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 VOL. 23, NO. 20APRIL 10, 1998 


New Technology Allows Custom-Tailored Newspapers


 BY VIRGIL RENZULLI

Instead of one morning newspaper, you may soon read dozens of newspapers each day or at least selected parts of them. Or your primary source of news in a few years might be a multi-media, interactive product.

  According to Professor John Pavlik, executive director of the Center for New Media at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, new technology will substantially change the function and nature of newspapers and their Internet counterparts.

  “You already can customize your own newspaper,” said Pavlik. “You can go to crayon.net and create your own newspaper on-line. There are more than 3,600 newspapers on-line today plus broadcast news providers and news services original to the Internet, such as TheStreet.com, which covers Wall Street. You could piece together your own news product every day or every hour or every 20 minutes out of all these on-line services, taking just the parts that you want.

  “For example, you could take The Motley Fool for financial and business news and USA Today, MSCNN or CNNSI for sports, or customize within topics using ESPN SportsZone for covering the National Football League and CNNSI for college hockey, or go directly to professional sports sites, such as NASCAR On-line or MLB Scorecard. You can take it down to as specific a level as you want and piece together a news document from 15 or 20 or 30 different sources.

  “You could set your computer to print out your customized newspaper every morning. With a color printer you could probably do a better job than some newspapers.”

  Amateur news sites such as the one run by Internet gossip columnist Matt Drudge could, of course, be included in a customized news configuration, but Pavlik predicts that most people will deal with the information overload by continuing to get their news through professional news filters such as The Associated Press, The New York Times and ABC.

  Computerized information gathering need not be limited to news. Other data sources on the World Wide Web could be used to create personal investment or health information portfolios.

  “Newspapers will stay on-line even though most are losing money,” said Pavlik. “There is money to be made but not the way they are going about it. For the most part, they are just taking their printed product and repackaging it. They have gone about introducing new content in a very incremental fashion.

  “Some of the companies that are finding a more viable niche on the Internet are start-up companies such as TheStreet.com. They are taking advantage of all the efficiencies of working in a totally computerized, totally networked environment.”

  New story-telling techniques are being developed, including digital audio, navigable video (in which viewers can select their own view of a particular scene), immersive story telling (in which observers will have something of a virtual reality experience) and wearable technologies that might, for example, transmit e-mail to a wrist watch.

  And the news itself will be customized. For example, MS-NBC produced a story about the most dangerous roads in America and people connected to the Internet could type in their zip code to find the most dangerous roads near their own homes.

  The emergence of interactive multi-media news is just one of the problems that conventional newspapers are facing. The speed and flexibility of the Internet are two additional threats. On-line news services will make it more difficult for newspapers to compete on breaking news stories, and in the future newspapers may have to concentrate on news analysis instead. Technology is also threatening a major source of newspaper revenue, classified advertising.

  “It is much more efficient to use on-line classified ads, and more and more formal infrastructure is being built to support on-line advertising and doing transactions on-line. For some products the entire transaction can take place on-line,” said Pavlik.

  Customized news will require customized advertisements as well. Because readers may not be getting a whole newspaper but rather a section such as international or entertainment news or only an individual story or column, advertisements will have to be keyed to a particular section or to a specific columnist or writer such as George Will or Dear Abby. When you download a news item, a specific advertisement will come with it.

  As technology becomes more sophisticated, Web publishers will be able to record not just the total number of site visits or “hits” but rather each unique visitor (or at least, each unique computer).

  “This is much more precise than circulation figures or pass-on readership, and you can know it moment by moment,” said Pavlik. “These changes are turning audience research on its head. The whole basis of audience research was to take samples and then generalize. Now we can know the whole audience.”






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