by Dean Tudor
That' s what computers are mostly used for by
journalists: word-processing. Yet, this usage is mainly just fancy
typing. Moving into the sphere of real computer use we have database
creation and searching, online retrieval of data, spreadsheet
applications, graphic and multimedia capabilities for sending the news
and computer-mediated communications (CMC). We'll look at all these in
issues to come; they are all part of "computer-assisted reporting"
(CAR). If you think that you've got a handle on CAR by typing in a Word
for Windows or Wordperfect program, then you're dead wrong-and you're
going to be left far behind...
So much is happening these days: There are so many
ideas and thoughts
floating around in computer-mediated communications. It's like: "Have
Modem, Will Travel". With a modem, laptop and a cellular phone you can
extend your horizons around the planet- at virtually no added costs.
For starters: the Hamilton Spectator
has a Bulletin
Board Serviee(BBS) that readers, reporters and writers can access.
Stories can be posted and debated, letters written to the editor,
materials purchased. Announcements of local interest, sports scores,
weather and the like can be viewed. The Ottawa Citizen
is contributing similar data to the National Capital Free-Net, with a
sub-board for computer-assisted reporting. The Canadian Wire Service
Guild has a BBS in Toronto, and is gearing up for full Internet
capability (it currently has email and conferences; you can write to me
at email@example.com). Toronto is developing its Free-Net for a
March 31, 1994 launch- and it will have contributions from the Toronto
media. There are plans a foot for a national US BBS for journalists,
being spearheaded by reporter Bill Dedman and news researcher Nancy
Paul who is associated with the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg,
The Internet seems to be the vice on everybody's
mind. Why is it so hot
now? Because in November 1992 commercial organizations were allowed to
join (by April 1993, they had the majority of hooked up computers- a
mere six months later!!). Thus, newspapers, magazines and media
outlets-all profit-making-could join up under their own name or provide
commercial services on the Internet. Access to the Internet is
generally beneficial to writers for a number of reasons:
- They can join the online library world
of catalogues, abstracts, indexes and document delivery;
- They can download millions of public domain
shareware, databases, textfiles, images-all generally available or
specific to just one site.
- They can access government agency information
from agriculture to zymurgy, not only for US sources but also for US
files containing Canadian information (known as Trans-Border Data Flow).
- They can read and partake in worldwide
both the listservers, (several hundred) and the Usenet (several
thousand), forging global links through Internet Relay Chats.
- They can get and use electronic delivery of
newsletters and electronic journals.
- They can use e-mail to conduct interviews with
- They can easily navigate (called "surfing") the
since there are so many secondary schools and colleges presenting
programs and training tools. Journalists can partake in journalism
education forums, with faculty and students and course developers,
perhaps even shaping curricula.
But describing the Internet is exceedingly difficult: how can you
catalogue a moving target? What I write today (November 30) for a
January publication that may be read by someone in March 1994 will be
too old. The Internet will have moved on. Similarly, while books and
magazines are useful for backgrounding the Internet, the best tools of
all are ones that exist in electronic form on the Internet itself,
available as a latest version, perhaps dated only yesterday. I got BIG
DUMMY guide to the Internet for my
students (dated September 1993), as well as Surfing the
Internet (August 1993). These are on-line book length guides
to how the Internet operates, and they are more up-to-date than any
printed book would ever be.
The Internet allows reporters to do their jobs
better: to use more
resources, to chase down more contacts and sources, to conduct
interviews with people living halfway around the world. If you have a
question about anything, then send an e-mail message to the appropriate
discussion group (there are lists of these groups). If you have a query
about AIDS, try the group sci.med.aids(which has more than 20,000
subscribers). Or you can subscribe to the free newsletter Mednews which
has a weekly summary on AIDS from the Centres for Disease Control.
For US federal government information, you can
gopher to the Library of
Congress (marvel.loc.gov.) and search the catalogues or check listings
for government data. You can telnet to the Fedworld BBS, a one-stop US
government information resource (fedworld.doc.gov). Fedworld is a
gateway to over 100 other bulletin board systems run by various federal
agencies, available through a menu option: Consumer Information Centre,
Census Information, Computer Systems Lab, Computer Security BBS, Dept.
of Commerce, Food and Drug Administration; Labor News from the Dept. of
Labor; Human Nutrition Information Service from the Dept. of
Agriculture; Minority Impact BBS, Total Quality Management BBS, Travel
Alerts, Federal Register Electronic News Delivery - to name a few. Many
of these BBSs have Canadian information tucked away, or are so
subject-oriented in scope or coverage that nationality doesn't matter.
The Internet is relatively easy to use, once
you've played around with
BBSs and modems. There are a few potholes, though, in this information
superhighway. It is difficult to determine someone's email address. You
must get it from the person him/herself, or search using a "whois" or
"finger" or 'netfind" operation. Or, you can reply to a posted message
which has the address embedded in it. Or, you can begin writing down
addresses as you come across them-. and keep them on some electronic
Rolodex. Another pothole is the recent decision by the US Dept. of
Defence to withdraw from full Internet capability ( the DoD started the
Internet in the first place, back in 1969!). The reason given was the
overcapacity of the networks, and the strains being placed on the DoD
as a purveyor of information.
Opening up the Internet to commercial operations
may be its eventual
downfall as THE major conduit for data access and exchange. The
Internet may look limitless, but with millions of potential users,
storage capacity will be filled up quickly. With overcapacity comes
slowing down of actions- things take longer. So enjoy and use the
Internet while you still can...
In this edition of SOURCES SELECT
bringing you a few different points of view about using these
resources: my article is about resources available for
computer-mediated communications(CMC), writer and poet David Mcfadden
writes about his involvement with Internet since the ' 80's and
journalist Alanna Mitchell provides her overview, as an investigative
reporter, of computer-assisted reporting (CAR). We've also expanded our
"database of databases" to include all E-Resources for University
listees as well as Centres of Excellence and Health-related
organizations for easier access to Canadian experts in a range of areas.
In honour of 1993's International Year of World Indigenous Peoples
we've asked Valerie Alia to review the Royal Commission on Aboriginal
Peoples' recent publication, The Path to Healing. This review is
twinned with a review of Kit Minor's ISSUMATUQ: Learning from
the Traditional Healing Wisdom of the Canadian Inuit.
Dean Tudor is Informatics Consultant for sources, and teaches
Journalism and Information Studies at Ryerson University.
Published in Sources 33, Winter 1993/1994
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