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My Turn

By Ken Andrade

Saturday, March 18, 2000


Interest in news
is flourishing
-- online

NOBODY likes to face extinction. But it is even harder to face when an obvious route to survival is overlooked or misunderstood. In Gerry Keir's March 11 article "No news," he opined that not only is the Star-Bulletin doomed, but also, apparently, news as we know it.

He cited oft-mentioned figures about the decline of newspaper circulation, and tossed in similarly dreary figures concerning network news shows. I won't dispute those numbers, or even their interpretation by Keir, who has a long and distinguished resume in print journalism.

But print journalism, and even broadcast journalism, are no longer the only game in town, or the world.

Yes, we're open When Keir did mention the Internet, he tossed it off in a single paragraph, noting that only a few news organizations can be found among the top 25 Web sites. News, it seems, is doomed even on the Internet. Same story, different medium.

Again, I won't dispute his figures. But I disagree with his interpretation. Because the Internet is far more than a news-and-entertainment delivery system.

Overused as the "information superhighway" analogy is, one of the best ways to look at the Internet is indeed as a road system.You and I may use the roads to go and get a newspaper, but most people on the roads at any one time are doing other things: shopping, going to the bank, going to visit a friend, going to work. This was true even in the days when newspapers were the only source of news.

Look at what people do on the Internet: shop, bank, chat with friends, even go to work. As with the roads, most people are NOT going to get news.

Against this background, it should surprise no one if CNN.com and other news sites are not the most-trodden on the Web, or even if their slice of the overall 'Net pie is decreasing. The pie itself is growing rapidly, both in size and diversity.

But perhaps what matters most is this: When wired readers want to know what's going on, Web sites of respected news organizations like CNN.com are high on the list.

At Starbulletin.com, we have seen the same pattern at work with Hawaii news: When major events occur here, our servers get swamped with readers. The world is tuning in, and it wants news. Now. After each such event, traffic ebbs, of course. But we have found that it doesn't fall back to where it was before the event. In other words, Web readers may come first for the news break, but many end up coming back.

Even ignoring major news breaks, traffic counts at news Web sites are trending up, not down. Indeed, at Starbulletin.com, traffic has increased since the attempted closure of the paper last September, and also since the launch of the Honolulu Advertiser's competing Web site -- hardly a sign of diminishing interest in news.

To be sure, all is not rosy for news on the Internet. Nearly everyone can publish nearly anything, and all too often they do. Knowing whom to believe is a big problem.

But that only increases the drawing power of a news organization that maintains standards of accuracy and fairness, and publishes stories that matter to readers. Anyone can do this, by putting the time, money and effort into developing a serious news-gathering operation.

But it must also get noticed, and that's where reputation matters. Many people know the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and therefore know what to expect when they find Starbulletin.com.

Starbulletin.com's readers keep coming back -- in increasing numbers -- for more of the same news that some say is obsolete when delivered in print. What's wrong with this picture?

We journalists, especially those at the Star-Bulletin, live in interesting times. The embryonic economics of e-commerce have disrupted, but not yet fully supplanted, the rules of the old economy.

The turbulence will have casualties, and the Star-Bulletin may prove to be one of them. So far, the advertising operations that support daily newspapers haven't found a way to make online ads foot the whole bill for newsgathering. So far.

ONLY six years ago, very few people in Hawaii outside academia had access to the Internet. When Starbulletin.com was launched four years ago, the idea of a newspaper our size putting out an Internet edition was radical. Today it's hard to find a paper of our size that DOESN'T have an Internet edition. And e-commerce of all sorts is virtually everywhere.

Looking ahead, it's not hard to imagine the economics of the Internet developing enough to make Starbulletin.com a viable business -- perhaps even supporting a "Print Edition."

Will the Star-Bulletin survive to see that day? In the near term, that will be settled in large part by the federal courts, and perhaps the Justice Department.

But if the Star-Bulletin does go down, the cause of death will be rooted in the old-economy issues of competing newspapers sharing presses -- not declining interest in news.


Ken Andrade is the Star-Bulletin's
assistant webmaster.



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