Newspapers Slow to Use Web Sites for 9/11 Coverage

Article excerpt

The tragic events unfolding on Sept. 11 presented a unique, although unfortunate, opportunity for local newspaper Web sites to provide their readers with much needed information. They had three major chances on this day to attract and maintain readers. First, people working in offices without access to radios and television sets turned to the Internet for breaking information. (1) Second, people couldn't connect to national news Web sites because the simultaneous online traffic was too great. (2) Third, television Web sites were frequently inaccessible because graphics-heavy pages took too long to load and lines were clogged. (3)

Capitalizing on the unique nature of the World Wide Web and an event of catastrophic proportions about which readers were frantic to learn more, local newspapers had the capability to offer readers breaking reports, up-dated bulletins, comprehensive follow-up news, visual material, links to Web sites with supplemental information and the chance to talk with others about what was happening in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania or how the bombings affected their local areas. As Nick Wren, editor of CNN.com. Europe, said, "What the Web can do is shout about a story as soon as it happens, then offer a huge multi-media resource for people to explore." (4)

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the number of people using the Internet was down slightly from a typical day. Whereas about 56.5 percent of people with access to the Internet usually log on during the day, about 51 percent connected Tuesday and Wednesday. (5) Most people watched the television set for breaking news (about 81 percent, according to a national survey (6) and 88 percent, according to a local survey). (7) This response paralleled researchers Guido Stempel, Thomas Hargrove and Joseph Bernt's conclusions that most people use television for breaking news and information seekers are likely to read the newspaper, access the Internet or listen to the radio for more information. Furthermore, many people multi-task by listening to the radio while online. (8)

However, on Sept. 11, tens of thousands of Web searchers (9)--almost half of the information seekers online--had trouble for several hours getting to their desired Web site. Most then looked for information on another Web site, and only two out of 10 quit trying. (10) Local newspaper Web sites had the chance to hook new people seeking an alternative news Web site and to maintain the confidence of regular users. And, indeed, many local Web sites were the beneficiaries of traffic that was refused by national sites. They reported huge traffic gains that lasted for days to come. (11) Furthermore, while information from television Web sites--laden with their trademark photos or video--were slow to load for impatient information seekers, newspaper Web sites could put up a page with their trademark--short, bullet-point graphs announcing the latest developments and links to more detailed text stories. Thus, this was an opportunity for newspaper Web sites to grab and keep regular television Web site users because a homepage with few or no graphics loads faster and easier. (12)

Since Sept. 11, reviews of print newspapers' front pages and coverage of events have been applauded. Special print editions have been highly praised. (13)

Rusty Coats, director of new media for MORI Research in Minneapolis, noted that the terrorist attacks brought about the best in online news sites. They were "immediate, interactive and wielding a mighty wallop of multimedia ..." (14) By the afternoon, local takes on the events were commonplace online, according to Rob Runett, manager of electronic media analysis of the Newspaper Association of America. (15)

Yet, in his examination of newspaper Web sites for Sept. 11, online news expert Steve Outing "struggled to find good examples." (16) As reflected in the content of many industry crisis management articles that have been published since Sept. …