As bombs rained down on Baghdad last night, major daily newspapers found themselves playing catch-up to CNN.com and MSNBC.com. Both news operations had stories up on line minutes after the news broke and full packages within the hour.
CNN.com in particular distinguished itself with a streaming video live link to its cable TV news, offering an instructive example of how to integrate the Web with television. The site also featured an original text story, updated throughout the afternoon, with a package of links to message boards, documents, backgrounders and maps.
That stood in sharp contrast with the stale morning stories still on the sites of most newspapers long after hostilities began. For instance, the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition's lead story was "U.S. Considers Military Strike Against Iraq" until some time shortly after 5:30 p.m. ET. The WSJ later updated the story with links to CNBC video. Although the august New York Times was slightly faster and even included a map, its coverage initially was limited to an Associated Press report. By 7 p.m. ET, the Gray Lady finally updated its story with a complement of video and text links.
Elsewhere, big names in print journalism like the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Le Monde and the Jerusalem Post were left looking awfully retro, with stories speculating about when an attack might happen long after the news had been broadcast on television and radio. And when the news sites finally got with the game, they more often than not chose to pick up wire copy.
Not all the Web offspring of television stations similarly covered themselves with glory. ABC.com was down for a portion of the afternoon as the headlines ripped across the world. Katherine Dillon, the vice president and general manager for abcnews.com allowed that the site had experienced "some slowdown" but added, "we were never completely inaccessible -- just slow to get."
The uneven performance of the old media came as a mild surprise to Paul Grabowicz, the co-ordinator of the New Media program at the University of California-Berkeley, who suggested that a decades-old newspaper culture in some cases acts as a retardant. "You're dealing with a culture which is a very different news cycle than one where you're rushing into online when something happens," Grabowicz said. "With most newspapers, it's inbred that who you're writing for is the next morning."
That Web sites operated by television companies would jump on a story with more alacrity than newspapers operating Internet sites came as no surprise to Grabowitz, who hammered newspapers, saying they needed to recognise that old norms no longer applied. "They need to somehow come to grips with the fact that the deadlines are constant," he said. "They can't enjoy the kind of pace that allows them to sit back."