3. Sourcing

Reporters and researchers working for the hot media initially try for a live source when working on a breaking story. If they can't reach one, they turn to the Web. The internet's facility as a research tool arises directly from its original conception in the minds of Bush, Nelson, and others. But there are serious drawbacks to using the WWW as a research tool. Almost anybody can create plausible web pages or post unreliable information onto usenet groups. Nevertheless, Editor and Publisher105 surveyed 6,000 US newspaper, magazine and TV news editors. The findings showed 50% of reporters go online daily in search of news. 9% of reporters name LISTSERVs, e-mail newsletters, Newsgroups and websites as their primary source of story ideas.

As more companies and institutions with websites include e-mail links to their key personnel the task of corroborating information becomes possible around the world and around the clock has become much easier. It is surprising what a full and frank reply a busy professional is prepared to give in response to a polite e-mail from a reporter.

Insiders frequently post information to specialist news sites such as the US bulletin board Free Republic where, once an original news story has been posted, readers immediately begin to dissect it in follow-up threads. The site is reputed to have a dedicated following among US media and political heavyweights and receives a reported 30,000 visitors a day including top congressional leaders and readers in the White House. "We have thousands of individuals who post articles and information," says webmaster Jim Robinson who suffers from muscular dystrophy and operates the site from a wheelchair in his home in Fresno. He received $500 last year in donations from readers.106

As the hot media discovered the profitability of carrying online advertising they have set up better and better online versions of their product. In the US, 33% of newspapers report their online editions regularly scoop their print editions.107 In some cases searchable online archives of past articles offer a faster and cheaper alternative to a hard-copy clippings library. The UK Daily Telegraph's online version108 supplements its content with links to sites relevant to the story - for example a report by Ireland Correspondent Toby Harnden with the headline "Nazis of the IRA accused by Bruton" appears beside hypertext links to the following websites: Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Progressive Unionist Party, Northern Ireland wants Peace!, Sinn Fein, Ulster Democratic Party, Northern Ireland Labour Party, Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, Democratic Unionist Party, Ulster Unionist Party, the Northern Ireland Government Server, Democratic Left Party of Ireland, Government of Ireland, An Phoblacht, Northern Ireland Information Page, and the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. This is surely indicative of a new even-handedness towards the reporting of controversial issues.

For a modest subscription the Electric Library109 offers searchable access to More than 150 full-text newspapers, hundreds of full-text magazines, national and international news wires, 2,000 complete works of literature, over 28,000 photos, images and maps, and transcripts of many US television, radio programmes.

105 Annette Hamilton, 'If it's not on the Web, it's not news' ZDNet (Ziff-Davis Publishing Company) April 23, 1998
106 e-mail from DRUDGE REPORT at drudge@drudgereport.com Thu, 26 Mar 1998 Subject: DRUDGE-REPORT BREAK March 25, 1998.
107 Hamilton, ibid.
108 At http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
109 At http://www.elibrary.com/