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Hot on the Web

Still redefining and refining

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on July 29, 2005
(Issue 2330, Teacher's Pet)

The horrific bombings in London and the earlier Live 8 concerts across Europe showed that live news reporting online is continuing to evolve and change shape and form.

Before the bombings, as the world's leaders gathered in Scotland to talk about climate change and African poverty, rock bands held a series of Live 8 (a play on the G8 leadership summit) concerts to raise awareness and money to fight poverty, diseases and hunger in Africa.

Early reports indicated that more people watched live concert footage over the Internet than on television. More impressively – and importantly – there were few technical glitches noted.

The Web traffic to the servers feeding the video from the shows was, by all accounts, significantly greater than had been anticipated – yet the servers didn't crash, and users didn't come away frustrated.

In one of the early wire service reports about the online feed, one young fan said the online experience was preferable to watching MTV because online it is the viewer who had control over which stage in which city to view at any one time – not a TV producer deciding for all the viewers.

As broadband Internet access continues to grow, and as improved video compression combines with greater carrying capacity on the 'Net's backbone, the ability of television to compete with online video delivery is only going to decrease.

Much as the first Gulf War showed that CNN was better than the networks at live news, so Live 8 may be remembered as the watershed when the 'Net's delivery superiority became apparent.

The bombing

In the minutes, then hours, after the terror bombing in London, the BBC's Web site ( not only had up-to-the-minute news, but posted photographs from its viewers and readers – people near the bombing who took picture, either with a digital camera or on their cell phone.

It provided a less centralized, more relevant news report than we've come to expect from the media.

At the same time, the BBC also hosted a forum where visitors could post comments - which ranged from "It's George Bush's fault for cozying up to the Jews" to "kill all the Arabs." Not sure what that added to the quality of overall coverage, but it was there.

More interesting was a blog where the BBC's field reporters could post quick updates throughout the day: Flowers being left in the unofficial but touching tributes the Brits are so good at, bus service being restored in some areas of the city, that sort of thing. Not only more interesting than the forum, but far less dispiriting, too. did its usual bang-up job, but was obviously not as on-the-scene as the BBC. Plus, CNN's voice and attitude are distinctly American; this was a British tragedy, and the BBC seemed more ... authentic, I suppose.

Still, had some interactive maps and graphics that gave a better feel for the scope of the tragedy than standard graphics could.

Both the BBC and CNN offered video clips on their Web sites as well.

In contrast to the BBC forum where unbridled hatred could be posted, CNN had a moderated e-mail forum where select e-mail reactions to the tragedy were posted. There was a touching message of condolences from a girl in Egypt, eyewitness accounts from Londoners, even a Finnish girl wrote in in anguish.

Sometimes a little judicial editing can go a long way.

Quicker reaction

What was also notable about the online coverage was how quickly nearly all online outlets reacted. We've become accustomed to reacting quckly – it was one of the first online news outfits to get us in the habit of finding live news coverage. But ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox; the New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times – all had immediate updates, redesigned home pages, photographs from the scene.

It is obvious that these traditional news outlets are finally recognizing that many of their readers and viewers look to the Web first – and are giving their online news teams the resources they need to do the job right.