Survey finds new focus on Internet and more newspapers willing to spend more money for online services.
Contemporary newsroom research centers feature gleaming PCs, richly colored large-screen monitors, fast modems and direct Internet connections, speedy CD-ROM readers and recorders, high-volume printers, and skilled, online-savvy news researchers. It is hard to find a glue pot, clipping or photograph files, or even very many books. And photographs and other graphics have been undergoing conversion to digital format for the past several years.(1) More editors and news reporters are becoming researcher-like in their work. And, conversely, more researchers are becoming reporter-like.(2)
Perhaps the single most important reason for this evolution is the personal computer. Online searching and the power and reach of computing have re-written the rules used in this aspect of newsgathering. Originally the transition focused on text materials, but in recent years interest has focused on digital graphic imaging - storage of photos and graphics in digital form.
There are two major subdivisions of online information gathering. The first uses commercial online services such as CompuServe, America Online, Microsoft Network, and Prodigy. They also include more specialized services, such as Nexis/Lexis, Autotrack Plus, and hundreds of others.(3) The second major subdivision uses the Internet. This system has grown remarkably in the mid 1990s to include private individuals, businesses, and other groups. The Internet's use in 1996 was dominated by the graphic-based World Wide Web, but the Internet offered a wide range of other access forms and utilities at the time.(4)
Online research has become integrated into the daily routines of many newsrooms. Its rapid acceptance has, in part, been due to the improvements in user interfaces, the power and design of search engines used, greater ease in downloading information or in printing reports, and steep declines in price. Online services were becoming more popular and less expensive in the mid 1990s.(5) One corporate estimate said there would be 25 million subscribers spending $3.2 billion by 1997, up from 15 million users and $2.5 billion in 1995. However, the per member spending was forecast to drop from $172 a year in 1995 to $132 in 1997.(6)
Journalists have been responding to these changes with exponential growth in use of commercial services and the World Wide Web and its companion Internet tools. While journalists are part of a growing group of information professionals who know how to find and use online information, it seems that much of the rest of the computer world is recognizing this at the same time. The growth rate in membership in online services often used by journalists to locate and distribute information has been rapid in the past several years - well into the millions of members. As competition has heated up among consumer online services, the leaders have become more and more alike. Adoption of these information sources was growing at a rapid rate in newsrooms around the nation.(7)
Selecting the right online product for a newsroom may not be an easy decision, especially if only one can be afforded. There may be corporate factors, such as a chain or group involvement with a particular company. Access to specific information may be a major factor as well. Some services continued to offer exclusive gateway access to other computer systems containing certain databases that appeal to journalists. "The on-line world is growing fast and changing fast - and it is changing dramatically," observed PC Magazine Editor Rick Ayer and Executive Editor Robin Raskin.(8) "The commercial services ... have gotten bigger, both in the number of users they claim and in the amount of content they offer."
For experienced news researchers, going online means increased breadth and depth of information gathering. "The major benefit [of online reporting] is the exponential increase in the numbers, variety, and quality of information sources (both people and documents) that inform news reports. …