Online Workers Prone to RSI Injuries

By: Steve Outing

Repetitive-strain injuries (RSI) are a common malady in newsrooms. Editors and reporters long have been among the most frequent victims of debilitative ailments such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, the wrist and arm injury that if not treated adequately can wreak havoc on a journalist's career.

RSI is also beginning to turn up in publishers' new media departments, and the risk of developing RSI is even greater for online workers who spend the majority of their days at the keyboard. One of the best treatments for RSI is to rest the afflicted arm and hand periodically, which is easier for reporters who often spend part of their day outside the office covering stories. But most people working in new media tend to work at their computers for the entire day; there's frequently little in their work responsibilities that can be done away from keyboard and mouse.

At the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey, online services editor Herb Jackson reports that all four people in his department have had problems with RSI in the wrists, fingers and elbows.

In a posting to the online-news Internet list, Jackson reported on a conversation with the company nurse: "When dealing with secretaries, she told me, she suggests they switch off on filing duty or phone answering when typing becomes a problem. With copy editors, she suggests they spend time out in the shop checking pages. In the newsroom, reporters spend as much time out in the field getting stories as they do at their terminals writing them. But our staff is in more of a production mode than the copy editors -- we get the stories after they're edited. And even when my staff gets breaks, they use them to do personal surfing or play around with some new program we're trying out. Then they go home and surf some more."

New media managers need to be aware of this potential problem and take steps to prevent RSI before it occurs. Some newspaper publishers have long recognized the problem and provide employees with ergonomic chairs, adjustable desks and keyboard trays, and keyboard and mouse wrist wrests. At one of my old newspaper jobs, the news desk each evening at 8 took a break for anti-RSI exercises, led to music by one of the copy editors. The scene looked somewhat comical, but I have no doubt of its worth.

For new media or online departments, providing employees with ergonomic preventative measures is imperative. Most such departments are small, so several employees sidelined by RSI could be devastating. Ergonomic chairs and adjustable desks aren't cheap, but they could literally keep your online department functioning. Also vital is educating workers on how to work best to prevent RSI, and what to do if early warning signs appear.

If your online staff is working at non-ergonomic workstations in non-adjustable chairs, you're taking a big, unnecessary risk. For online departments perhaps even more than others, having a program to prevent RSI from threatening the staff is absolutely vital.

Contact: Herb Jackson,

Digital City is now on the Web

Digital City, that much watched (especially by the newspaper industry) online city guide venture owned by America Online and the Tribune Co., has made its first appearance on the World Wide Web. Tribune has launched Digital City Arlington Heights, the first of a number of Digital City ventures being launched in the Chicago suburbs. (Digital City Chicago is still under construction.)

Tribune's purchase of a 20% stake of Digital City Inc. seems to have speeded DCI's entry to the World Wide Web. When I interviewed DCI's top executive early this summer, he indicated that the Web was in his plans but that Digital City ventures would first appear on AOL's proprietary service. Tribune Co., not DCI, is staffing and operating the Digital City ventures in cities where Tribune has newspapers -- Chicago, Newport News (Virginia), and Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The Arlington Heights site has a nice look, but at this early stage its content is not very deep. Calling up local events brings up a non-interactive listing that you browse through. A movies section likewise offers a list of local movie theaters with films showing and times. What's called for, clearly, is a database-driven approach where users can tell the system where they live, what movie they want to see and how far they're willing to drive, and be presented with results specific to their desires.

It's too early to critique (or criticize) this site. To be sure, Digital City Arlington Heights will evolve and grow. Part of the problem now is that news content for Arlington Heights comes only from the Chicago Tribune. Digital City will be adding new media content partners, so the depth of the site will surely grow to where it's much more useful than at this early stage. Already evident are links to Tribune's formidable syndicate content, such as its Weather service, which give the Digital City site some added depth.

Despite its obvious immaturity, newspaper publishers will want to take a look at Digital City Arlington Heights. It's a harbinger of greater things to come from Digital City Inc. (and several other big-bucks online city guide ventures), and an indication of how serious a threat this poses to the newspaper industry.

More cool stuff

I like to showcase in this column new, innovative features implemented by online newspaper services. Monday's column brought in a note from Kris McDowell, managing editor of Review.Net and Warfield's Business & Technology newspaper in West Palm Beach, Florida. Review.Net was the winner of the best overall online newspaper service (under 100,000 print circulation) award from Editor & Publisher earlier this year. Among some new features added to that site:

* Florida Profiles is a resource package of Internet links to information found elsewhere on newsmakers in Florida's business community. As an example, Review.Net is profiling broadcaster Bud Paxson currently, combining its own journalism with what can be found elsewhere on the World Wide Web. (Warning: This is a graphics-heavy page that takes a long time to load.)

* Florida Business News is a compilation of the most important business stories from other online newspaper services in Florida, complete with links and attribution to the newspapers. "In essence, our readers can get the most important business news stories every day in one place," says McDowell.

* An e-mail bulletin alerts readers to new things on the site as well as current articles in the print publication. The bulletin is short and sweet, promoting outstanding coverage in print or online. (Too many online services' e-mail alerts or newsletters are too long, in my view. These promotions should be succinct and point to valuable information, or they'll be deleted and not read.)

Contact: Kris McDowell,

Are you cool?

If your online newspaper service has recently introduced something innovative and you'd like your industry colleagues to know about it, please send me a note. And include the URL of the feature, if applicable. Thanks.

Not just any college students!

In Monday's column I noted that CollegePost, a new service of aimed at the Washington, D.C., area college crowd, was developed by three college students over the summer. I failed to mention that the site was developed under contract by Student.Net Publishing, an Internet publishing and consulting company founded by students at Yale and Columbia universities in 1995 (and which I wrote about in this column last December). It operates Student.Net, a daily online publication for college students. Some of the features in CollegePost including Yenta, the match maker, were existing features on Student.Net and licensed by the Post.


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