MEDIA: Atlanta burns with technological superiority

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 implies.

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

implies.



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-

Files.



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.



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