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Scandal puts Internet in the spotlight

Newsweek January 30, 1998
Web posted at: 12:14 a.m. EST (0514 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- The Internet has become a prime news venue as the story about President Clinton's alleged affair with a White House intern plays itself out.

At work and at home, Americans are rushing to their computers to catch up on the latest information on one of the biggest stories in a long time.

Not only did the story break first on the Internet, but now organizations like the Washington Post and Newsweek don't have to wait for the presses to roll to be the first with the latest news.

"When people want information like this," said Graham Cannon, a spokesman at Time Daily, Time magazine's online version, "they want it timely and they want it accurate."

Ruth Gersh, editor of multimedia services for The Associated Press, says that on Monday, reports about the crisis in Washington on AP's Website out-polled Super Bowl reports by a 3-to-1 margin.

"People are congregating and talking about it," says Jim Kinsella, MSNBC's general manager. "That's one of the by-products of this crisis."

Feeling the pressure

Dallas Morning News

As publications become more determined to scoop the competition on the Internet, some news veterans fear accuracy is taking a beating.

A few days ago, the Dallas Morning News posted an update to the Clinton story on its Website, only to retract it four hours later.

"Every part of the media feels the pressure of the Internet, says Jodie Allen of Slate, an online magazine. "If Matt Drudge is going to put it out there, maybe we ought to put it out there first."

Matt Drudge first broke the Clinton sex controversy on his gossipy Website, The Drudge Report.

"He didn't do all the independent reporting himself," says James Ledbetter, media critic for The Village Voice, "but that's the way the story broke."

Drudge objects to what he calls being "marginalized" by other media because he does his reporting on the Internet.

"I work very hard confirming," he says. "As a one-man operation, I put my name on everything. I've written thousands of stories and had dozens of scoops. I think just because I don't have the clout of the major newspapers doesn't mean you can't get close to the troops."

Internet sites could upstage money-makers

Washington Post

At the Washington Post, editors wonder just where this foray into online journalism will take them.

"There has been an ongoing dialogue in the Post newsroom about how far we wade into this Internet swamp of instant news," says Leslie Walker, editor of WashingtonPost.com. "But, clearly, it represents an opportunity for newspapers to be competitive on breaking stories with radio and television."

At Newsweek, too, editors struggle with whether the magazine should be trying to break stories at all.

"We're not in the breaking news business most of the time," says Peter McGrath, editor of news media for Newsweek. "News magazines are in the perspective business."

And, McGrath says, Newsweek should use the Internet to provide more in-depth coverage. But that wasn't the case last week when Newsweek used its Website to publish its story about Clinton and Lewinsky four days before the magazine went to print.

Since newspapers and magazines make very little money posting their stories on the Internet, many worry that they could lose money by upstaging their money-making publications.

"Magazines and newspapers are on the Internet now because they can see down the road that it's somewhere they have to be," Ledbetter said. "They don't want to get left behind. But it's not a money-maker at the present time, and it's not going to be for several years."

Drudge's server barely surviving

Drudge Report

Sites gauge their traffic in two different ways, hits and page views. Hits are simple requests for files from the site. A page view is a number of hits, usually the number it takes to make up what is considered a single page.

Since the story broke, traffic at the Washington Post Website has almost doubled. Newsweek's site has had hundreds of thousands more hits than normal.

A spokesman for Fox Media Online says the traffic there has doubled. At MSNBC it's up 150 percent. At the New York Times Website last Saturday, a day when traffic is usually low, there were 1.3 million page views.

Drudge's biggest day so far was Monday with 349,075 "hits," compared with an average of 52,000. His Internet provider, L.A. Internet, Inc., moved his site to a separate high-speed server to handle the load.

"The server is barely surviving," said Sassan Behzadi, director of Web development.

In the first week of the scandal, CNN Interactive and CNN Time AllPolitics recorded at least 45 million page views, with AllPolitics quadrupling page views on the first day.

With interest like that, it appears that worried editors are going to have to adjust to a new reality: Internet news is here to stay.

Correspondent Ann Kellan contributed to this report.

 
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