Remembering and wondering why . . .

In reading the Poynter Institute’s online news digest the other day I came across a note in which Bob Stepno recalled the early days of one of the earliest and best attempts by newspapers – to wit, South North Carolina’s Raleigh News and Observer – to use the Internet as a news gathering and delivery vehicle. Nando emerged just as the graphical user interface, Mosaic, made it possible to navigate the World Wide Web using the point-and-click mouse as opposed to the arcane word-driven commands of the pre-visual Internet.

That was the beginning of the current era in media. And newspapers were there. During this same 1994 time period during which Nando emerged, I worked at the San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle where then Examiner publisher Will Hearst instigated creation of, which remains the web presence of the Chronicle (see Wikipedia if you wonder what happened to the Examiner). I was more than merely aware of the Gate. I was an early moderator of discussion groups at, which then styled itself like the pioneering online community, The Well.

Okay, so if newspapers were there at the beginning of the Web, why are they in such trouble now? Nando is gone as a brand name and newspaper sites in general are not taking the Web by storm. For instance media zine Paid Content, relying on newspaper industry figures, reports that traffic flows at newspaper web sites grew 6 percent in 2007. And that was compared to a 9 percent growth rate in the prior year.

So the traffic growth rate to newspapaper web sites has, in aggregate, slowed to an anemic single digit. Yet the entire industry is betting its hopes on the print-to-web transition. This concerns me. The newspaper industry pioneers who at least discerned the importance of the web in ’94 failed to capitalize on their early entries in cyberspace. And now in 2008 when the industry has its back to the wall, once again there is an emphasis on moving operations to the Web. What went wrong 14 years ago? And how will today’s weakened and frightened news organizations of today do better at the Web transition than their predecessors who operated from relative positions of strength?

I have some thoughts but really these are questions for the people who get the big bucks. I’m just a blogger.

By the way, if you would like to wander down’s memory lane, Stepno has a lovely personal website, built up over the last 14 years, in which he links to his own Nando-nostalgia.

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