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News at Your Fingertips Right Now

by Megan Quijano

Copyright © 1999 Megan Quijano. All rights reserved.

It seems the more we work, the less time we have to pay attention to the world around us. When we're constantly on the go, the small things we used to count on just take up too much of our rationed time. Things like sitting down and watching the local news to see what happened to the world while we were locked away in our little offices and cubicles. Maybe immersing ourselves in the Sunday paper, reading the comics or checking the latest sports scores. These things get lost in the daily shuffle of work, cooking, meetings, baby-sitters, phone calls and lunch dates. If only we had a way to keep in touch with news without having to interrupt our hectic schedules.

At first glance the Internet presents itself as a limitless source of entertainment and fun, to be used only in frivolous endeavors. But the truth of the matter is that there are even more resources for useful knowledge and news on the Internet than ever before. This far-reaching medium has been recognized as the world's fastest-growing source of information, with people on every continent contributing their ideas. With little effort, "surfers" can find nearly anything they want, from local events to national opinion and global concerns. Like a bottomless well of data, the Internet can provide that insight into the world that we have lost time for otherwise. Whether during our lunch breaks, after the kids are tucked into bed, or immediately after jumping out of bed in the morning, the Internet is always there and always on.

Many sites cater to the news-seeker who has little time, as well as a desire for detailed reports from reliable sources. Picking through hundreds of available results from a search engine can take more time than you're willing to spend. Try entering "news" into a search engine and watch as the total exceeds 10,000 sites. It can be confusing for the beginner to find exactly what he/she wants, without the hassle of dead-end links and the frustration of encountering the wrong kind of information.

The surest bet when looking on the Internet for the latest news is to go with the broadcasting companies you know. Almost every major news provider has embraced the new technology. The biggest ones -- NBC, ABC, CNN, and FOX -- all have colorful and inventive layouts but, like the old adage says, bigger isn't always better. When you visit a site, make sure you can easily find what you're seeking. If it takes too long, you've just defeated the entire purpose behind using the Internet to get your news.

A great site to start off with is CNN, which has the reliability and in-depth coverage we've come to expect from them. The site boasts audio/video archives, custom news, headline news, a RealPlayer plug-in (see RealPlayer below), local news and weather, and specialized reports, among other features. The page's layout is easy to use for folks just getting going, or experienced searchers who know exactly what they want. If browsing the day's headlines, getting the latest score or just seeing what CNN has to offer is your only goal, this site is ideal. Links are clearly marked and the home page is easy to return to once you've found the information you're seeking. The search engine is specific and it can quickly find precisely what it was ordered to retrieve. CNN is an all-around top news site and it gets high marks for loading quickly with little Net congestion.

If you want something a bit flashier or if you're not so concerned with the amount of time a site takes to download, you might want to try MSNBC. As the name suggests, this site is a merger of Microsoft and NBC, designed to bring us news with a lot of technology. One new advancement that makes this site stand out is its special News Alert program. All you have to do is specify what types of headlines you're interested in, and when news breaks News Alert will page you with the information. This is an amazing little device, although it does require a download from the main page, which might be a problem if you're using a public terminal such as a library or Internet café that does not allow you to download programs onto the computers. Nevertheless, you get what you want from this site. One unique feature is the personalized weather and local news, which uses your home ZIP code. Another nice add-in: schedules for Dateline and NBC Nightly News that also gives you descriptions of the shows' reports on each night. Of course, the site also contains regular sections such as national news, living, sports, travel, health and entertainment. One possible problem: the Java-run pull-down menus can be tricky if you have trouble manipulating a mouse or have any kind of dexterity disabilities. Also, MSNBC requires that you download their news software in order to utilize their site, which again could be a problem for public computer users. In the end, MSNBC's site is not easily navigable, but it does provide adequate information in an advanced manner.

Joining the news giants on the Web is ABC News, which, since it's one of the larger news providers, you might expect to be as detailed as its television counterpart. However, this isn't necessarily true. The amount of time required to download the site is needlessly long, especially in the evenings or when major events break. The layout is simple yet confusing, especially if you're trying to find something in particular with its search engine. The site does have a few interesting features, such as the ability to send email to a friend, leading them to pages that you found interesting. Also, ABCNews offers a service via which specific topics are emailed to you every day, and it has a RealPlayer plug-in that, oddly enough, isn't terribly lagged. Another thing you might like is the site's reference section containing interactive maps of the world, which could prove valuable when used in connection with news stories. Overall, though, the site does not offer as much as it could, or nearly as much as the ABC reputation might imply.

