Newspaper Roles Shape World Wide Web Searches

Article excerpt

It has been argued that the Internet and World Wide Web have permanently changed how people communicate, as well as the methods they use to locate information needed in their daily lives. (1) The Internet and Web have had similar impacts on journalists. Reporters, editors and others in newsrooms have seen their information-gathering and distribution methods altered in the past decade. (2) The result has led both scholars and practitioners to proclaim that journalism will never be the same. (3) The online world--the Web and commercial information enterprises--is at the center of this transformation.

Until the late 1990s, however, professionals who searched for background information and other facts needed for news stories did not take the Internet and the Web seriously as an information resource. As recently as 1996, at least one expert said there was a "huge gulf" between information found through commercial online information services and that of the Internet. (4) This has changed, of course. The volume of information on the Web is increasing at geometric rates and the quality of that information is also improving. By the end of the decade, information professionals recognized the Internet as "a significant research environment." (5) The Internet had developed into what at least one researcher has called the "most important library in the world." (6)

In winter 1993-94, the general public began to embrace the Web. (7) At that time, newsrooms that used online resources depended on dedicated commercial services that were often not part of the Internet. Instead, these online networks were self-contained. Both the general public's and news organizations' access to the Internet and Web were encouraged by the Web's convenience, its ease of use and the simultaneous decline in the cost of dial-up and network connections. This receptive environment created the opportunity for expanding use of online resources by news organizations.

Many journalists have become avid online researchers. With the Web, there is less dependence upon other individuals, such as news librarians, to conduct background research. News librarians and news researchers have spent considerable time in recent years training other journalists to do their own research. Reporters and others in the newsroom have scrambled to learn to use the Web. (8) General assignment and beat reporters, copy editors, investigative journalists and their editors have joined the online users' list that has been headed by news researchers. Broadcast journalists also are using online research. (9) Research has shown that newsrooms have adopted personal computers as newsgathering tools and as distribution media. (10)

Journalists also frequently go to the Web to find government information. Furthermore, research has shown they seek background facts about businesses and they search for difficult-to-locate information, identify potential sources and use the information to improve depth and context in their coverage. (11) The purpose of this study was to determine the Web information search strategies of journalists. The study also explored differences in primary user groups reflected by their roles in daily newspaper newsrooms. The study reviewed use of search software, search engines and advanced searching strategies.

Diffusion theory provides necessary context for understanding the adoption process for new technologies. It is one of two major theoretical paradigms--the other being the uses and gratifications approach-- for study of new media technologies. (12) A subset of this theoretical perspective, the study of adoption of interactive innovations, has grown in importance with the development of the Internet and the Web.

The study of diffusion of computer use in journalism has several threads, including adoption and use of computers in production, (13) technologies as information sources (14) and diffusion of interactive information technologies. …