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June 18, 1997|
As TV and the Internet become more intimately intertwined, the most commonly expressed fear is that the Web will become like TV. But as the recent launch of ABCNews.com demonstrates, when it comes to broadcast-news networks moving to the Web the result is something else entirely.
When ABC News launched its 24-hour Internet news service last month, it followed in the footsteps of other giants NBC and Microsoft, which had combined forces in 1996 to create MSNBC, and CNN, which led the way the year before with CNN Interactive. All three sites provide breaking-news updates throughout the day, along with a full range of news packages and in-depth features. All three also supplement articles with various multimedia sidebars: primarily brief audio and video clips from their respective TV broadcasts. For now, however, and until streaming audio and video technology on the Web catch up with the kind of quality TV viewers expect, these multimedia "enhancements" are merely adornments, flickering promises of what's to come.
These sites resemble nothing so much as the Web sites of major newspapers (such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times); in fact they have almost nothing in common with network-TV news (except for the news itself). Just about all of the information is provided as text: headlines and article summaries, accompanied by still photographs, lead to newspaper-length articles surrounded by links to more text, in the form of additional articles and background information, research and educational resources. All the context (and more) that was pared away when the news moved from print to radio to TV is miraculously restored.
It is probably realistic to assume that the metamorphosis of broadcast news we see today on the Web is only temporary, to be wiped away by the inevitable marriage of the PC and the TV, and the arrival of TV-quality sound and video carried into people's homes via the Internet. But it's awfully tempting to hope that the Web and the expectations of online news consumers will leave a permanent mark on our news media -- in the form of the kind of depth and background that only the written word makes possible -- and will influence the way we learn about the events and issues that will shape our future.
Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.