Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Wire(d) Stories

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Wire(d) Stories

Article excerpt

"What I Saw in the Digital Sea" by Frank Houston, in Columbia Journalism Review (July-Aug. 1999), Journalism Bldg., 2950 Broadway, Columbia Univ., New York, N.Y. 10027.

Web journalism is fast evolving - but, unfortunately, some of its best potential is being left behind, according to Houston, a freelance writer. The twenty-something journalist went to work for Fox News Online in New York in October 1996, hoping to contribute fresh news feature stories. He quit in disillusion a little more than two years later, he writes, having come to see "Web journalism for what it is becoming: a machine moving at the speed of the [news] wires, in terms of content, and in the direction of television, in terms of form. Experiments in storytelling are on an indefinite hiatus."

Houston's job originally was "to create feature stories that push the technological and interactive envelopes, working with a graphic designer, two producers, a photo editor, and, usually, a video producer." Early in 1997, for example, after IBM's Deep Blue computer bested chess champ Garry Kasparov, Houston and his colleagues prepared a feature about Cassie, an experimental robot equipped with artificial intelligence that was assembled at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Combining video and text "in a new way," he says, the feature-complete with links to various explanatory sidebars and "a meticulously accurate graphical representation of [the robot's] thought processes" - proved one of their most popular feature stories, getting some 7,000 "page views" during the week it was on the site.

But top online news stories get that many page views in mere hours, Houston notes, and most people, research has found, spend only seconds visiting a news Web page. Not surprisingly, he and his colleagues soon found the Web moving away from costly and complicated features. …

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