Trends in Online Newspapers: A Look at the US Web

Article excerpt

With Gutenberg's invention of the movable printing press, the printed word became a dominant medium for mass communication. The newspaper, being a product of the printing press and the only medium for mass communication, enjoyed the privilege of monopolizing the mass media market for centuries until the advent of radio and television.(1)

Facing a declining readership since the 1960s,(2) the U.S. newspaper industry has made a lot of efforts to reverse the decline. In addition to improving the presentation of the print product through color photographs, informational graphics, and modular layout,(3) some newspapers have also experimented with shorter and simpler news stories - best exemplified by USA Today.(4) In addition, newspapers entered the realm of electronic publishing as early as the 1970s, experimenting with the now doomed videotext.(5)

Although the Internet started 28 years ago, it did not find favor with newspaper publishers as an electronic publishing platform until 1993, when the World Wide Web came onto the scene. If the Internet allowed online publishers to emerge, the WWW helped them to flourish and became the major platform for online newspapers, or newspapers published on the Internet.(6) As of May 27, 1998, Editor & Publisher Interactive listed a total of 2,859 newspaper (both dailies and weeklies) Web sites in the world, including 1,749 based in the United States.(7) The newspaper industry has embraced the Internet as a possible outlet to maintain, if not increase, its base of readers and advertisers.

The purpose of this study is not to predict the future of the newspaper industry, which is a question for time itself, but to explore current trends in Web newspaper publishing by looking into various aspects of such operations as advertising, readership, content and services.

Literature review

In many ways, new electronic communication technologies have brought about unprecedented changes to the newspaper industry. Computerized tools such as word processing, computerized typesetting, production technologies and desktop publishing have brought about higher efficiency in the newsroom and changed the roles of newspaper editors and designers.(8)

In addition to improving the quality, the entrance of computers has helped lessen the problems of lack of space for news, high production costs and low profits,(9) although the basics of good journalism - good writing skills - still apply whether or not new technologies are employed.

On the other hand, new technologies can evolve into new media that compete with the newspaper's share of the audience market,(10) The age of computers, especially from the 1960s onwards, has created opportunities for videotext providers, commercial online database service-providers and CD-ROM producers to offer content on this alternative medium and thus compete against the print newspapers.(11) These early forms of online publishing have in some way shaped the path of Internet publishing today.(12)

While the videotext industry failed due to the lack of audience in the 1980s, the growth of the Internet since then, especially the development of WWW in the 1990s, gave new impetus to online publishing.(13) The interactivity, immediacy and limitless space provided by the Internet have rendered the Internet an ideal medium for online publishing. In addition, the low starting cost, ease of transmission across geographical boundaries and capability of incorporating multimedia elements are also attractive to the publishers.

Major contentions about Internet publishing include:

* given the short concentration span of Internet users, concise text captures more attention;

* forums create an environment where people entertain people, making the media a sideshow;

* feelings expressed in the forum cannot be matched by journalistic interpretation and writing skills;

* the online community is just a fad and lacks responsibility. …