Dean's Digital World - Sources
By Dean Tudor
The Net moves on... it's hard to keep abreast of new developments
unless you deliberately go out of your way to seek them. This also
leads to when and how reporters use the Internet...
The main devices for getting information/data from the Internet
are the World Wide Web (WWW or Web), Gopher (more on this later),
E-mail, and Usenet. The first two contain files of data, while the
last two contain (mainly) information from human sources.
So, to keep up to date for each of these areas, you'll need to
find the forums that do so. For the Word Wide Web, you could try
"What's New?", a daily service from Mosaic (Netscape also
has one, but Mosaic's is textual and fastloading). You can get it
What's New? is a HTML formatted file, giving a brief description
of new World Wide Web sites as uncovered or submitted to Mosaic.
You could get a hundred new sites a day. Also available is Netsurfer
Digest, in HTML format, which can be E-mailed to you every week.
Its Internet name is "nsdigest-html" and you can order
it by sending a note to email@example.com. Every week
the newsletter will arrive in your mailbox for free, listing and
describing about 150 sites, mostly enjoyable. Just export it from
your mail program and give it an extension of .htm, and you're ready
to surf with Netscape, Mosaic or Lynx.
If you want the latest news in E-mail distribution lists (commonly
called listservs), then subscribe to "new-list" (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This E-mail list will send you a stream of newly arrived listservs.
Just keep them in one file, and do a word search when you are trying
to track down experts. More tedious is a listserv archive search
at the nodak.edu site.
Usenet contains all the bulletin board postings for over 15,000
subject groups. The latest background information for most of these
groups will be on news.answers. New groups will be mentioned on
news.lists. Every Internet Service Provider has those specialized
groups that begin with the word "news". Just do a global
search such as news.*
Usenet (also known as Netnews) has two large areas for information
about the Internet:
Looking at comp.internet.net-happenings will give you a record
of all Internet activities (E-mail, newsletters, lists, WWW, gopher,
Usenet, etc.), while comp.infosystems.www.announce will supply you
with all manner of new World Wide Web sites. Net savvy reporters
may want to subscribe to both of these groups, in such a manner
as to automatically arrive in their E-mail boxes so that they don't
have to go out and get them every day on Usenet. But be warned:
there is a heavy volume of mail here. Archives for all of the Usenet
can be found through Dejanews - http://www.dejanews.com
Can the newsroom make good use of this Internet technology? Anyone
using WWW access to various databases can do monstrous research
for newspaper articles. But there is a learning curve and a time
factor: you cannot just leap in and expect results right away. You
need to ask yourself if the time, effort and results do actually
lead to enhanced articles. Some basic questions to be asked by every
news media outlet:
* Is it more economical to have a single designated person do all
of this online research, or should everybody be doing it?
* How should we be sourcing the information used from online research?
* Which online resources are the most useful?
* How should we be storing/retrieving the resources we find and
* What can we contribute to the online world?
When should you be using the Internet? (and every reporter should
have an account somewhere: local BBS, CompuServe, a local Internet
Service Provider (ISP), the newsroom. This stuff is dirt cheap now.)
Obviously, when you want to locate an industry or government expert.
You can use SOURCES SELECT Online, ProfNet, ExpertNet, QuadNet
- a whole range of experts are out there. You can search for and
post on listservs, which are geared to experts and academics. You'll
discover a new source, maybe even somebody with an uncommon experience.
Some of this list come from MediaNet, such as using the Internet
for basic resource work: check your facts, answer a tough question.
You can find case studies to look at trends and fads, reach some
verification and cross-checking. Even compile statistics. Maybe
create a roundup of organizations doing something out of the ordinary.
Or, perhaps research a really esoteric topic. Or, learn about an
industry that's new to you. Or, simply prepare background material.
You can post messages to bulletin boards, to get some practical
opinion from "out there" in the real world. This can add
different points of view to your story. You can conduct an informal
poll this way. Even get a fresh perspective on a story.
You can get local, in-house documents that you didn't know existed,
and maybe even find particular photos, footage, or illustrations.
While the Internet is quick, cheap, and easy, in some regards it
can be quite useless (such as chasing down archival materials or
anything before 1990). In my own case, it is the first place I turn
to when researching a new story -- I can quickly find background
material (or find that there is nothing at all) and sources. One
of the first things I do is post messages to listservs: while the
message will be quickly distributed, people still have to read it
at the other end. I can at least set that in motion while I scavenge
There is so much to do, all from the comfort of your chair: searching
library catalogues, using online reference works such as almanacs
and statistics and encyclopedias, finding story ideas, checking
universities for contact phone numbers, using Sources Select Online
or ProfNet for opinions from experts, monitoring Usenet groups to
find out what people are saying about various topics (although there
is a lot of unverifiable and dirty data here).
There also seems to be more interaction between news staff and
readers: many newsrooms and reporters are publicizing their E-mail
addresses. Many media outlets are offering enhanced information
on their World Wide Web sites.
For example, not only did the Globe and Mail reproduce all
the Ontario "sunshine law" public sector salaries in its
April pages, but also it mounted the ASCII text data files onto
its WWW site for the general public to download and parse into any
Of course, though, there is a negative here: surfing from your
couch takes time away from your walk on the streets of the beat,
away from the school board/city hall/sports palace/police station/fire
hall. That still needs to be done. The Internet obviously will not
do your job for you, nor replace the need to talk to people. It
just makes it all simpler and quicker.
But what of the Internet's future? Things change so fast, it's
difficult to make predictions. But here goes...
