ONLINE SERVICES AS NEWS REPORTING TOOLS:
A STUDY OF DAILY NEWSPAPER USE
OF COMMERCIAL DATABASES IN 1994
Journalism and Photography Program
School of Communication
University of Miami
Coral Gables, FL 33124-2030
[log in to unmask]
A research paper submitted for presentation to the Mass Communication
and Society Division, Association for Education in Journalism and
Communication, Washington, D.C., August 1995.
ONLINE SERVICES AS NEWS REPORTING TOOLS:
A STUDY OF DAILY NEWSPAPER USE
OF COMMERCIAL DATABASES IN 1994
Bruce Garrison, University of Miami
Uses of online research tools for news reporting at newspapers are
growing. As one of the two major forms of computer-assisted reporting,
online research has extended newsgathering. This paper reports a
national study of use of commercial and other online information
services used by U.S. daily newspapers in 1994. A total of 208
newspapers with Sunday circulations of 20,000 or larger responded (40.5
percent) to a mail survey of newsroom managers. The survey
the purposes of online searches, the most popular online services,
newspeople conduct searches, how frequently searches are conduced,
non-proprietary software used during searches. While the study found
widespread and frequent use by larger newspapers, online research was
still not widely used as a reporting tool by smaller daily newspapers
1994. There is considerable division over who in the newsroom should
conduct searches to control cost. In general, smaller newspapers take
"do-it-yourself" approach and larger newspapers use specialists.
ONLINE SERVICES AS NEWS REPORTING TOOLS:
A STUDY OF DAILY NEWSPAPER USE
OF COMMERCIAL DATABASES IN 1994
The power of the computer has affected news reporting in many ways in
the past decade. The increase in personal, or desktop, computing
combined with the decrease in cost has made computer-assisted
the newsgathering tool of this decade. In addition to database
using existing databases or original databases, journalists are
their computers to connect to other computers in distant locations to
get the story. Online services have become important reporting tools
the mid 1990s. This trend has developed so quickly that scholarship,
even the professional literature, has not kept up with the
growth in use.
The 1994 Gale Directory of Databases listed 5,564 publicly available
online databases and 8,261 total databases worldwide (Williams,
These databases were produced by 2,744 different sources. There are
more private and proprietary databases, of course. Vendors, the
companies providing the services, often charge premium prices for access
to the information they have. Governments, at all levels, are
the electronic data that they collect to the public, also, and most
services are comparative bargains. Certainly the online services most
commonly used can be very expensive, but still worthwhile for
journalists as reporting tools.
Databases are collections of related information. One computer expert
defined a database as "an integrated, centralized collection of an
organization's data" (Davis, 1991, p. 180). Online access to databases
is not only convenient, it is very fast compared to other means. For
journalists, especially those on deadline, speed might be the most
appealing element of online information gathering. For a skilled news
researcher, it may literally take only a few seconds using a
service such as Lexis/Nexis to find the owner of a piece of property
thousand miles away or just a few additional seconds to find the
property's physical description. Similarly, in some states it takes only
minutes to locate the place of residence of an individual who has a
iver's license and who was involved in a serious automobile accident
just hours or minutes earlier.
As the use of database-oriented news research grows, so does the amount
of information available (Rambo, 1987; Murrie, 1987). At least 125
newspapers in 33 states and the District of Columbia had their full-text
contents online for public access (Bjorner, 1992; Wall, 1991) at the
beginning of this decade. There are literally hundreds of full-text
databases available. Dialog, owned by Knight-Ridder, Inc., is perhaps
the "king" of these services and lists hundreds of databases through
massive system. The number grows even larger each month.
One of the reasons these full-text databases have caught on is
economics. Not only are these services valuable to the newsroom staff,
publishers have found home-grown and recycled databases have a
market value also. In addition to being tools for their reporters and
editors, these services, when sold publicly, are a source of revenue
news media companies (Garrison, 1995; Miller, 1988; Donovan &
1989). Many major newspapers will conduct news story database
for the public for a per-search fee.
Access to data has become an economic issue, but there are other legal
and ethical considerations. Privacy invasion has been a major
recent years, for example. There are countless legal debates about
access to public records now in electronic databases. Some records could
be accessed online, but are not yet available. Others are available
online, but are not accessible to many users because of high costs set
by the providers or because of software, hardware, or other "high
Economic issues involving access and distribution have led some mass
communication scholars, such as Emerson College's David Gordon
to look at an emerging society of information haves and have nots.
industry variation of what Gordon called an "informational
may be developing within the news media. Numerous news
especially small dailies, weeklies, and small magazines that are not
using online research, often claim they do not have money for hardware
or the monthly online subscription and user fees. Even if they could
find the money, they claim they lack the expertise to use the tool
effectively. "We can't afford it and really don't yet know how to make
best use of it," said Bill Weaver (1993), assistant managing editor
The Macon Telegraph in Georgia. Similar thinking comes from Sam
managing editor of the 23,000-circulation Kingston, N.Y., Daily
"We're a local paper and don't have a need for it," he explained.