The last of the big broadcasting companies up for consideration was FOX News. With its simple, yet effective, layout, this site might be just what you are looking for. It has all the standard features such as national news, travel, sports, business and entertainment, plus a few special items. At the top of the home page is a banner with the latest headlines so you can keep up with what's going on while you read your article of choice. Also, the site maintains a video archive, a stock search engine with up-to-date standings, and a daily geography quiz just for fun. Visually this page is light on graphics or photos, which has both positive and negative aspects. With less to load, the site goes much more quickly, but if you like to see the news as well as read it, the overabundance of text might bother you. This is an average site -- not much to boast about, but more than adequate if you're only after the basic news.

Now you may be wondering what happened to the old-fashioned way to get your news. I'm talking, of course, about newspapers. They, too, have taken to the Internet in a big way. Some of the best-known publications have put up Web sites to get their news out to the public. All of the ones I looked at were small in comparison with their printed counterparts, but if you're in need of some quick information, these can be ideal.

A trusted name in stock market news and information, the Wall Street Journal offers a very simple and very business-oriented site, which is perfectly understandable considering their target audience. The layout is well-organized and plainly marked, making the experience quick and painless, and even includes a site tour. However, you might run into a problem soon after you begin. Although the site does allow you to do stock searches and has a few very in-depth articles, you have to subscribe to get to anything else. This is not a free service.


If something a little more straightforward is what you're after, you might want to check out USA Today. The site is bright and colorful, and full of pictures and charts. Navigating is a breeze with their user-friendly layout and an excellent search engine to help you find exactly what you want. There is lots of content to choose from in the general sections like headlines, sports scores from all the divisions, business, opinions, classifieds and entertainment. However, although the site offers many sections, the stories are not very detailed. This may save you time, but if you're one of those people who like to get the whole story, you might want to just peruse the headlines and move to another site for all the information. The site also has some special features such as an index, famous reader polls, lottery numbers, Yellow Pages, lottery numbers and a unique Web Tech section. Like the daily edition of this paper, the Web site offers quick and easy news with no hassle.

If visiting a news Web site isn't on the top of your to-do list or if you live by your email, perhaps an Internet news delivery service like Infobeat would be more to your liking. This service is free; all you have to do is sign up at their main page. Give them some information about yourself (including, of course, your email address), and the kinds of news you're interested in, and every day they will send you a message containing the major headlines in the topics you chose. With quite a few areas of news to choose from (general news, entertainment, comics, weather, finance, and classifieds), you should be able to find what you want without the hassle of digging through a site to get it. This is an ideal choice for people with little time to sit and read through the newspaper or search the Internet. At no cost or obligation to you, this is clearly an appealing alternative.

Something fresh on the news scene that you might find fascinating is the fairly new technology of RealPlayer. If you've never seen this little beauty, you've been missing out. Basically it's an Internet radio that also broadcasts live streams of news that you view on your monitor. To get started, go to the RealPlayer site and download an evaluation copy of the program. If you decide you like it, the purchase cost is $29.99 (credit cards only), with a money-back guarantee.

The RealPlayer site maintains a listing of many sites that offer streaming news. The concept of streaming news is generally the same as that of watching it on television, but it gives you the advantage of watching the news at your office or anywhere else you can take your computer. A handy feature for travelers who want to keep up with national news or don't like the impersonal feel of merely reading off a Web site is the set of easy-click links from the RealPlayer start-up menu. Here you'll find links to ABCNews, CNN, FOXNews Headlines, Comedy Central, Bloomberg Business News, ZD Net, NPR's Morning Edition, Deutsche Welle Online, The Weather Channel and Net Radio News. You can also download news clips from the sites from their broadcasts. The only drawback of this is the quality and lengthiness of the feed. If you're connected on a slower modem, the picture quality might be poor or mismatched to the sound. When downloading only the news clips, you can view them with almost no trouble. This is an excellent way to get your news without ever having to turn on a television or leave your office.

It's not a choice so much of how to get our news as it is when to get it. As you can see, the Internet has indeed given us range of places from which to get our news right now, whenever we want! And the Internet makes it simple. But beware of Internet news, no matter what its source. Don't assume all stories are true just because you read it on the Internet. Take caution when you see the latest headlines and always make sure they're from a reliable provider. Now with that said, put up your feet, sip your coffee and let your mouse take you to where you need to go.


Megan Quijano is a freelance writer living in Northern California, where she enjoys her days writing, surfing the Internet, playing video games and listening to music. Most days she can be found either in front of her computer or spending time with her boyfriend and family.


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