by e-mail with links to the full stories at its Web site. The site leans toward business and industry news, so I've made myself a "daily me" page full of press releases and stories from and about newspapers, magazines and Web firms.

On a much different model, a national network of "local news" sites, Streetmail, has personal columns by its own Boston and Cambridge correspondents. Those weekly columns go out via e-mail with links back to the Website. See http://www.streetmail.com/mostcurrent/boston. Among Streetmail's features, interactive poll questions like this one: "Should the Cambridge Public Library move to Central Square?" See the survey at http://www.streetmail.com/survey/cambridge/streettalk/20000414

Captivate Network (http://www.captivate.com/boston/boston.html) is a new media publisher with a twist. It's not aiming its online news publication at every desk-bound computer user: It wants to get to them before they even reach the office, by putting online news in semi-public places, including elevators in high rise office towers and business hotels. Will it just offer links to traditional news publications? Watch for the answer in an elevator near you!

Making public records more public

A "new media" publication in its own way, Wired magazine (www.wired.com/news) carried this article (www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,34286,00.html) about reporter Bill Bastone's "The Smoking Gun " site, (www.thesmokinggun.com/). Take a look at both!

Like Bastone, the folks at APB Online (now www.APBNews) file FOI requests and post documents online, in keeping with the site's specialty of reporting news about crime, cops and courts. An investigative reporters' association has gave the site a special citation last month for work including investigation of crime on campus. How's this for graphic reporting? APB Online hasn't won a Pulitzer Prize yet, but its own "mediawatch" pages point out that one of its editors was involved in a Pulitzer-winning investigation at AP.

While we're on the subject of getting the public's business online, I've already mentioned that both the City of Boston (http://www.mayorsfoodcourt.com) and my favorite North Carolina television station, WRAL Online, are in the business of putting restaurant health inspection reports on the Internet. Are both of them "doing journalism"? Whose job should it be to point out "the public record" to the public? Have you seen other public databases that have been made part of government or media Web sites? Perhaps we'll see more of this phenomenon through sites with a political agenda. How about VoxCap.com? Try its "Reach Your Rep" button (in the left column).

How one Internet guru did it

Here's an example of a public-information-oriented campaign with a non-traditional cast and ending: Carl Malamud's story about launching a service called EDGAR and winning over the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). http://mappa.mundi.net/cartography/EDGAR/edgar_history.html
Malamud and friends succeeded: The EDGAR database, several hundred gigabytes of data, is now online and grows by about 30 MB a day of information that all public U.S. companies are required by law to submit to the SEC.

Malamud also campaigned to get U.S. patents online. See http://public.resource.org/letter.html and this New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/98/06/biztech/articles/25patent.html


Is online journalism ready to compete?

More discussion questions:
Part of Bob Stepno's web resources at Emerson College. Last updated April 17, 2000.