Online databases used by journalists come in two major varieties,
commercial databases and bulletin board systems. Commercial database
services contain useful information available to the public for a fee.
Bulletin board systems are often free, requiring the cost of only
long distance call, or charge a subscription or registration fee for
users. Online research use in all fields is growing at what seems to
an astronomical rate. One recent estimate predicted as many as
million computer users of all types will be online in the United
by the end of the 1990s (Morgan, 1992). A news magazine estimated
million users already online in the United States and twenty million
users worldwide in 1993 (Kantrowitz, 1993). Another estimate placed
million people subscribing nationwide to the mass market services by
1996. In contrast, fewer than one million persons or businesses used
such commercial online services in 1988 (Resnick, 1993). Prodigy, a
widely popular commercial online service marketed toward a more general
audience of computer users, was posting about 70,000 electronic mail
messages daily in late 1992 (Morgan, 1992).
University of Illinois researcher Martha E. Williams (1994) has studied
the worldwide database industry for more than two decades. She
determined that the number of public databases has grown from only 301
in 1975 and 773 in 1982 to over 8,000 in 1994, and the figure is
increasing steadily. Williams stated that the number of producers--- the
organizations that develop databases, and vendors, those entities
distribute and add value to the database by providing services for
customers--- has also increased dramatically. There were only 200
producers and 105 vendors of databases in 1975. In 1994, Williams
reported 2,744 producers and 1,629 vendors. In sheer number, the
industry has grown from about 750,000 searches in 1975 to 51.8 million
in 1992. To show the amount of recent growth, the number of searches
jumped 50.1 percent, from 34.5 million, from 1990 to 1992. "While
numerical growth is indicated by the statistics, the success of the
database industry is largely a result of the transition of the informa
tion industry from paper-based services to computer-based services
can be measured in terms of the use of computer-readable databases,
the number of searches," Williams noted (p. xx).
This usage and these databases indicate the increasing
commercialization of online access to information. As more
enterprises begin, more privately originated databases entering the
marketplace as well. "The basic lure of going online, as the
for any commercial online service indicates, is the tantalizing
of having the world at your fingertips. Join our service and see the
world of information without leaving home!" wrote information services
expert Kathleen Webb (1993, p. 10). "No more unnecessary trips to
library in nasty weather . . . fire up the machine, and explore new
realms in the endless vistas of data available at a keystroke. The
attraction is irresistible for increasing numbers of Americans who want
and need to keep up with the rapid pace of change in a global
whether for business, research, or personal purposes. For those who
not have access to, or do not require, more specialized online
services, popular commercial services are a great value . . . .
[H]owever, not all personal online services offer equal amounts and
types of access to the world at large."
The idea of using online services for reporting has spread to many
newspapers in the mid 1990s. One is Michigan's Flint Journal. Mary Ann
Chick Whiteside (1994), news media manager for the
newspaper, oversees CAR projects and sets up online staff training
classes. "The publisher just approved an electronic library, so I expect
more people to become comfortable with online research," she
"Reporters are eager to learn. My classes fill quickly. There are
when I could spend entire weeks on computer projects."
Governments are the second-largest producer of publicly available
databases used by Whiteside and others. A growing number of these
databases are available online through commercial services, direct
government services, and direct government bulletin board services.
Private commercial and industrial sources are the clear leaders, now
responsible for 75 percent of databases available for public use.
Government agencies produce about 15 percent of databases, while
not-for-profit and academic sources--- many funded by government
grants--- generate 9 percent. The remaining one percent is from mixed
sources (Williams, 1994).
These figures represent a dramatic change from the situation in
"pre-PC" days. In the 1960s and 1970s, the government was the leading
source of database production, responsible for as much as 56 percent
late as 1977. That figure dropped to 21 percent in the following
Mixed producers, such as more than one government agency or level of
government, account for a number of government databases as well. Most
prolific in database production, historically, have been the
Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission (formerly the Atomic Energy Commission). Numerous databases
produced by the Bureau of the Census are widely used by news
organizations and account for a significant proportion of government
databases in use by the public in the mid 1990s. More and more of
databases are available through remote access. While many remain
available only on site, numerous government agencies at all levels are
placing their useful databases into public access with online,
or magnetic disk access. State and local governments produce and
thousands of useful databases each year. These include such
newsworthy subjects as occupational licenses and permits, crime and
courts, welfare, automobiles registrations, agriculture, consumer
affairs, housing and residences, corporations, voting, pollution,
businesses and their operations, education, banking and finance, sports,
gambling, lotteries, and gaming, taxes, and just about anything else
life that is regulated.
