One of the most remarkable things happening in cyberspace these days is the way this new medium is beginning to transform the American newspaper. For some time now, newspapers have been building a presence on commercial on-line services--the New York Times on America Online, for example, or the Los Angeles Times' TimesLink partnership with Prodigy.
But after spending some time exploring the World Wide Web, it's clear to me that this very different on-line medium will bring about a change in papers as important as the development of high-speed presses in the 19th Century.
A good place to witness this transformation is to point your Web browsing software at http://www.nando.net/, the home of NandO.Net. Brought to you by the Raleigh News & Observer, a respected regional daily in Raleigh, N.C., NandO.Net points clearly in the direction more and more newspapers will be going. It's also one of the best Internet efforts I've seen by a newspaper. Through NandO.Net, you can access The NandO Times, which corresponds to what we would recognize as a newspaper. It offers summaries of the news, organized by broad category--national, sports and so forth--as well as clickable advertising. One such ad, for a company called PC Travel, lets you telnet to their site and buy travel tickets on the spot. The NandO Times isn't a paragon of great Web design, but most of the news you want is here.
Take a closer look, though. First of all, there are no discrete "editions," as we understand the term. Instead, The NandO Times offers continuously updated national, international, sports, business and technology news. It also offers depth--check out the minor league stats on the NandO Baseball Server, for instance--as well as some of the popular non-news features sported by modern dailies, such as personal ads from the Raleigh area. (Romance isn't just a mouse-click away; you have to respond by phone, to a 900 number, for $1.95 per minute.) I found the searchable classified ads especially handy.
Also fun is the Cyrano server, which will write a love letter for you. You get to choose from steamy, indecisive, surreal, intellectual, desperate, and so forth, and then fill in a form, providing some descriptive terms, your lover's favorite food, most attractive body part, etc. A sentence from the one it generated for my wife: "Your nose are my anchor in the stormy sea of life." This'll sweep her off her feet for sure.
Anyway, all this neat stuff is free. It's a way to deliver more value to advertisers, after all, as well as to strengthen the News & Observer's franchise with readers. But NandO.Net isn't just a newspaper. It's also a full-blown Internet access provider. And they offer a pretty darn good deal. Family rates include up to five IDs in the same household and unlimited access via SLIP connection (a better, faster type of Internet connection) for just $20 a month.
Oh yes, you can also get home delivery of the actual printed newspaper for an additional $6 per month, which is half what they usually charge. Subscribers also get on-line access to expanded news offerings from wire services and other sources.
Thanks to the World Wide Web, the clever folks at the NandO Times can offer all the stuff in the News & Observer, plus additional material from the paper's staff and wire services, plus everything else on the Web. An article about cancer research, for instance, could contain hot links to cancer pages or health-related material elsewhere on the Internet, wherever in the world those resources might happen to live. But why stop there? If there is a terrorist bombing in Chicago, why not let readers jump directly to the local paper's coverage? That's just what you'll be able to do pretty soon, if not from NandO.Net, then from some other newspaper Web site, such as, say, Mercury Center.
The San Jose Mercury News offers this fine news site at http://www.sjmercury.com/. They have news, ads and so forth, but what's also interesting is that Knight-Ridder Inc., which owns the Mercury News, is part of the New Century Network, a group of major newspaper chains whose members have agreed to give one another's subscribers access to their Web sites. (Times Mirror Co., publisher of the Los Angeles Times, is a member of the network, as are Gannett Co., Hearst Corp., Tribune Co., Washington Post Co., Advance Publications Inc. and Cox Newspapers Inc. The Times has a Web version in the works.)
Thus, if you're a Mercury Center Web subscriber and you want to know about that big story in Chicago, you'll probably be able to jump right into the Chicago Tribune's coverage.
Another interesting trend exemplified by Mercury Center on the Web--which will no doubt subsume the Mercury Center service offered on Americal Online--is that it used to be free, but isn't anymore. Now anyone can stop in for free summaries of the day's top stories, but you can't get the full text without subscribing for $4.95 a month--or just $1 a month if you subscribe to the newspaper.