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The jury is still out
According to Davin, the Star Online may be posting live news updates by next year or 2001. "The desire is for the online edition to cover an event as it breaks, and for the print edition to carry the added value such as analyses, reactions and perhaps even a follow-up," he adds.
He, however, concedes that newspapers may be slow to get this off the ground, mainly because they are not editorially attuned to Net time. "It's a mindset issue. The inertia is caused by years of doing things one way and being reluctant to shift to a new way. That change can come only with education and exposure. Papers should provide more surfing stations in newsrooms to make editors and journalists appreciate the power of the medium and the reach it gives them."
Davin notes that the online medium has already turned up the heat on the local press, though. "People now have instant access to thousands of new sources affecting their own little corners of the world. Newspapers must learn to read the trend of their readers' wants and needs more than ever, and realize that the era of spinach journalism --"Read this, it's good for you"--is long dead, even in developing countries. People are a lot smarter and better informed than their leaders give them credit for."
Not everyone should be a publisher or reporter a la Matt Drudge though. "Look at the kind of unsubstantiated nonsense that flies around the Net. Newspapers, for whatever their faults, have a set of standards and practices that prevent most malpractice or abuse from seeing print. Individuals are not bound by such constraints and ethics. Some people will stop at nothing to get their message across, whether or not it is the truth," says Davin.
Another area drawing concern in journalism circles is how the Internet blurs the line between what is news and what is paid content.
Wall Street Journal Interactive managing editor Rich Jaroslovsky says he is optimistic that editorial integrity will win in the long run. "People aren't fools and they will eventually understand and devalue sites that feed them paid content masquerading as real news," notes Jaroslovsky who is also president of the Online News Association , set up this year mainly to promote editorial integrity on the Net.
He adds, however, that it may take a long while for consumers to develop this kind of "digital literacy" to distinguish the difference. "Precisely because the line can be so blurry, news people need to go to extra lengths online to make sure we observe the line clearly."
Although English is the predominant language of news content, the next century may see a rise in content in other languages, particularly in Asia. Jaroslovsky believes the medium will become more culturally and linguistically diverse because the rate of growth of Net users outside the English-speaking world is on the rise.
"It must change because the alternative to a diverse and widely accessible Net is the creation of classes of information-haves and information-have-nots, with serious attendant economic consequences," he adds.
Will newspapers always be free on the Internet? "I think there will always be a mix. Many of them will be free, but some of them--especially those that add high-quality, premium, proprietary news and information--will be paid," says Jaroslovsky.
He believes news content will be akin to television in the U.S. where there are both ad-supported, free, over-the-air channels, and premium subscription channels. "Free sites will remain a prime source of news though, if only because the barriers to entry are so low on the Web," he concludes.
History has shown that no new medium has killed the other off. Radio and TV continue to thrive despite the coming of the Internet. In the case of the Internet versus the newspaper, the jury is still out.
"The newspaper industry needs to become a significant player in the Internet information business--instead of continuing to trot along slowly, feebly trying to catch the bullet train speeding down the tracks, " says Editor & Publisher online columnist Steve Outing in a recent column.
Getting on board may be the first step. Either way, cautious old media publishers and editors can rest assured they're in for one hell of a ride.
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