Another major advantage is that electronic news libraries never, or
seldom, close. Reporters are no longer restricted to "normal business
hours" for their news research. One study found that reporters use
electronic libraries for good reasons. Among them were to develop
compilations and lists of information for crime story investigations,
business stories, political stories, local government stories, trend
stories, and stories about public figures (Splichal, 1991).
The proficiency of use issue is reminiscent of some fears expressed
when computers used for writing and editing first arrived in newsrooms
in the mid 1970s. Some veteran journalists, as well as beginners,
fears about using computers for something besides writing. Some
newspapers even prohibit it until after users are trained to control
costs (Ward & Hansen, 1990). Some journalists ignore computer-based
research because they feel user interface is too cumbersome, they lack
the time to learn, online searches actually lengthen research time,
online searches decrease the local perspective of a story, searches
discourage original work, and searches increase errors (Wolfe, 1989;
Wolfe, 1990; Jacobson & Ullman, 1989). Some reporters prefer someone
else to search databases for them, if they use them at all (Wolfe,
Local beat reporters tend to use electronic news libraries more than
other reporters, research shows. Beat reporters use database
for background before starting on a story, to find names for
or contacts, to verify information, and for general education about
specialized subjects. The most obvious advantages to using electronic
libraries are greater perspective, more detail, time savings,
identification of new sources, wider geographic coverage, and increased
accuracy (Wolfe, 1989; Jacobson & Ullman, 1989; Garrison, 1995).
This paper discusses use of online commercial databases at daily
newspapers in the United States in 1994. Access to commercial and
government databases is spreading rapidly in American society and news
organizations are one of the natural consumers of such electronic
information--- just as they have historically been with the printed or
written versions of public documents. The primary purpose of this
is to answer the following five research questions:
What are the major reporting uses of online databases?
What are the leading commercial databases and bulletin board services in
use by newsrooms, news libraries, and research departments?
Who, in newsrooms, is responsible for conducting searches?
What is the frequency of online searching?
How is the online information accessed?
A national mail survey of the uses of computer-assisted reporting and
online news research was conducted between December 1993 and March
The survey consisted of an initial mailing of 514 personalized cover
letters, questionnaires, and stamped, self-addressed envelopes to the
nation's Sunday newspapers with a circulation of a minimum 20,000.
follow-up mailing was sent about one month after the initial mailing
individual contacts were made by telephone and E-mail to encourage
response, following procedures recommended by Dillman's total design
method for mail surveys (Dillman, 1978). The population was developed
from listings contained in the Editor & Publisher International
While the unit of analysis is the newspaper as an institution, editors
of the selected newspapers were asked either to complete the
questionnaire themselves or to forward it to the person in charge of
online news research and / or computer-assisted reporting. Individual
identifications were requested to permit follow-up if necessary. In
cases, however, as many as two or three persons completed various
portions of the questionnaire related to their newsroom specializations.
A total of 208 responses was received, a response rate of 40.5
A representative of one California newspaper returned a
stating the publication had ceased publication a few months earlier.
The questionnaire was developed from discussions and interviews during
the first Investigative Reporters and Editors and National Institute
Computer-Assisted Reporting conference on computer-assisted
Raleigh, N.C., in 1993. Part of a larger research project about
computers and reporting (Garrison, 1995), the instrument consisted of
four sets of questions, including institutional and personal
information, computer-assisted reporting approaches, online news
research, and field reporting use of computers. The portion of the
instrument that focused upon online news research contained a
combination of twenty-nine open- and closed-ended variables. Respondent
journalists were also encouraged to include any additional comments
the subject. In some cases, follow-up interviews were conducted by
telephone. Additionally, in-person interviews were conducted at the Fort
Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader, The Miami
Herald, The Washington Post, and USA Today. Data were processed using
Microsoft FoxPro relational database management system for Windows,
2.6 (Anon., 1994) and the Statistical Package for the Social
SPSS for Windows Ver. 6.0 (Norusis, 1993).
Of the newspapers responding, 36.1 percent were from the South and 28.4
percent from the Midwest. The mean circulation was 121,361, with
percent of newspapers under 75,000 circulation. It should be noted
for simplicity of the following discussion, only percentages are
reported in the text. Frequencies are reported with both absolute
percentages and adjusted percentages (recomputed without missing data)
in the tables. Most major U.S. daily newspapers have gone electronic
research for at least some of their news reporting. With larger
newspapers, it is not an issue of whether online is being used. The
focus is upon what is being done. For smaller dailies, the issue
whether online services are being used at all. Smaller dailies are
having more difficulty in making the transition. From responses to the
survey, it is likely an economic issue, but it could also be a
technology issue. Simply, some news organizations have the money and
others do not. On the other hand, some have the technological
others have not even tried to develop it.
