Report Documents a Blending of Media Online

By: Steve Outing

"Newspapers have an early advantage over television stations in development of online news sites and services, but that edge will erode steadily as bandwidth increases on the Internet, and new delivery media come into prominence. Eventually, TV news will hold the upper hand."

So writes Peter Zollman in a new report about the evolution of interactive news media, commissioned by the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation (RTNDF). The report, "Interactive News: State of the Art," is one of the better overviews of the current state of the news business as it struggles to move into the interactive arena. As Zollman states, it's an exciting environment but also a treacherous one -- because "there are no rules yet!"

The report is a balanced overview of all types of media and their prospects for prospering in an interactive environment. By "new media," Zollman includes any medium that is "interactive" -- that is, the news consumer asks for something, and they get something in return. Audiotex is a "new medium" even though it's been around for many years. But 24-hour cable news channels, which are a recent development, are not considered to be part of "new media" since they simply broadcast scheduled news content.

The up side

While the author believes that newspapers have done more early on with interactive media like the Internet, he is optimistic about the future for broadcast media. Current TV viewers are less likely than newspaper readers to use online services, he notes, so that TV stations with strong online news sites have the opportunity to attract new audiences, rather than just diverting their existing audiences from one medium to another.

Still, other traditional media need not look at the glass as half-empty. Zollman cites studies that show that consumers who have the higest level of interest in online news services continue to heavily use news from newspapers, television and radio. And if online services today reach 20% of the population and use is growing explosively, "then new media present a a tremendous growth opportunity," he writes.

For now, interactive news publishers need to be mindful of bandwidth limitations, and not load up their sites with lots of streaming video that only a small portion of their audience can appreciate, Zollman says. But he believes this will change in the coming years -- and as bandwidth to the consumer expands, the Internet news experience will look more and more like "interactive television." Writes Zollman, "The Internet is the new media reality and interactive television is the new media vision of the future."

Zollman, who once was news director for Time Warner's doomed Full Service Network (FSN) interactive TV project in Orlando, Florida, profiles the failure of early interactive television experiments. But he quotes people like new media expert Paul Sagan as saying that this is the year that it will make a comeback. "Last year (interactive TV) was bashed, but this is the year it returns in a different way -- like the Internet on steroids," Sagan says. Proprietary, closed systems like FSN have been overtaken by the open systems of the Internet, but Internet services will evolve to eventually look more like FSN.

Where friends are enemies

Zollman appears to be a fan of cross-media alliances online. "Why re-invent the wheel?" he writes. "Alliances make sense, and they spread the risk." He's complimentary to ventures like, which while run primarily by a newspaper company goes out and finds alliances with media organizations that in the traditional media world compete with each other. "Times are changing. If your thought process isn't changing with them, you'll find yourself staring at stronger and bigger competitors, rather than creating them," Zollman says.

Zollman also warns against a common affliction among media executives: the desire to quickly turn the Internet and new media into a profit center. "Instant profits are tough to come by in any business. Why should interactive media be different?" he says. Those media executives who see the possibilities in new media must be risk takers, who are willing to invest, make mistakes, experiment, challenge old assumptions, and probably lose some money during the learning process.

"Interactive News: State of the Art" is a component of the News In the Next Century project of RTNDF. The 79-page report is available for $10 (or $6 for RTNDF members). Information can be found at the RTNDF Web site.

Contact: Peter Zollman,


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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