Journalists, though, have a unique opportunity today to redefine their role. They should not accept their role as predetermined; in fact, the oft-predicted dominance of Internet-only sites is uncertain because many of these sites have yet to prove that they will make money. Newspaper journalists in particular should not accept the premature indications of the demise of print; in fact, a recent study of market data shows that readers who read online newspapers tend to read a print newspaper as well. 1
However, newspapers often end up imitating the medium that threatens them. Today's newspapers put more emphasis on presentation than their predecessors in an effort to match the visual appeal of television. Today's newspaper and television Web sites imitate their competitors in Internet-only news organizations by relying on wires and adding features that mimic AOL and Yahoo.
Jon Katz is among those who criticize the tendency of newspapers to follow the leader. "This timidity and lack of experimentation is astounding, especially for an industry that doesn't let a day go by without lamenting its declining place in the world, and wondering what on earth it should do to compete with CNN, not to mention the Net and the Web." 2 Katz insists that newspapers should not fear offending readers because "the public would hardly be more alienated from the media than they are now." 3
Many television stations also could stand accused of timidity on the Internet, if not in their whole operations. The Project for Excellence in Journalism study cited above shows a lack of enterprise work in local television news. The television journalists interviewed for this study refer to an undue focus on everyday crime and a lack of respect given to their profession as a whole. Most stations' sites, therefore, lack original content and rely heavily on links to traffic and weather information. (The television Web site director interviewed for this paper works for one of the exceptions.)