What are the major reporting functions of online research?
News organizations using online research have produced thousands of
stories at least partially dependent on this tool. Topics are widely
ranging. Some examples:
a. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle / Times-Union in New York
online researches breaking stories about automobile accidents and
stories about small businesses in its region.
b. The Quad City Times in Rock Island, Ill., investigates businesses by
reading annual reports and analyzes the new and growing gambling
industry in its Mississippi River region.
c. The Orange County Register in California researched property
descriptions, ownership, assessments, and assessors' maps using online
tools when covering the Laguna area fires that became a story of
national interest. The library staff also regularly conducts spot online
research for major accidents such as plane crashes.
d. The Tallahassee Democrat in Florida uses online tools to find
background information about persons such as candidates for the city
police chief position, candidates for the vacant presidency of Florida
State University, and developers of real estate projects.
e. The Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, like many other news
organizations, routinely searches other newspapers online to see what
its reporters are covering on certain subjects.
For newspapers using services, online research is becoming a spot news
reporting tool as well as a research tool for special projects uses
apart from deadline situations. In Rochester, the Democrat and
uses online research regularly, said assistant metro editor John
(1993). "We use it nearly daily. Metro and business are really the
users," he said. "There was a fatal car crash last summer in which
people died. The driver was accused of running a stop sign and
another car. By logging onto the New York Department of Motor
database, we found that the driver had a previous conviction for
a stop sign, and we included that info in our first-day story. We
business reporter doing a story on starting a small business which
a lot of information obtained from an SBA [Small Business
Administration] bulletin board."
For other news organizations, use of online research is the first step
in starting a major news project after an idea has been generated.
begin most projects by checking online to see what other
have done on the subject," Houston Chronicle Special Projects Editor
Mason (1993) stated. "Some of our best successes so far have been
reports on the Michaelangelo virus and issues involving encryption
telecommunications data as well as recent reports on electronic
to government information."
Many daily newspapers, such as the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Florida,
use online research for backgrounding on stories. Assistant Managing
Editor Richard Estrin (1993) said, "Our effort is in its infancy, but
hope to involve everyone. We use online research for background to
stories." Database Editor Griff Palmer (1993), who helps find online
sources for Oklahoma City's Daily Oklahoman, said his newspaper uses
online services such as DataTimes to take stories to a higher level of
completeness. "We use online research daily to supplement our
We constantly use DataTimes and our own electronic morgue, which is
stored as a full-text database," he explained. "As a recent example, we
used DataTimes to research allegations of improprieties in other
against a contractor under local consideration. We also used the
Ethics Commission BBS to download registration information on a
under investigation in Oklahoma for campaign contributions
We have also downloaded census data from the state commerce
BBS for use with analysis of voter registration data."
As these two examples demonstrate, database searches can turn routine
news into highly effective stories. Reporters and news researchers
incorporate online tools into their work find their stories are more
comprehensive. Online tools can provide more depth and breadth of
information. It becomes easier to find similar situations elsewhere.
Generalizations about situations, a tradition common among news and
feature writers, without examples or other forms of evidence in stories
are less common when online research is a regular part of reporting.
Reporters and editors also find they have a wider range of sources,
since they can use online sources, such as articles from newspapers
halfway across the country, to identify and locate these experts and
other sources that enhance a story. Not only do sources used in other
stories become easier to find, there are even online services
to link reporters and news sources. Often these are public relations
services--- such as ProfNet, which is a computer network of
and colleges that have hundreds of experts on virtually every
their faculties who are willing to help journalists.
Reporters are also more easily able to find officially released
information. Press releases from government agencies (for example, found
on some FedWorld BBSs), from corporations (such as those on PR
from organizations (such as some of the Internet institutional
and other groups that want their word to be spread and have
that computer-wise reporters and editors will use such sources when
are available at low cost or free. For the 1994 Winter Olympics in
Norway, the United States Olympic Committee set up a sophisticated
high-speed BBS--- complete with downloadable text files, regular team
announcements, information about the games, news, and E-mail--- for
sportswriters and others interested in following the U.S. team's
. The only cost to use the service was the toll of a long distance
to Colorado. Journalists in 1995 are also using online tools to
the courtroom activities, such as witness testimony, of the murder
of O.J. Simpson. This has been especially helpful to live television
journalists, such as CNN anchors, when the judge has cut off audio or
video from the courtroom.
Leading Databases Used
What are the leading commercial databases and bulletin board services in
use by newsrooms, news libraries, and research departments?