To return to Gopher: sad to say, Gopher is dying a long, protracted
It was the original menu to allow people to get files by ftp (you
didn't have to understand ftp). It took time, and files were text
or binary (you couldn't open the binary files: these needed to be
read by a zipper or graphic program). But files did indeed get transferred
from a server out there in cyberspace to your home account. The
next advancement was the hypertexting of the files, so that you
could truly "surf" through many different sites directly
without going through a convoluted menu setup.
To my knowledge, there is only one "gopher alert" site
that will tell you of new or changed gophers:
Netscape, Mosaic and Lynx are backward compatible, so the Gopher
program itself is no longer needed. Gopher sites are still being
maintained, principally by academia and governments. Businesses
learned early on that you cannot sell anything or make a profit
running gophers. Many gopher sites are no longer being updated.
The Gopher Jewels project has been suspended, and so have the gopher
mailing lists. Veronica (the program used to search gopherspace)
seems to be failing more and more: most of my students could not
get any materials using Veronica. It just didn't work. This text
based file retrieval system is on the way out.
Can Lynx be far behind? It too is text based, and hence limited
in its ability to get and display files through the World Wide Web.
It cannot load images, but it can still get binary files. The University
of Kansas has just announced that it will no longer be updating
its Lynx program: version 2.4.2 will be the last one...
What about the practicality of the World Wide Web? Has the Internet
created an entertainment monster? Find/SVP just completed a survey
which showed that excessive staff time was being used for Internet
activities: 7.7 hours a week on the average, most of which is not
really productive for the job.
Many of the proprietary conferences maintained on Microsoft Network
(MSN) and CompuServe, AOL, Prodigy, etc. are being discontinued
since people can get the material through the company's World Wide
Web sites (and the company has better control over the material
and the selling function). Some of the bulletin board conferences
are dying because everybody is out surfing, doing the larger picture
of world-wide information instead of just local or national discussion
Even the national bulletin boards are on the way out. CompuServe
and AOL are re-organizing. Eworld was killed by Apple. Prodigy is
up for sale, reputedly at one-fourth of its 1995 value. Microsoft
Network is fast becoming a provider operation, giving access to
the Internet without the local and proprietary conferences.
And home use will grow once the cable companies get it together:
the current 28.8Kps phone modems will be replaced by 500Kps cable
lines. Rogers will sell E-mail and WWW access for under $40 a month.
This terrific speed will allow for interaction, multi-media, moving
images, audio - just like your television set. You don't need an
expensive computer with a big hard drive and lots of memory. It
also makes sense not to tie up the phone lines (we've already got
answering machines, modems, and fax machines hooked up) or create
demand for more lines. There is plenty of room on existing cable
lines, and the phone company's Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line
(ASDL) is still some years away from full development.
The loser will be the ISP (Internet Service Provider) that currently
has 28.8Kps access. There is a price war now, with Netcom offering
unlimited access for under $30. But what if Rogers were to offer
unlimited access for under $40 -- at 500Kps, almost 20 times faster?
That will lead to the further development and home offering for
Java, called the "third wave" of the Internet. Developed
by Sun Microsystems, Java enables WWW sites to have multimedia capability:
an environment where one can see, hear, and interact in a new way.
Java-enhanced WWW sites can include animation, pop-up windows, interactivity,
and so forth. It may (at 500Kps) mean the end of Netscape and the
World Wide Web as we know it...Changes are coming. But I digress...
Something Practical At This Point...
Here's the latest stuff I have on good Canadian government World
Wide Web sites:
* Industry Canada: With the full text of publications, arranged
by sector (Information Highway in Canada, GATT, industry profiles,
Lobbyists Registration Act, technology network guides, competition
in manufacturing and service sectors)
* National Library of Canada: has a gateway to Canadian government
information on the Internet (including federal library catalogues
such as the International Development Research Centre's Development
Data Bases Service and the NRC's library), bibliographies and pathfinders,
publications catalogues, directories, surveys, studies, reports,
* Statistics Canada: searchable full-text of Daily Reports (current
and for the previous six months), schedules of upcoming statistical
releases, publications catalogues, services, CANSIM directory and
index to subjects with matrix numbers (but not CANSIM itself)
* Statistics Canada 1991 Census of Population Documentation (code
books for the geographic and reference files, record layouts for
profile files, bst files, sas and spss control files) for use with
the Census data tapes. (You'll need to be a U of Toronto student/alumni
with an account to actually get the Census or the CANSIM series)
* Natural Resources Canada: provides information on its mandate
and sectors (Canadian Forest Service, Geological Survey of Canada,
Centre for Mapping, Geomatics Canada), directories of staff, statutes
administered, and various links to its library and special services
* Health Canada: offers a BBS, WWW and Gopher programs, for disease,
drugs, nutrition, health research funding, and the Health Intelligence
Network (a focal point for health professionals, industry and the
public to do one-step research in health information)
http://www.hwc.ca (Canadian Health Network)
telnet://hpb1.hwc.ca (login hbpnet -- Health Protection BBS
* Revenue Canada: forms, answers to questions posed, information
on such matters as payroll taxes, etc.
* Other fascinating sites:
Auditor General's report: gopher://gopher.phoenix.ca
Agriculture Canada: http://aceis.agr.ca
Environment Canada: http://www.doe.ca
Dept. of Finance (budget papers): http://www.fin.gc.ca
Dept. of Foreign Affairs and Int. Trade: http://www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca
Human Resources Development Canada: http://hrdc-drhc.ca
National Research Council: http://nrc.ca
Public Works Canada: http://www.pwc.tpc.ca
Dean Tudor is Sources Informatics Consultant and a professor
of Journalism and Information Science at Ryerson University. He
can be reached at email@example.com.
Published in Sources,
Number 38, Summer 1996 .
Dean's Digital World Articles
Sources, 489 College
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