Online newspapers are missing the most elemental ingredient of the Internet: interactivity
This column appeared in the March 1998 issue of The American Journalism Review.
Online news publications have been so swept away by the graphic grandeur of the Web that they’ve all but ignored the truly revolutionary promise of the Internet: interactivity.
Go to nearly any newspaper Web site and you’re met with an impenetrable wall of silence. Want to ask a question of a reporter whose story you’ve read? Want to send a compliment, fire off a complaint, point out an error, or offer a useful story tip to a particular writer or editor? Good luck.
The reasons vary for this Old Media mindset: newsrooms that breed aloofness and insularity; managers who turn apoplectic when employees voice their personal opinions in public; a reluctance to update antiquated computer systems; a lack of understanding about the nature of the Net.
But such thinking threatens to make papers less relevant in the digital age, especially when interactivity is a central component of Web sites that do get the Net. Newcomers such as HotWired, Women’s Wire, iVillage, Cafe Utne and others are doing a good job building relationships with readers through the use of e-mail or threaded discussions.
A few newspapers have begun to take the e-mail plunge. In November the Christian Science Monitor began including reporters’ e-mail addresses with their stories. “Initially, reporters were worried they’d be overwhelmed with e-mail, but that hasn’t happened,” says Tom Regan, online editor of the paper’s Electronic Edition. “We manage to answer every e-mail within 24 hours. The staff’s reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.”