I’ve been spending August trying to work out what the swift spread of
the Internet really means for journalists, newspapers and related print
publications. We all use phrases such as the ‘convergence of the media’
in a loose fashion. The familiar phrase masks the fast upheaval it
In pursuit of this interest I visited CNN’s On-Line service in Atlanta.
Most of us have heard of, and even attempted to use, some of the web-
sites created by British newspapers. Broadcasters such as BSkyB have
well advanced systems for encouraging audiences to interact with them,
or visit web-sites created around popular programming such as the X-
Yet it was shocking to see what convergence means in practice: how TV
can embrace text. CNN has thrown its international resources behind its
own ‘newspaper’. It has done a redesign, after an electronic
consultation with its readers, creating a loose format, which has
affinities with the easy-to-read paper, USA Today. The readers told CNN
On-Line ‘producers’ that they valued fast, basic up-to-date news and
information over fancy graphics and artwork. For those with patience,
the on-line paper allows you to click onto CNN video news footage to
illustrate text or access the full text of a President Clinton speech.
It is as if ITN had decided to put out an Electronic ITN loosely based
on the Times, with far more words than a news programme permits. At
present ITN simply provides content to a web-site packager - but shortly
after I left Atlanta senior BBC executives taking the Corporation’s news
on-line were evaluating CNN’s approach. Trading on its brand name CNN
has reaped explosive growth: two years ago it employed six people in
this area. Now it is up to 150. It has also found a way around the
problem of making the Internet pay, by selling small adverts on the
‘pages’ from a solid core of blue chip advertisers. It is currently
running at 1.5 million hits on pages each week.
There are several points to ponder. First, on-line services, at their
best can be fluid and fresh - they can escape the print production
schedules, or the convention of news on the hour imposed by radio and
TV. Items can be published around the clock by the 24-hour team, as news
breaks or sports results come in. But currently, on-line services to
rival existing newspapers, are only viable as off-shoots of something
bigger. They enhance distribution without adding diversity of owners or
tone, since there is as yet no way of charging a cover price.
They are also unlike the free newspaper boom of the 1970s, or the
desktop publishing revolution which allowed a new set of entrepreneurs
and titles to develop. British media groups need to focus on their on-
line strategy. It cannot be long before we start down-loading titles,
print them out, and take them to work.