Of the 208 newspapers responding to the survey, 58.9 percent, or 119,
reported using online services in some form--- commercial or
Those not using online services were clearly smaller circulation
newspapers. Table 1 lists, alphabetically by newspaper and in order of
service preference, the online services and BBSs most frequently
U.S. daily newspapers. Table 2 summarizes data listed in Table 1 by
reporting the most often named first choice online database and the
often "top three" services named. As Table 2 reveals, the most
services are commercial in nature. CompuServe, one of the largest
oldest online services, is the first choice of 19.2 percent of the 99
newspapers that reported using specific online services. Nexis/Lexis
preferred by 16.2 percent of the newspapers. DataTimes (12.1
and Dialog (11.1 percent) were the other major international
online services of choice. A significant 13.1 percent of the
responding stated their first choice for database services was a
database service of some sort--- which could include a local or
commercial service, a local link to local government records, or
Among the services listed in the "top three," Nexis/Lexis is the leader
with frequent use from 15.8 percent of the 260 total top three
preferences expressed in the study. CompuServe and Dialog were tied
second at 13.5 percent each, and DataTimes followed with 10.8
mentions. Again, local services also ranked high in the top three
11.2 percent of the listed favorites.
Online Search Responsibilities
Who is responsible for conducting searches in newsrooms, news libraries,
and research departments?
One of the computer-age concerns in newsrooms is the cost of online
searching. It can be very expensive, depending on time used and the
hourly cost of the database. Some news managers are still deciding
whether to assign the duty to anyone with the skill, the reporter on the
story, the supervising editor or a designated editor, or news
librarians/researchers. A wide range of often-overlapping approaches was
determined, as shown in Table 3, but of daily newspapers conducting
online searches for news stories, the largest number use either
librarians (40.5 percent) or reporters (25.6 percent) themselves. The
data show some differences in how the problem is approached according
the size of the newspaper. The larger the newspaper, the more
specialized the duties. Larger newspapers tend to use news researchers
for searches while smaller newspapers take more of a
approach. "Anyone" searches at 23.1 percent, and editors do searches
9.9 percent. A total of 41.8 percent of the newspapers did not
the question, probably because no in-house searches are conducted.
Frequency of Online Searching
What is the frequency of online searches conducted in newsrooms, news
libraries, and research departments?
Many news organizations repeat the online research process numerous
times a day as part of their newsgathering routine. For many, online
research is part of the daily effort on news stories. Efforts are
underway to teach reporters how to integrate online news research into
every reporting assignment. Online news research is an "everyday"
of reporting and editing at the Seattle Times, where Information
Manager Steve Wainwright (1993) said his newspaper spends over
annually to use online tools to track down information about
and missing persons, for example. At The Dallas Morning News, online
news research has become a moment-by-moment part of the reporting
process. "We use it nearly each hour of every day," Assistant Projects
Editor Allen Pusey (1993), who serves as liaison for use of
reporters and editors for his newsroom, stated. "Online research has
become a vital resource. Online research has given us a broader-based
view of previous work on a subject BEFORE we begin stories. It has
given us a higher quality of context to our stories--- be they
scientific, or legal/social."
Cost could be a factor in frequency of use. The mean amount of money
spent on online services reported by newspapers for 1993 was
and the mean for 1994 was $17,210.13. Spending in 1994 ranged from
money at all to $115,000. But many newspapers that did conduct online
news research did not wish to reveal what might be viewed as
The data show a wide range of usage frequencies for online database
searching among those daily newspapers conducting searches. Table 4
shows a similar pattern of search frequency differences according to
size of the newspaper. Larger newspapers search very frequently, some
numerous times a day, or what they would call "constantly." Smaller
dailies which did any online searches at all were quite careful, it
seems, in using the tool. Smaller dailies searched less than daily,
less than weekly. Overall, 41.9 percent of the newspapers that
the question reported using online services at least once daily,
percent said their searches were weekly or greater, 4.4 percent used
online services on a weekly basis, 3.7 percent conduced searches
to monthly, and 4.4 percent used online services monthly or less
Tools for Access to Online Services
How is the online information accessed? That is, what is the preferred
communications software used for conducting online searches in
newsrooms, news libraries, and research departments?
The study found a diverse list of communication packages in use in U.S.
daily newspaper newsrooms. Of those packages, Procomm Plus, used in
DOS and Windows versions, is by far the most popular in newsrooms
news libraries. Procomm Plus (Windows or DOS versions) was reported
first choice in 53.3 percent of the newsrooms. Crosstalk (9.2
and Smartcom (9.2 percent) are also in wide use at the 120
reporting use of this software. A total of 20.8 percent used other
products such as "Terminal," that comes with the basic Windows package
or Macintosh systems software. Some users, who do not access online
services often, find the communications tools provided in integrated
packages, such as ClarisWorks, to be quite sufficient for their needs.
