The Online Newspapers

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Electronic versions of newspapers evolved in the 1980s in videotext and other various forms on proprietary services such as America Online, Prodigy, and CompuServe before finding their way to the new World Wide Web in 1994 and 1995. There had been newspapers and other news media on the Internet before the Web emerged, such as editions that were found on Gopher networks. The Palo Alto Weekly in California is credited as the first Web newspaper. The twicea-week Bay-area newspaper debuted in January 1994 (Carlson, 2003), and was soon followed by other Silicon Valley area publications and others across the United States in the next 2 years. The Chicago Tribune debuted on the Web in 1995 and The New York Times came online on the Web in 1996. The San Jose Mercury News (http://www.bayarea.com) created a stir in 1996 with its controversial series about the Central Intelligence Agency’s links to the sale of crack cocaine in Southern California. The federal government denied the story and much debate ensued over some of the allegations in the series. Regardless, the newspaper was praised for coordinating its print and online news coverage of the episode when online newspapers were still in their infancy and most were unsure how to use the new medium (Weise, 1997). As part of the Mercury News’ creative coverage, readers could interact with each other and discuss the credibility of the series. Editors also provided extensive links to many of the original sources used in reporting the series (Weise, 1997). Today, such practices have become common in online journalism. Similarly, the Dallas Morning News (http://www.dallasnews.com) created a sensation in the newspaper industry when, in 1997, it carried an exclusive story in its online version reporting that then-alleged Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh had claimed responsibility for the Oklahoma City bombing. The story did something that rarely occurred among online newspapers: The online edition scooped its print edition with a major national news story. The story had ethical ramifications regarding whether it jeopardized McVeigh’s chance to get a fair trial, but ethical concerns were overshadowed by the newspaper’s extraordinary decision to run an online exclusive. The Morning News’ editors may have released the story online as a legal ruse to avoid a possible court injunction had the newspaper waited to run the story in its print version. The Morning News’ editors claimed they put the story online because they feared CNN would scoop them had they waited to run the story the next day. Media observers hailed the Morning News’ decision as a new day in online journalism—that major news organizations would compete with television and radio on breaking news stories and investigations (Kenworthy, 1997; Weise, 1997). They predicted a day when editorial staff on online newspapers would operate independent of and in competition with their print counterparts. For the most part, we are still waiting for that new day to come. Online newspapers may publish breaking news in their online editions when they believe television or radio may get the story first, but otherwise, most newspapers fear competing against their print versions and losing readers. Most also see little practical economic value in having separate online and print staff in competition with each other. Considerable financial investments in investigations by online newspapers are virtually unknown. These examples underscore that newspapers can use their online versions creatively. However, whether they will make full use of the online medium remains a question. Certain constraints, such as reluctance to compete against the moneymaking print version or pour considerable resources into unprofitable online sites may cause newspaper editors and managers to be cautious and hold back news that they believe may cause readers to skip reading the print versions. This chapter discusses online newspapers in the United States at the beginning of the new century. It takes readers through the origins of online newspapers, describes economic models that have succeeded and failed, presents the most common service models, discusses content and connectivity models, and describes the varying approaches to online newspaper markets. The chapter ends by describing the operations of leading online newspapers and by offering a short discussion of the form and coloration hypothesis in a case study of the Arab and Israeli online newspapers during the 2002 Middle East crisis.

ORIGINS OF ONLINE NEWSPAPERS

Online news sites took off in the mid-1990s, with the popularity of the World Wide Web, but the origins of online news can be traced to the early 1980s. In 1983, the Knight-Ridder newspaper group and AT&T launched a revolutionary experiment to bring people news on demand through their computers or television sets.1 The videotext service, called Viewtron,2 was a forerunner of online news media. Knight-Ridder suspended Viewtron operations on April 1, 1986, with fewer than 20,000 subscribers and having lost a staggering $50 million. A similar venture at the Los Angeles Times called Gateway also closed operations in 1986, with only 3,000 users. The failed ventures left journalists wondering whether there would ever be a market for news on demand via computers

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