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Dean's Digital World - Sources 39

By Dean Tudor

Dean Tudor

I have to apologize again - I did this in the last issue, when I contradicted myself over the earlier success of gopher (which then became "dead" except for text retrieval). Last issue I touted the "What's New?" site for Mosaic (deadline for that article: April 15); "What's New?" died on June 30, a month before you even got that issue of Sources.

What can I say? Change is inevitable....The Internet never sleeps, and with a twice a year publication schedule, Sources is ALWAYS going to be behind in listing/advising of new sites.

So let me try it again: here's where all the DAILY action is in discovering NEW sites on the Internet. That's right, these are updated daily... http://www.usatoday.com/life/cyber/ch.htm is the site for USA Today's daily web column. The author finds a half dozen new sites and writes about them. There is also Yahoo! for the Day at: http://www.yahoo.com/picks/daily which is the page for about a half dozen daily "picks" plus links to new sites listed in other subject categories maintained by Yahoo! It also has links to breaking news about the Internet and computers in general...

Once a week you could try "What's New This Week" at the Berkeley Public Library, found through: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/bpl/bkmk/new.html

This is an excellent annotated series of information links which contain materials of substance.

As well, there is the weekly Webcrawler's New Sites at: http://webcrawler.com/select/nunu.new.html

The alerting service at Netscape is appalling, in that it is only updated about once a month....Too old, guys: speed it up!!

You can also subscribe to alerting services and get newsletters, such as Weekly Bookmark (which has undergone a couple of restructurings; try: majordomo@pobox.com to send a subscribe command). The Net Surfer Digest comes as a pre-formatted newsletter - you simply make it a file with a .html extension, and you are away to surfing (subscribe to nsdigest-request@netsurf.com). The Scout Report (listserv@lists.internic.net) and Infobits (listserv@gibbs.oit.unc.edu) cover deadly serious, "academic" type web sites, although Scout does have a popular section (entitled "Weekend Scouting": as if my personal R + R is going to be spent surfing!!)
All are free, being supported by advertising...

There are quite a lot of good ways to find new sites on the Internet, and they are all especially useful because they serve as filters. I don't have time to plow through the thousands of new sites set up each day (who does?). Some services also try to grade the sites, although this is a futile exercise since there can be so many changes.

Still, some Canadian teachers and librarians have joined a project to rate every single Internet document on web sites for "educational" content. Thankfully, they're concentrating on Canada first. They're using software called daxHOUND, produced by Net Shepherd of Calgary (http://www.shepherd.com) The program lets web pages be rated and filtered, so students can find their way through the thickets of scholastic understanding. Standards are set, and each local community or school can customize the rating system. I wish it well, but it seems too close to censorship for me.

Events do move fast...What is the status of BBS-es, those hewers of the late seventies, almost twenty years old now?...Are they surviving the shift to use of the Internet? With graphic browsers and email programs and unlimited use for under $25 a month coming from every kind of Internet Service Provider, who'd want to stay with a text BBS that asks for $50 a year in membership fees (and with a busy line too)? I'm afraid their days are numbered - somebody prove me wrong!! Oh sure, they still have a
place, but who recognizes this?

My favourite boards are the Sources BBS (416-229-4465) and the Guildnet BBS (sponsored by the Canadian Media Guild, 416-269-2734) Both have accessible phone lines, and both are free. With Sources you get a lot of Internet access such as Telnet and Lynx web browser and E-mail. Guildnet has E-mail plus just about every single conference/discussion group or newsletter from the North American journalism world. Tons of reading here.

But they both share a problem: they are free only to local telephone users, and both are in the 416 calling area. With offline reader software programs, they are easy and cheap enough to reach for their specific uses. Some people, though, want more...

For example, if you used the Sources BBS, you'd get Sources experts. If you wanted MORE experts you'd have to use the Internet...You'd be able to access these remarkable areas of experts:

USA business experts at experts@bznetusa.com

USA Health experts at uslifeline@aol.com

USA MediaNet at 71344.2761@compuserve.com

...with Web access to the following:

ExpertNet (UK) at http://www.niss.ac.uk/education/cvcp/expertnet.html

Professors at ProfNet http://www.vyne.com/profnet/index.html

ProfNet's Expert Database at http://www.vyne.com/profnet/ped

Science experts at QuadNet http://www.vyne.com/qnetwww/index.html

US National Press Club's Directory of Experts at http://access.digex.net/~npc/

Yearbook of Experts, Authorities and Spokespersons at http://www.yearbooknews.com/

Contact Center Network (non-profit companies) at http://www.contact.org/dir.htm

Ask an Expert at http://www.askanexpert.com/p/ask.html

Noble Internet Directories at http://www.experts.com

In each case, you need simply to outline your story, mention your publication, give your deadline state your information needs, and sign off with your name and E-mail address.

Still, I like the friendliness of the local boards - but they are local, and that helps nobody in Montreal or Vancouver. Even worse, the Free-Nets seem to be in decline. Funding from government sources has dried up everywhere, and people are shifting to the larger Internet mode. Thus, they are not available for discussion groups that are essentially local in nature. And that's a shame...

Retrenchment is also happening among the media, and this is having a dampening effect on computer-assisted reporting in Canada (as well as other places in North America). Just as we were preparing a big rollout at Ryerson for the Ryerson Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting in Canada came word of many serious and grave takeovers and cutbacks in all forms of the media.