The results reported in this study suggest something quite obvious:
Size matters. Larger newspapers, with the financial resources, are
online services users. These newspapers report spending thousands of
dollars a year for online services and many more thousands of dollars
year for salaries for news researchers. The power of the tool is
creeping into the newsrooms middle and small size dailies also.
While economics seems to be the obvious reason for differences in use
of online services in news reporting, there are other factors that
influence the spread of this new reporting technology. A second
influencing factor seems to be human resources. Many newspapers lack
personnel with the computer literacy to begin a regular program of
online news research to supplement reporting. These newspapers do not
have the resources to train an individual either internally, if such
expertise was available, or externally. Typically, the smaller
newspapers that are using online news research tools in reporting are
driven by one or two individuals--- either reporters, librarians, or
editors, who have an intense interest in personal computing and have
taught themselves the skills necessary to be effective users of online
Among those using online services for reporting, the uses of online
services is broadening. Much of the use is still to check what the
competition is doing, but more reporters are also using online services
for fact checking, story idea generation, backgrounding, and for
depth of information for both long-term projects and breaking
It is not the least bit surprising that the leading commercial
international databases would also be the leading services used by news
organizations. While there is an emerging pattern toward greater use
highly specialized online services such as those with specific types
public records (i.e., Public Affairs Court Electronic Records, or
of the federal courts system), news organizations favor services
can provide a wide range of access to useful information for a fair
price. The widely popular mass-marketed services such as Prodigy and
America Online have yet to become very valuable to news reporters
because of the consumer nature of the information available. There will
likely be more growth in use of the Internet in this decade since
to it has grown in such remarkable geometric proportions in the past
year or two.
There is also a confusion evident in the newsroom about who should use
online services. The data here suggest two schools of thought: (a)
anyone and everyone do online research for news reporting and (b)
online duties to specialists. The findings of this study show
papers take the first route and larger ones take the second choice,
this could change as more skills are learned and as costs drop, if
drop, for online fees.
Frequency of use also remains an economic issue, but as more and more
skilled users come into medium- and small-sized newsrooms, this
also change. Most CAR advocates would like to see online research
as regular a habit for reporters as checking the clips and
interviews has been for generations of reporters.
Online commercial services are not some sort of fad. Usage patterns and
the functions of the use demonstrate that. Perhaps the issue here is
whether the services will be used, but how often, by whom, and for
purposes. As this new tool gains greater access and application, new
research to track this will be necessary throughout the rest of this
decade. Research at this stage can only be exploratory since factors
affecting use, such as the economy, the tools themselves, and the
involved, change often. For researchers, this is a subject ripe for
investigation. In the minds of some investigators, there has not been
such an exciting prospect for information gathering since the
was first used for interviewing.
It is clear that new and continuing research about CAR, such as online
services, is necessary. New works such as several of the
in Semonche's (1993) edited News Media Libraries, offer syntheses
interpretations of the new uses of online computer tools in
Further research will permit greater depth and more focus on
aspects of online CAR, such as differences in institutional and
individual uses that are not readily distinguished here. Further, new
research needs to probe into behavorial reasons for differences in
responses that have been identified. Annual analysis of newspapers' uses
of online tools will indicate the amount of change that is
may also suggest manners in which online research impacts upon how
communities are covered and what readers are learning from CAR-based
news stories. This particular introductory study, representing part of
one-shot first-time design, has inherent shortcomings in its
But it is the first stage in what will be an annual review of CAR.
