When word filtered out in late 1996 that ABC News was about to launch a Web site, some cognoscenti felt the respected broadcaster was entering the Internet fray a little late. CNN and MSNBC already had high-profile sites, not to mention Fox News Channel and all the sites run by the major newspapers and magazines. Did the Internet need yet another mega-news site? How would ABC stand out in a crowded field?
A year after the launch of ABCNEWS.com, the answer is clear. The site has capitalized on the strengths of its parents, ABC TV and radio ("more Americans get their news from ABC News than from any other source") and the Internet giant Starwave ("where more people click"), creator and producer of a number of online sports, news, and entertainment services, including ESPN SportsZone. ABCNEWS.com slickly packages the day's news, but also provides voluminous and often thoughtful context and analysis for visitors with longer attention spans.
Breaking news can test a news site, and ABCNews.com tends to pass. Soon after the school shootings in Arkansas, the site put together text stories, photographs, and video clips. By the next day the package had been expanded to include information on, and links to, a wide range of related topics, including firearm safety, child psychiatry, and the history of the other killings by children in Mississippi and Kentucky, even a link to the hospital where the victims were being treated.
Foreign news is well represented on the site. Especially compelling are the "dispatches," a series of repackaged and expanded TV stories from around the world. Business and technology reportage is strong, too, and often bolstered by easy-to-read, informative graphics.
The site is true to its TV roots. The Nightline pages, for example, have recaps and transcripts of recent episodes, as well as collections of excerpts from classic interviews, including Gary Hart, from 1987, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, from the same year, and Michael Dukakis, from two weeks before the 1988 election.
To make full use of the site visitors need a reasonably sophisticated computer and multimedia applications such as Real Video (downloadable from the Web). Getting around the site can be confusing, partly because there is too much action on some pages, with scrolling text, changing ads, and moving headlines. The search engine has a handy feature that allows you to search separately for text, sounds, and video, although the results are displayed in a confusing format.
Reporters may find the reference section useful. Pick one of the "country profiles," for instance, and you get a quick introduction to that nation, including its vital statistics. You can even listen to its national anthem. The reference section also carries a list of "newsmaker bios." Unfortunately, the bios are not updated regularly enough. As of early April, they did not include such newsmakers as Kenneth Starr or Monica Lewinsky.