Mass media meets the future with AOL, as publications and journalism resources get online
On Sunday, a day before Time arives on news stands, users of Arnerica Online (AOL) can read the magazine. On Wednesday, AOL users will find the international edition.
Since early November, between 10 and 40 people have been in an AOL chat room (a place for live online discussion) moderated by San Francisco resident Cynthia Hobgoof, discussing the issues brought up on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation while the program airs.
Readers of the San Jose Mercury News might see a Mercury Center icon at the end of a story and know that they can later log on to AOL for the full text of a speech, transcript of a congressional hearing, or a related story that the paper didn't have room to print.
Although journalists have been using computers to write and do research for years, it's clear that the media - and the media that cover the press - are finally waking up to the ways computers are redefining the way we get our news. Recent issues of Columbia Journalism Review and American Journalism Review feature cover stories on how and why news organizations are going digital. All these developments are starting to have a major impact on both readers and journalists.
According to Walter lsaacson, editor of Time, Inc.'s New Media unit and president of the News On Demand service for its interactive cable system in Orlando, Florida, when Philip Eliner-Dewits's February 8, 1993 cover story "Cyberpunk!" was posted on The Well, it sparked a lively discussion and planted the seeds of what would grow into Time Online. Isaacson met with Steve Chase, president of AOL and Time was online for its August 30, 1993 issue.
Tom Mandel, a futurist at SRI in Menlo Park, moderates Time Online's message boards. He has been active on the Bay Area based online service The Well for 10 years and moderated its conference on the Gulf War. Both Isaacson and Mandel say they are learning a great deal from the 50 to 60 thousand users of AOL who visit Time Online each week as well as from ways in which other publications have launched their online services.
'We're learning about interactivity," says Isaacson. 'We do get some money, but it is not really the money involved. It's the chance to hear the feedback, to engage in discussion with readers, and to realize we're not handing down tablets from on high. We're part of an interactive world."
On AOL different publications have chosen different ways to implement their online version. Some, like Time and the San Jose Mercury News, put all their text online, along with additional material not in the print versions. Others, like Omni, use AOL as a forum for communication with their readers.
The Atlantic Monthly (which proudly proclaims, 'After 136 years in print, we have entered the cyberspace age') currently only uploads some of its articles while other magazines such as Wired post their texts after each issue goes off the stands. In an area of AOL called "Columns and Features," a syndicate posts all of its columnists (including local writer Merle Kessler aka Ian Shoales). All of the publications offer message boards that serve as spots to discuss stories and general topics (there's even a Time discussion called 'Smash Time-Warner"). Most also allow for quick contact with their writers and editors, who often post messages in the discussion areas. Rather than passively reading a story and occasionally firing off a letter to the editor-which may or may not get printed- anyone can voice their opinion on a messageboard for all to see, or email a comment to someone at the publication. The response from editors and writers is often surprisingly quick. It's this interactive quality that makes online publications unique from their print-only partners.
Journalists can also eliminate some of the time consuming hassles that surround snail mail. Omni, Wired and others post submission guidelines and accept email queries. The Mercury Center's message board allows readers to upload pieces for possible publication. If an editor is online, it's often easier to get a response to a story Idea by email than by phone. AOL also offers a limited version of Writers Market, a staple of any freelancer's library. But be warned; it's not always up to date; Doug Foster is still listed as editor of Mother Jones. Message boards post calls for freelance writers as well as offer advice on how to get published. Many writers seek out sources online - most of the interviews for this aricle were arranged via email.
Mother Jones will be available on AOL early next year. Like many other progressive publications including the Nation, Mother Jones is available on Peacenet (it also has a node on the Internet). Joel Truher (email@example.com) of Mother Jones says he plans to hold online discussions about guns, which will be the focus of the January/February 1994 issue. According to Bill Buzenburg, NPR vice president for news and information, NPR also plans to get a dedicated connection to the Internet. He, former 'Talk of the Nation' host John Hockenbury. and senior producer Marcus Rosenbaum have all stopped by TOTN's chat room. Rosenbaum says that he sees the chat room as an extension of the interactive nature of the show itself and an opportunity for listeners who can't get through to the show to respond and react. The guests on each week's shows are currently posted in advance on AOL.
The possibilities of this infant medium are just being realized. Today online services push media in new directions, bringing more and more people into the debate. As author Michael Cricltton noted in a speech to the National Press Club, reprinted in the Wired article "Mediasaurus"; "...Where can you find this kind of debate in today's media? Not in television, nor in newspapers or magazines. You find it in the computer networks, a place where traditional media are distinctly absent." Crichton made these remarks last April [of 1993]. Already, it appears that traditional media are finally catching up, and getting online.
Steve Rhodes, a member of Paper Tiger TV West, is currently completing an internship at the Center For Investigate Reporting. He can he reached at firstname.lastname@example.org [this address no longer works - email me at email@example.com} Back to my page