July 24, 2004
NEW YORK - Gone from Internet coverage of the political conventions are most of the gimmicks, like 360-degree cameras that Web surfers can control from their homes. Also gone are television-style reports at USA Today's Web site and an original newscast from America Online Inc.
While 2004 brings better use of high-speed Internet connections, Flash animation technology and independent Web journalists known as bloggers, media organizations are largely returning to the basics on the Internet.
They are dropping the bells and whistles in favor of what they do best: covering the news.
Internet media descended on the 2000 conventions declaring a revolution, prompting many pundits to recall the arrival of television at a convention in 1948.
Last time, two online outlets, Pseudo Programs Inc. and AOL, produced original programming from skyboxes typically reserved for broadcasters. Republicans had their "Internet Alley," Democrats their "Internet Avenue" - where online outlets were grouped together in the media center.
Pseudo, out of cash, shut down just one month later. AOL passed on a skybox this year. Next week's Democratic National Convention in Boston won't have an Internet Alley or Avenue (though it will have "Bloggers Boulevard" for the independent bloggers making their debuts).
ABC News is dropping 360-degree images - "gimmicks that turned out to be a waste of time and energy," said Bernard Gershon, general manager for the ABC News Digital Media Group. "Except for the people who created it, very few people looked at it."
Though ABC plans only three hours of broadcast coverage all next week, it will run several more over the Internet, on mobile phones and through the relatively few TV sets capable of receiving digital signals.
The added video coverage, anchored by Peter Jennings, will be available on ABC's site to paid subscribers only, but the feed will be given for free to AOL customers, letting AOL focus on adding online polls, chat rooms and other interactive features for its subscribers.
While AOL's resources were "pretty spread" when it tried original programming in 2000, "now we can concentrate on what we know how to do and work with ABC on what they know how to do," said Lewis D'Vorkin, editor in chief for AOL News.
Not that the conventions will be devoid entirely of the bells and whistles common in 2000. The New York Times' Web site will have 360-degree images, while CNN's convention-floor webcam will offer 24-hour feeds, including those of janitors cleaning up.
But the focus will be on complementing other media, not duplicating or replacing them. MSNBC.com won't do gavel-to-gavel webcasts, and CNN's online video feed will draw upon fewer camera angles, reporters and analysts than its cable counterpart.
"If you're in front of the TV, that's where you should watch it," said Mitch Gelman, executive producer of CNN.com. "What you want to come to online for is for in-depth analysis and complementary elements like quizzes and quick votes."
He said the Web site will also be the place for people at work to catch up on the previous evening's proceedings, through transcripts and video clips available on demand.
USA Today, meanwhile, is dropping TV-style video, choosing not to compete with Web sites of broadcasters, given their extensive access to footage, said USAToday.com's editor in chief, Kinsey Wilson.
The site will instead focus on producing multimedia pieces using Flash, a technology for combining text, audio, photos and video. Its delivery is made easier by the growing availability of high-speed connections in homes.
The Boston Globe's Web site will supplement hometown coverage of the parties, protests and proceedings by asking readers with camera-equipped mobile phones to e-mail photos. Along with other media outlets, it also arranged with delegates to file blog entries.
In fact, blogs are being heralded this year just as traditional Internet outlets were four years ago.
Democrats have given media credentials to more than 30 independent bloggers. Many traditional news organizations, including The Associated Press, will have their own blogs offering analysis and insights. CNN's BlogWatch will review other blogs at the convention.
Sites are also committing less to better respond to news development. The Boston site is dropping prescheduled chat sessions, while the Times is forgoing its twice-daily, 20-minute video segments on politics.
"We wanted the flexibility to tell the story in the best possible way," said Leonard Apcar, editor in chief of the Times site.
With less emphasis on technology for the sake of technology, this year's coverage on the Internet will be mostly about playing to its strengths - reaching the work audience already done with the morning paper and lacking access to television.
"The big difference between here and four years ago is that the gee whiz element of the Internet has ended," said Stephen Bromberg, executive editor for Fox News Channel's Web site. "People now just expect to get the news from the Web site."