The Internet’s first war

Oct 22, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The war against terrorism is the biggest military conflict ever covered on the Internet, and it is revolutionizing the way people access breaking news.
Consider this: Nine years ago during the Persian Gulf War, CNN didn’t even have a Web site. CNN.com wasn’t launched until 1995.
MSNBC and the Fox News Channel didn’t exist in any form back then, nor did the Web sites for ABC and CBS.
Today, with a few keystrokes, Web surfers can see detailed maps of the war theater, photo essays of the recent terror attacks, profiles of the weaponry and updates on the military action.
To feed the public’s never-ending news appetite, most media sites have expanded their video offerings, adding clips filed from the war zone and live and archived streaming of press briefings.
“We’re probably doing more live video because there’s more live video to cover,” said Merrill Brown, editor in chief and senior VP at MSNBC.com.
According to Jupiter Media Metrix, a company that analyzes the Internet, traffic is way up for all media sites since the terror attacks.
CNN.com was the top-performing TV news site in September. It had 24.8 million unique visitors, an increase of 141 percent over August. Web surfers boosted their time on the site from an average 23.8 minutes in August to 33 minutes in September.
MSNBC.com had 22.2 million unique users and registered a 66 percent gain over August. ABCNews .com jumped 120 percent in popularity to 8.9 million visitors, while FoxNews.com grew 163 percent to 4.4 million users.
CBS.com, the hub for CBSNews .com, saw traffic double to 8.2 million visitors from August to September. There is no individual measurement for the CBS news site.
Traffic on the sites is generally above pre-Sept. 11 levels but lower than the peaks experienced just after the terror attacks.
At CNN.com, for example, there was an average of 4.6 million visitors a day during the week of the attacks. For the week ending Oct. 14, the figure was 3 million, more than twice the number just prior to the attacks.
MSNBC.com, C-SPAN.org, CNN .com, ABCNews.com and CBSNews .com offer plenty of live and pre-taped video, but FoxNews.com has a different approach: It offers little video-and what it has is buried.
“We’re not stressing video,” said Bert Solivan, VP of news information for the Fox News Channel.
He said the downturn in advertising, particularly for Internet content providers, has made it more costly to feature video. “The Internet economy isn’t the greatest economy,” he said. “From an ad perspective, we know we can make money on TV.” As a result, Fox has essentially ceded the Web ground to its competitors.
MSNBC supplements its coverage with reports from NBC. One of its war correspondents, Preston Mendenhall, files video mostly for MSNBC’s site but also sometimes for the cable channel.
CBSNews.com offers White House, Pentagon and FBI briefings live on its site-it was webcasting such fare prior to Sept. 11 anyway. CBSNews.com Editorial Director Dick Meyer said he and his colleagues frowned on simulcasting CBS news programming on the site before the attacks.
The network is making an exception, he said, because many people-particularly office workers-don’t have TV sets at work but do have computers with broadband hookups.
The commercial-free cable channel C-SPAN webcasts the bulk of its TV schedule at C-SPAN.org.
Among other online offerings:
* CNN.com has a gallery of more than 1,000 photos of individuals missing from the World Trade Center attacks. The pictures, mostly sent by concerned friends and relatives, some from overseas, have helped connect loved ones to people initially unaccounted for after the attacks.
* ABC’s Chris Wallace hosted a special interactive program for ABC News.com on U.S. Special Forces, such as Delta Force and the Navy SEALs, that are expected to play a role in the war on terror.
* MSNBC carries live audio of its cable channel.
There’s even been a dramatic rise in subscriptions to e-mail alerts.
Prior to Sept. 11, CNN had about 250,000 people signed up for its electronic breaking news alerts. One month after the terror attacks, the subscriber list had swelled to 1.7 million and is growing.
Meanwhile, the Al-Jazeera cable news network, based in the Gulf state of Qatar, has seen a significant increase in visits to its site, Aljazeera .net, since the attacks.
One reason is that the network is being seen around the globe because its TV reports are picked up by CNN and other networks. Al-Jazeera is the only news network with correspondents stationed in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan-other journalists have been invited into Taliban territory for short periods to examine apparent damage caused by the United States and its allies.
The site, which is in Arabic, offers live video streaming of major press conferences, such as White House or Pentagon briefings, and has plenty of archived audio and video clips.
“It’s clear that it is now a factor in shaping public opinion in the Arab world,” said Ali Abunimah, an official with the Arab American Action Network, a Chicago-based social services organization.