Subsequent reports will offer deeper and, hopefully, more meaningful
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TABLE 1: FREQUENTLY USED ONLINE SERVICES
AT U.S. DAILY NEWSPAPERS
Newspaper Most-Often Used Databases / Services
Allentown Morning Call PACER, Nexis
Anchorage Daily News Vu/Text, Motznik (state records), CompuServe
Annapolis Capital AP Graphics Net, Presslink
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette PACER, Arkansas courts, local taxes-deeds
Asbury Park Press (N.J.) Nexis, CompuServe, Internet
Asheville Citizen-Times (N.C.) CompuServe
Atlanta Constitution Dialog, Lexis/Nexis, DataTimes
Atlantic City Press Lexis/Nexis, CompuServe, FedWorld
Austin American-Statesman Local court files database, Internet, PACER
Battle Creek Enquirer (Mich.) PACER
Beaumont Enterprise Texas Controller's Office, Texas Employment Commission,
various private BBSs
Belleville News-Democrat (Ill.) Regional government BBS, State pollution BBS,
Bend Bulletin (Ore.) County tax records, Dialog, state road reports
Bloomington Pantagraph DataTimes
Boca Raton News Dialog, Vu-Text, CompuServe
Camden Courier-Post CompuServe
Cape Cod Times Dow Jones, CompuServe, PACER
Charleston Post & Courier CompuServe, state BBSs
Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette In-house library, government databases
Chicago Tribune In-house library, Nexis, DataTimes, Dialog
Cincinnati Enquirer Tristate Online, Internet, CompuServe
Cleveland Plain Dealer County auditor records, Information America, various
other online government
Columbus Dispatch Internet, Lexis/Nexis, FedWorld
Dallas Morning News CompuServe, America Online, MetroNet
Dayton Daily News County government, Prodigy, Nexis
Decatur Herald & Review Dun & Bradstreet Market Identifier, Business DB Plus,
Des Moines Register Iowa motor vehicles, Local property records, DataTimes
Deseret News DataTimes, CompuServe, Internet
Detroit Free Press Lexis, Internet, PressLink
Detroit News Lexis/Nexis, National Credit Data Network, local court records
Doylestown Intelligencer Record CompuServe, Bell Atlantic Intelligate
Elmira Star-Gazette Prodigy and CompuServe
Eugene Register-Guard (Ore.) CompuServe financial databases, regional public
Evansville Courier Vu/Text, Fed World
Flint Journal (Mich.) County court records, Dialog, DataTimes
Florida Times-Union Lexis, Nexis
Florida Today CompuServe
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel In-house database, Dialog, local courts, Nexis
Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette Vu/Text, DataTimes, Dialog
Gannett Suburban Newspapers Nexis, CompuServe, Internet
Greensboro News & Record Dialog, Nexis, Dow Jones, DataTimes
Greensburg Tribune-Review Federal Election Commission online, CompuServe,
Harrisburg Patriot-News DataTimes
Hartford Courant CompuServe, local BBSs, Nexis
Houston Chronicle Nexis, DataTimes, Dialog
Huntington Herald Dispatch CompuServe
Huntsville Times PACER
Indianapolis Star DataTimes, Nexis, government databases
Kansas City Star Nexis, DataTimes, Dialog
Knoxville News-Sentinel CompuServe, E. Tennessee Bankruptcy Court (PACER),
Lakeland Ledger (Fla.) Internet, DataTimes, CompuServe
Lansing State Journal America Online, Labor Market Info. Online
Long Beach Press-Telegram DataQuick, Dialog
Lorain Morning Journal (Ohio) Nexis/Lexis, Presslink
Louisville Courier-Journal Dialog, DataTimes, Nexis
Memphis Commercial-Appeal Dialog, Nexis, DataTimes
Miami Herald CompuServe, Nexis/Lexis, Dialog
Milwaukee Journal Wisconsin census data, FEC, Nexis
Mobile Press Register Dow Jones, Alabama Legislative Reports (ALERT), America
Modesto Bee Nexis, DataTimes, America Online, Internet
Munster Times (Ind.) Dialog, NewsNet, CompuServe
Muskegon Chronicle (Mich.) DataTimes, Internet, Dialog
Newport News Daily Press (Va.) Dialog, state database services
Newsday In-house database, Nexis, Dialog, Dow Jones
Orange County Register Nexis, Prentice Hall Online, DataQuick/Damar
Orlando Sentinel Dialog, Nexis, America Online
Peoria Journal Star DataTimes, CompuServe, PACER
Philadelphia Inquirer Nexis, Dialog (Vu/Text), CENDATA
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Vu-Text (own library), Nexis, Prodigy
