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NEW(S) MEDIA Gatekeeper role of editors put under stress by Starr Report "Did newspapers print more because the public was reading the unexpurgated report on-line?".

The news landscape changed Sept. 11. Some of the changes are good.

Some may be disturbing to newspaper executives.

An estimated 20 million Americans accessed the independent counsel's report via the Internet on Friday, Sept. 11, and Saturday, Sept. 12.

The House of Representatives alone reported that its servers had 10 million visitors over the full three-day weekend.

To start with the obvious, the 'Net must now be considered a serious distribution medium. No matter how you slice it or which numbers you choose to believe, millions of Americans saw the Starr Report on-line. America Online reported that the entire report was downloaded roughly one million times from its servers, while millions more accessed parts of the report.

Perhaps more interesting, though, is that such access shifts the roles of news people. The days of gatekeeping are gone.

It's not hard to imagine how this report would have been handled before the 'Net. We've seen it. We all remember how the Nixon tapes brought a new phrase to the popular lexicon: "expletive deleted."

Nothing was deleted on the 'Net, despite the fact that the Starr Report contained material that -- true or not -- ranged from salacious to nauseating. Newspapers attempted to maintain some degree of discretion with their coverage of the story, though many separately printed the entire unvarnished report.

One wonders, though, how the coverage would have gone without the 'Net. Without going into the details -- we all know them by now -- would some of this stuff have never seen the light of day? Did newspapers print more and go further because the public was reading the unexpurgated report on-line?

Traditionally, newspapers have stood between the news and the readers. Readers don't have the time to go to Washington, watch the hearings and read the report. Newspapers do that for them.

The 'Net now does for documents what C-SPAN has done for congressional hearings -- now everyone can be bored stupid (though one is forced to concede that while the Starr Report was many things, boring was not really one of them).

This new role is not necessarily a threat to newspapers. The Washington Post and many others printed coverage of the story and full copies of the report, plus posted the report on the Web sites.

This is the best of both worlds. If you think about it, the introduction of a new medium has historically meant the displacement of older media, rather than their replacement. Newspapers were not replaced by radio, and radio was not replaced by television.

So, too, it is possible to see synergies in the coverage of the Starr Report. Television coverage drove much of the initial public awareness of the report's release. The 'Net provided full and instant access to the report. Newspapers followed up with complete coverage and printed copies of the report for a more leisurely perusal.

Arguably, the single best way to read the Starr Report is at a demonstration site put up by Trellix -- http://www.trellix.com/icreport/ -- pictured above.

Trellix is the name of both the company and the product. The company was founded by Dan Bricklin, the legendary co-creator of VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet.

The program is a new type of document processor. While most word processors are based on the print paradigm -- pages, footnotes, chapters -- Trellix organizes content conceptually.

You can print Trellix work, save it as a document, or output it as HTML.

The strength of this approach can be seen in the Starr demonstration site. A document map runs across the top of the page, showing you each page and how it fits into the document. You can jump directly to any other point.

Even cooler, the footnotes appear in a thin bar at the bottom of the screen. Clicking on any footnote in the text scrolls the footnote screen to the correct citation -- while you still have the main document before you.

-- Christopher J. Feola
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:NewsInc
Date:Sep 28, 1998
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