Readers flock to watch Clinton squirm 10

By: David Noack Video testimony draws flood of traffic to Web sites, more special print sections

The historic broadcast of President Clinton's grand jury testimony about his affair with then-White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky forced online news sites to strain under user demand, as newspapers wrestled with how to tell the picture story in print.
It was the second time within the last couple of weeks that Web news sites rivaled traditional media in delivering a breaking story. When the 445-page report from independent counsel Kenneth Starr was released Sept. 11 directly to a congressional Web site, readers rushed online, creating record traffic, and traffic jams, in an effort to read the full text of the report, referred to Congress for possible impeachment proceedings.
Likewise, when Congress released Clinton's videotaped testimony ? broadcast on TV in the morning Sept. 21 ? and about 3,000 pages of supporting documents, many online news sites were scrambling to figure how to provide four hours of video on a medium still ill-suited technologically to move massive video data files. Another challenge was digitizing and posting the background documents.
But even with glitches and traffic jams, online news sites ? including CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Online, and ? reported heavy traffic. Most said volume was second only to the release of the Starr report two weeks ago.
Hundreds of thousands of viewers logged on to and CNN's RealChannel, said Jeff Garrard, senior executive editor, CNN Interactive.
Loren Pomerantz, a spokeswoman for MSNBC, said 1.2 million checked in to view the videotape vs. 1.9 million for when the report was released.
"We could accommodate, I think, 8,000 simultaneous users. . . . What we did see was a big surge right after the report finished, people coming on and accessing video-on-demand. As soon as the video was finished, it was archived and it could be accessed immediately," Pomerantz said.
Scott Ehrlich, the executive producer of News America Digital Publishing, which includes Fox News Online, reported roughly 6.5 million page views, compared with over 7.5 million for the report.
To handle the volume, fancy Java programs ? such as scrolling news tickers and framed pages ? were eliminated to smooth site access.
"Delivering a combination of live video, archived video, photos and text as
"The entire presidential scandal has really caused many to focus on the capabilities of the Internet as a news medium more than any 'news event'
has previously."
close to real time as possible is really what the promise of the Internet is all about. The entire presidential scandal has really caused many to focus on the capabilities of the Internet as a news medium more than any 'news event' has previously," said Ehrlich.
Leah Gentry, new media editorial director at the Los Angeles Times, said Web visitors were funneled to the videotape through a section of the site that warned "sensitive content ahead."
She said more than 7,000 users were able to view the videotape at once, easily outdistancing the previous streaming video record of roughly 1,200.
"Journalistically, while the Starr report was the turning point for the Web, this report was a trial by fire. Again, there was information that we could not come near touching in our print edition, not only because of the nature of the content, but also because of the sheer volume."
Bernard Gwertzman, editor of the New York Times on the Web, estimated that the videotape drew less traffic than anticipated. "My sense of it is I don't think this was an overwhelming Internet day. I think that people who wanted to see the video, saw it on television. We used the live TV feed through APTV (Associated Press Television), and they used (RealNetworks) RealMedia as their server. My analysis is that it worked very smoothly for the first hour. Then about the second hour there was a lot of interruptions, it would go down and come back up . . . a lot of people looking in and getting out. They are not enamored of reading every last word. I think they know the plot," said Gwertzman.
He called online video streaming an "interesting experiment" that needs to improve in speed and quality.
For newspapers, the story resembled courtroom reporting in terms of describing Clinton's reactions during testimony. Many papers ran a series of still video images ? slide-show fashion ? depicting his spectrum of expression. Editors debated the news value of the tape, since most of the information has been public for months, and whether readers have had their fill.
The Associated Press provided the full text of Clinton's testimony on a special Internet site and also offered excerpts, long and short, on its news wires. AP was unable to provide transcripts of Lewinsky's testimony until Sept. 22 due to formatting problems.
Larry Lough, editor of the Star Press in Muncie, Ind., ran five Clinton images on Page One, along with a main story, a couple of sidebars and a reproduction of Lewinsky's handwritten plea to Clinton.
"No special section on videotape or transcript. . . . Readers already are in info-overload. Neither the transcript nor video gave us anything really new, only some lurid details of old news. We have tried to avoid going overboard in this latest string of media events," said Lough.
It was different elsewhere.
The Arizona Republic, for example, ran a 12-page special section of excerpts from Clinton and Lewinsky, compared with a separate 20-page section on the Starr report.
Republic editor Pam Johnson said she began the day the tape was released intending to print the entire Clinton and Lewinsky testimony, but she backed off after finding no smoking gun and little new information. "We probably ran half of the excerpts that came over the wire," she said.
Managing editor Sharon Rosenhause said the afternoon San Francisco Examiner ran excerpts of the testimonies in the final edition the day the tape came out.
"We brought in extra staff Monday morning, since the release was literally on our deadline. For a p.m. paper, we enjoyed a real time advantage and the opportunity to boost street sales," said Rosenhause.

Newspapers wish upon a Starr
A quick and unscientific poll by the Newspaper Association of America showed that almost nine out of 10 U.S. newspapers ran all or part of independent counsel Kenneth Starr's sex-filled report against President Clinton.
Of 226 papers responding to the poll:
? 16% printed the whole report.
? 72% printed excerpts
? 12% did not reproduce any of it.
NAA said two out of three papers that ran the controversial report incorporated it in their regular news pages, the rest ran it in special sections.
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?( copyright Editor & Publisher, September 5, 1998) [Caption]


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