Where the web fits

Apologies for the break in distribution. With the South African budget last week this article got a little delayed.

INTERNET EVENTS:
The San Jose Mercury News broke a story last August about the alleged connection between the crack drug trade in California and a Nicaraguan guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Being an analogue and digital newspaper, the paper carried the story in both print and on their website. In an analogue newspaper the story would have run for a few days and disappeared. However, the high level of interest in this story on the Mercury website caused it to stay in the news and elevated it onto the US national media stage.

Trevor Manuel delivered his first budget speech to the South African parliament on 12th March 1997. Before he had finished his first paragraphs, hundreds of people had received the speech by eMail or were reading it on one of numerous websites that made it available.

Timothy McVeigh will go on trial on March 31st for his alleged role in the Oklahoma bombing. A website has been made available to the 2000 strong “Oklahoma City Bombing Trial Media Consortium” which will contain up to the minute reports, pleadings and related information about the trial.

MEDIA COMPARISON:
Television
Strengths: visual, audio, live
Weaknesses: not searchable, non-interactive, not easily portable

Radio
Strengths: audio, portable, live
Weaknesses: sequential, not easily archived, non-interactive

Newspapers
Strength: visual, portable
Weaknesses: limited space, not searchable, non-interactive

Internet
Strengths: visual, searchable, interactive
Weaknesses: not portable (yet), visual and audio capabilities hampered by bandwidth

WHERE DOES THE INTERNET FIT?
Is the Internet suited for the launch of a product or a big announcement? Are newspapers the best place for readers to respond on a topic? Is television the best medium to host a talk show? I think the answer to all these questions is no. The San Jose Mercury News story about the CIA was something that their readership cared about and wanted to do more than just read on paper. They wanted to respond, to discuss and debate the issues around the story. The internet web site provided the ideal medium for this.

Likewise if Minister Trevor Manuel’s speech was only sent out on the internet then it certainly wouldn’t have attracted the attention that it did. Not only because television sets are still more prolific than internet connections, but because one of the most important things about an announcement is seeing the announcer.

Which brings us to Timothy McVeigh, probably a good example of how different media have different strengths and likewise different roles. The internet web site is probably the best way of disseminating information. Unlike a press conference (which I’m sure they will have in addition), the website is always there, can help many people at the same time and is producing one consistent message.

While breaking news will more than likely also be featured on the website, I think it is television that is going to steal the show here. Sitting in front of your browser pressing refresh while waiting for the breaking news can be a little sole destroying. And then the newspapers will carry editorial and interpretations of the news. Still the best way to keep up with the trial on the train in the mornings.

For the foreseeable future various media will interact with each other and compliment rather than detract from each others message. I remember watching the Atlanta Olympics on television last year while pouring over the results on their website. The website was always current and contained every item to date. The television coverage could only flash the results of the top athletes on the screen for a few seconds. The website was available for months afterwards.

The internet is exciting and new and is causing some upheaval in the media community. The effect is positive as thousands of people apply their minds to how they can disseminate information in a more efficient way. Whereas barriers to entry for traditional media are high, the internet allows anyone to be a publisher. Pick your message, pick your audience and then pick your medium.

Author: Dale Williams

Dale is based in Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa from where he maintains connections with people all over the world through his portfolio life.