Magazine article Insight on the News

Although the Net Runneth over, Info Seekers Had Best Beware

Magazine article Insight on the News

Although the Net Runneth over, Info Seekers Had Best Beware

Article excerpt

The Internet can be a quick and easy way to get the news. But the glut of information in cyberspace gives new urgency to that old commonsense maxim, `Don't believe everything you read!

A man in his early 50s, self-employed but uninsured, was diagnosed with Peyronie's disease, a sometimes-painful condition that twists the penis into what has been described as the "shape of a saxophone." Desperate for some affordable relief - his doctor estimated that treatment would cost more than $10,000 - the man began to surf the Internet for a solution.

Not surprisingly for such an arcane subject, his search turned up only a handful of "hits." First, using Deja News (www.dejanews.com), a newsgroup search engine, he came upon an exchange of messages that turned out to be vulgar jokes about the disease and its sufferers. Next, he clicked to a site that purported to offer clues to alleviating some of the discomfort of Peyronie's. There he found a detailed account of another sufferer's sex life and lots of other sexual stories - he had wandered into a porn site that invited subscribers to contribute autobiographical essays.

Finally, the man made his way to an on-line clinic specializing in male sexual dysfunction. He was able to E-mail a query regarding cheap or experimental treatment for his affliction.

Heralds of future utopias harp on the infinite possibilities of the information superhighway, but rarely does anyone mention its limitations. As fantastic a tool as the Internet is, it also can be a source of great frustration. Serious researchers quickly discern its limitations.

Many daily newspapers are available on the Net, the vast majority of them free. The American Journalism Review's AJR NewsLink (www.newslink.org/menu.html) provides access to the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, even the French-language version of Le Monde.

If that's not enough, NeWo News Resource (newo.com/news) grants access to 588 newspapers across the United States and countless others around the world, including the English-language version of a number of foreign publications. Pathfinder (www.pathfinder.com) is a gateway to many of Time-Warner's publications. Time magazine is there. So are Fortune and Sports Illustrated. All free.

No daily puts its entire content on the Internet, of course, and on-line archives for major publications are nonexistent or minimal. Cyber buffs are attempting to remedy the situation. A high-school media specialist in Chico, Calif., is developing a search engine (www.chs.chico.k12.ca.us/libr/webres/news-ss.html) that combs 15 years of the Christian Science Monitor and archives of CNN, the New York Daily News and other news organizations. The site also provides a link to Television News Archives, which abstracts TV news back to 1968. Although the abstracts are even less detailed than a normal TV news spot, they are valuable as a starting place for research or constructing a time line.

What practical purpose will such sites serve for the typical user? Enthusiasts point out that sophisticated news services such as Excite's NewsTracker (nt.excite.com), Infoseek's Your News (yournews.infoseek.com) and MSNBC's Front Page (www.msnbc.com/pfp/choices.asp) can customize news delivery, rounding up only those stories related to preselected topics. Newspaper readers, on the other hand, like the print medium in part because they stumble upon tidbits of information they might have missed otherwise.

And just as reading newspapers requires a certain skepticism -- it's hard to find a journalist today who doesn't admit to a political bias -- cruising the Internet for information demands diligence. …

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