Poughkeepsie Journal CompuServe, National Library of Medicine, New York state
motor vehicle database
Quad City Times CompuServe
Raleigh News & Observer Lexis/Nexis, NandO.net and Internet, Dialog, county
Reading Eagle and Times DataTimes
Richmond Times-Dispatch Dialog, state employment and corporate records
Roanoke Times & World-News Lexis/Nexis, DataTimes, state court records,
Rochester Democrat and Chron- N.Y. Dept. Motor Vehicles, ProfNet, Internet
Rocky Mountain News Denver court records, Internet, DataTimes
Royal Oak (Mich.) Daily Tribune CompuServe
St. Louis Post-Dispatch CompuServe, Dialog, Dow Jones, Nexis
St. Petersburg Times Nexis/Lexis, Dialog, DataTimes
San Jose Mercury News Mercury Center (AOL), Internet
Santa Cruz County Sentinel Dow Jones, Internet, various private BBSs
Santa Rosa Press Democrat Dialog, Infotek, Nexis
Sarasota Herald-Tribune Nexis, CompuServe, Dialog
Seattle Times In-house, state courts, CompuServe
Spartanburg Herald-Journal DataTimes, CompuServe, PACER
Syracuse Post-Standard Nexis, Dialog, CompuServe
Tallahassee Democrat Vu/Text, Dialog news, Dialog business databases
Tampa Tribune CompuServe, Dialog, Delphi/Internet
The Buffalo News DataTimes, Dialog, Nexis
The Daily Oklahoman In house, DataTimes, Commerce Dept. BBS
The Eagle-Tribune, Lawrence PACER, Federal Election Commission online
The Press Enterprise (Riverside) DataTimes, Lexis/Nexis, Local courts files
The Washington Post In-house database, Lexis/Nexis, DataTimes, Dialog
Tucson Citizen CompuServe, PressLink
The Columbian (Vancouver) DataTimes, Washington state judicial, public
Torrance Daily Breeze (Calif.) DataTimes, Nexis, Dialog
Tri-City Herald (Wash.) CompuServe
Virginian-Pilot and Ledger-Star Internet, Dialog, Nexis/Lexis
Waterloo Courier Dialog
Wichita Eagle Dialog (Vu/Text), DataTimes, Nexis
Wisconsin State Journal Nexis, CompuServe, Dialog
TABLE 2: MOST POPULAR ONLINE SERVICES
AT U.S. DAILY NEWSPAPERS
Database Service Most Used Among Top Three Services Named
CompuServe 18.6% (19) 13.3% (36)
Nexis/Lexis 16.7 (17) 15.9 (43)
Local database services 12.7 (13) 11.1 (30)
DataTimes 11.8 (12) 10.7 (29)
Dialog 11.8 (12) 14.0 (38)
In-house library databases 6.9 (7) 3.0 (8)
PACER 4.9 (5) 3.3 (9)
Vu-Text* 4.9 (5) 2.6 (7)
Federal government services 3.9 (4) 5.9 (16)
Internet 2.9 (3) 6.3 (17)
America Online 1.0 (1) 1.8 (5)
Prodigy 1.0 (1) 1.1 (3)
DataQuick 1.0 (1) 0.7 (2)
Dun & Bradstreet 1.0 (1) 0.4 (1)
AP Graphics Net 1.0 (1) 0.4 (1)
Bulletin board services 2.6 (7)
Presslink 1.5 (4)
FedWorld 1.1 (3)
ProfNet 0.7 (2)
Tristate Online 0.4 (1)
Info America 0.4 (1)
MetroNet 0.4 (1)
Business DB Plus 0.4 (1)
Disclosure II 0.4 (1)
Bell Atlantic Intelligate 0.4 (1)
Labor Market Info 0.4 (1)
NewsNet 0.4 (1)
Prentice-Hall Online 0.4 (1)
Infotek 0.4 (1)
Totals 100.0% (102) 100.0% (271)
* Formerly a separate service, Vu-Text is now part of Dialog and is also
through CompuServe. Since some respondents listed it separately
from Dialog and
CompuServe, a separate category was maintained.
N = 208.
TABLE 3: ONLINE SEARCH RESPONSIBILITIES
AT U.S. DAILY NEWSPAPERS
Circulation "Anyone" Reporters Editors Librarians No Searches
Under 50,000 2.4% (2) 14.1% (12) 7.0% (6) 2.4% (2) 74.1% (63)
50,000-100,000 12.1 (7) 29.3 (17) 6.9 (4) 24.1 (14) 27.6 (16)
100,001-250,000 12.2 (5) 26.8 (11) 4.9 (2) 46.3 (19) 9.8 (4)
250,001-500,000 4.8 (1) 23.8 (5) 0.0 (0) 66.6 (14) 4.8 (1)
Over 500,000 11.1 (1) 22.2 (2) 0.0 (0) 66.7 (6) 0.0 (0)
Totals 7.5 (16) 22.0 (47) 5.6 (12) 25.7 (55) 39.3 (84)
Note: Some newspapers reported multiple responses. Percentages are for rows.
N = 214 (208 total newspapers responding).
TABLE 4: FREQUENCY OF ONLINE SEARCHING
AT U.S. DAILY NEWSPAPERS
Weekly Monthly Monthly
Circulation Daily or greater or greater or less Other None
Under 50,000 2.4% (2) 7.3% (6) 1.2% (1) 8.5% (7) 11.0% (9) 69.5% (57)
50,000-100,000 23.6 (13) 10.9 (6) 9.1 (5) 1.8 (1) 21.8 (12) 32.7 (18)
100,001-250,000 41.5 (17) 17.1 (7) 7.3 (3) 0.0 (0) 22.0 (9) 12.2 (5)
250,001-500,000 78.9 (15) 5.3 (1) 0.0 (0) 0.0 (0) 10.5 (2) 5.3 (1)
Over 500,000 100.0 (7) 0.0 (0) 0.0 (0) 0.0 (0) 0.0 (0) 0.0 (0)
Totals 26.5 (54) 9.8 (20) 4.4 (9) 3.9 (8) 15.7 (32) 39.7 (81)
Percentages are for rows.
N = 208.