We were preparing to launch training programs and database acquisitions, but most of the big stuff is now on hold. We'll still be doing training, but mainly on a local basis. We'll still work on projects, but mainly low cost ones.

The Ryerson Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting in Canada (RICARC) was founded in June, 1996, at Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto.

Some of its resources are free, such as its first project scheduled to be completed by the end of 1997. The database of databases project identifies over 300 federal, provincial, and municipal government databases that journalists can use for investigative stories. Try this URL: http://www.ryerson.ca/~ricarc

The project is being directed by Robin Rowland, who also teaches computer-assisted reporting to graduating students at Ryerson.

While media outlets in the USA have been using CAR for several years, the movement is still experimental in Canada. Part of the problem, Rowland says. is a lack of data availability; privacy laws are more prevalent here.

Another problem is the cost. Without the support of management, many journalists simply can't afford to practice CAR. "Because of a lack of competition in the Canadian news media, there hasn't been the motivation on the part of management to be innovative, as they have in the States," says Rowland.

"There's a myth that we don't have access to databases in Canada the way American reporters do," Rowland said. "So far no one has really attempted to identify and gain access to government databases in a systematic way. Ryerson's website starts that process, and it'll hopefully jump-start computer-assisted reporting in Canada on a wider scale."

As Robin says on the website, about 80 per cent of government information will soon be on computer. We'll need to be prepared for this; the Database of Databases lets both the journalistic and the academic communities know what is "out there".

Experienced CAR reporters say you must start with a good story idea, and then find the database. The RICARC project makes this process easier. If a reporter has a story idea, he/she can then look up the Database of Databases and see if the data is available and where.

In addition, the simple knowledge that those databases exist could suggest story ideas to reporters and new, publishable research projects to academics. We are also working on identifying US databases that contain Canadian data, and we are exploring links (in true NAFTA fashion) with both our American and Mexican counterparts.

In addition, RICARC wants to organize weekend or other short seminars for reporters and editors at various news organizations, probably at Ryerson. We have some modern (1996) CAR facilities such as 1.6 gig Pentiums and appropriate spreadsheet/database software programs like QuattroPro, FoxPro, askSam, Access, Excel.

One notable project is going to be our Ontario public records primer (guide to paper trails, computer databases, descriptive details on files, what's out there, how to access).

Even though the prognosis for large scale (i.e., grand projects using huge government computer databases with two or more journalists tied up for months at a time) CAR in Canada seesm to be poor, there is still the opportunity to work on building your own databases and exploring local issues. With access to the Internet and CD-ROMs/online databases, and an understanding about spreadsheet programs, any reporter can construct a series of names or numbers to have some meaning - and get the story.
It means starting small, but you have to start somewhere... and it leads to an enhanced resume!!

Building on my theme of "change", here are some sites that have breaking news, and could be scanned regularly; there are more sites than you could possibly use, but I have found that occasionally some sites are down, and it pays to have alternate URLs:

http://www.yahoo.com/headlines/current: Reuters' Top Stories of The Hour

http://www.canoe.ca/news: 24HR News from CANOE (Toronto Sun service)

http://www.nj.com/newsflash: AP NewsFlash (updated every minute)

http://www.yahoo.com/text/headlines/current/international/: World News

http://www.yahoo.com/text/headlines/current/business/: Business News

http://www.businesswire.com: BusinessWire

http://www.yahoo.com/text/headlines/current/sports/: Sports News

http://www.secapl.com/secapl/Welcome.html: Stock Market Quotes

http://www.stpt.com/news.html: News Sources

http://www.NovPapyrus.com/news: News on the Net

http://www.disaster.net/: Current and Today's Disasters

http://www.informetrica.com/publinet/: Today on Parliament Hill

http://www.niu.edu/newsplace/news.html: N.E.W.S.

http://www.auburn.edu/~vestmon/news.html: The Newsroom

http://www.dna.lth.se/cgi-bin/kurt/rates: Today's Exchange Rates

http://www.hfxnews.com/media/daily: News Canada

http://www.totalnews.com: TotalNEWS

http://ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu/carrie/news_main.html: The Daily News from Around the World

http://www.webovision.com/media/sd/news.html: The Daily News via Web

http://www.uky.edu/Subject/current.html: WWW Current Events

http://www.refdesk.com/weath1.html: Weather

http://www.weather.com/weather: More Weather

http://www.qlsys.ca/lnet.html: Law/Net: today's Supreme Court of Canada rulings

http://www.cnn.com/: CNN Interactive News

http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/today/daily.htm: StatsCan's The Daily

http://www.cbc.ca/sites/ptn/ptn.html: CBC Prime Time News Transcripts

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/: BBC Worldservice

http://www.bowdens.com/icnews.htm: Internet Canada News

http://www.mecklerweb.com/netday/dfeatures.html: Netday News

http://www.newslinx.com: NewsLinx (daily news about the Web)

Dean Tudor is Sources Informatics Consultant and a professor of Journalism and Information Science at Ryerson University. He can be reached at dtudor@acs.ryerson.ca.

Published in Sources, Number 39, Winter 1997 .

See:  Other Dean's Digital World Articles

www.deantudor.com




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