By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer
J.D. Lasica used to visit 20 to 30 Web sites for his daily fix of
news. Now, he's down to three -- yet he consumes more news online than
ever. Lasica is among a growing breed of information consumers who use
the latest Internet technologies to completely bypass the home pages
of news sites and jump directly to articles that interest them.
He can scan some 200 Web journals and traditional news sites -- all
without actually going out and visiting them.
Online news consumers are increasingly taking charge, getting their
news a la carte from a variety of outlets. Rarely do they depend on a
single news organization's vision of the day's top stories.
"The old idea of surfers coming to your Web site and coming to your
front door, that's going away," said Lasica, a former editor at The
Sacramento Bee. "People are going to come in through the side window,
through the basement, through the attic, anyway they want to."
Some Web sites are already responding.
"When we all started this 10 years ago, we wanted to be the one and
only place people come to," said Jim Brady, executive editor of The
Washington Post's Web site.
These days, he said, the Post is happy simply to be one of many sources
checked daily. He sees his home page as a starting point, and during the
July 7 bombings in London, the Post even linked to the BBC, something
unfathomable a few years ago.
The Post and Knight Ridder Digital, meanwhile, are redesigning Web
sites to spread elements previously found only on home pages.
And in a case of "if you can't beat them, join them," Knight Ridder
Inc., Gannett Co. and Tribune Co. collectively bought three-quarters
of Topix.net, a startup that provides tools for readers to bypass news
home pages. The New York Times has been paying an undisclosed amount
to have its headlines featured there. Many smaller, privately owned
web sites used the syndicated RSS news feeds of each other as well,
and frequently contribute their own news items in the same way.
Topix provides direct links to news stories it collects and sorts from
more than 10,000 sources, and it slices story by category as well as
region, down to the ZIP code. Many of the links are to other web sites
as well as the more traditional media.
A news aggregation service from Google Inc. scans more than 4,500
English sources and uses software to rank and display stories to which
it links, while America Online Inc. and Yahoo Inc. offer services that
rely more on humans.
Yahoo News, rather than trying to keep readers from leaving, provides
easy access to articles elsewhere using Really Simple Syndication, or
RSS, a technology that immediately notifies users of new entries on
their favorite news sites and Web journals.
"In this world where people are looking for multiple points of view,
if all you're giving them is your view, ... they are going to leave
anyway and maybe be less likely to come back," said Neil Budde,
general manager for Yahoo News.
Many news organizations have tried to render online a packaged product
in the mold of the traditional newspaper or broadcast. That mentality
is changing, but slowly, Budde said.
News outlets are starting to add tools to untether readers from home
pages. The Associated Press, Reuters and others, for example, are
adding RSS support so readers can use tools like Yahoo's to display
summaries and access stories directly. In return, they allow their own
RSS feeds to be used on small web sites, a sort of 'scratch each
other's back' approach.
Web journals, or blogs, present another way to bypass home pages. Many
are topic-centric and carry links that present the blogger's rather
than a news editor's vision of the top news items.
Some traditional news sites, including the Post, are even beginning to
let their columnists link to outside sources.
According to Nielsen/NetRatings, Yahoo News had 24.9 million visitors
in June, more than any single news outlet on the Internet, and only
MSNBC and CNN had more visitors than AOL News.
Google News ranked 13th among news sites.
At The New York Times' Web site, referrals from RSS feeds account for
only 2 percent of traffic but represent the fastest growth -- 8.5
million page views in June compared with about a half million in late
The new tools bring opportunities such as better ad targeting, but
they also present some challenges. The news agency Agence
France-Presse, for one, has sued Google for copyright infringement
over Google News' use of photos and story excerpts.
Aggregators and feeds also potentially let readers select only the
topics they care about, ignoring other developments editors might deem
important, said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American
Life Project and former managing editor at U.S. News and World Report.
But Charlie Tillinghast, general manager and publisher for MSNBC.com,
said the new tools can also alert readers to once-obscure items they
might not otherwise have seen.
Knight Ridder considers tools like Google News and Topix as "nothing
but incremental traffic from people who might not have otherwise seen
the site," said Ross Settles, its vice president of strategy.
During the Scott Peterson murder trial, for instance, the chain's San
Francisco area papers saw increases in traffic from outside the area.
The new age of online news will still need reporters to produce
stories and editors to make judgment calls.
The need for partners to provide content will never go away, said
Lewis D'Vorkin, editor in chief for AOL News.
Home pages will continue to serve as a jumping off point for some
readers, and MSNBC recently beefed up its home page to include
customized headlines that are chosen based on stories the reader
But to stay relevant, online news sites must ultimately overcome their
reluctance to point elsewhere, said blogging pioneer Dave Winer.
"The reader wants lots of sources and doesn't particularly care
whether you point offsite or onsite," Winer said. "They just want the
And while news executives insist their brands will remain important as
trustworthy destinations, some readers prefer to trust individual
bloggers or friends who forward news items via e-mail or their own web
Nicco Mele, webmaster for Howard Dean's presidential campaign, said he
rarely visits news sites directly anymore and instead trusts bloggers
like Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, a Dean supporter.
Pointing to Moulitsas at a recent conference, Mele remarked, "I'll
read what he thinks I should read."
Anick Jesdanun can be reached at netwriter(at)ap.org
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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