Daily there at the beginning of news on the Web

The paper created one of the nation’s first newspaper websites.

Special to the Daily Gregg Aamot, the DailyâÄôs editor-in-chief during the 1996-97 school year, is on sabbatical from The Associated Press and teaching at Ridgewater College. His book, âÄúThe New Minnesotans: Stories of Immigrants and Refugees,âÄù was released in 2006.

Newspapers have been through many difficult changes since my time at the Daily, but I was fortunate enough to be at the paper when it was ahead of the crowd in the then-emerging area of Internet technology. By 1995, when I joined the Daily as an associate editor, the paper had already created one of the nationâÄôs first newspaper websites. Not just among student papers, but among all daily papers. Indeed, the newspaper I had left in the professional world to study at Murphy Hall was years away from putting its product online. As it has at other times in its history, the Daily was trying something new, bending the rules, leading the way. Of course, that didnâÄôt mean we were sure of what we were doing; we only knew that we were onto something. The other editors and I basically treated the website as we did the newspaper: a place to display stories, columns and photographs. The main difference was that those items appeared on a shiny computer screen rather than on paper. The new technology hadnâÄôt yet changed our thinking about the creation and delivery of news (at least, not mine); in fact, we worried about scooping ourselves by posting our stories on the Web too many hours ahead of the paper edition hitting the streets! Yeah, we had a lot to learn. The powerful attraction of the WebâÄôs speed and immediacy wasnâÄôt yet clear, mostly because we couldnâÄôt then predict that nearly everyone would one day have immediate access to a computer. I dug out some old issues of the Daily from my basement and randomly grabbed the March 5, 1997 issue. A small advertisement on the inside shed some light on the times. The promo for the DailyâÄôs website on the bottom left-hand corner of Page 2 announced in bold letters, âÄúNet the news in bigger bytes.âÄù Below that, it reads: âÄúStop by any of the 20 computer labs on campus and ask about the World Wide Web. Point your browser to the DailyâÄôs Internet address listed below.âÄù Yes, just a little more than a decade ago, people were asking questions about this new thing called the World Wide Web âÄî and going to the nearest computer lab to find out. The Daily was even entering the blogosphere back then, long before anybody had heard of the term. Our Network section (in the paper edition) was essentially a collection of what we would come to call blogging: smart-aleck commentary and pseudo-advice from students, sent to the paper and published in the next dayâÄôs issue (often with equally smart-aleck commentary and pseudo-advice from our editors, known collectively as âÄúNetâÄù). Again, we didnâÄôt know exactly what we were doing, but we were doing something just the same. The DailyâÄôs current website is a terrific online platform. It has all of the things the best newspaper websites have: up-to-date scores, slideshows and videos, breaking news briefs, blogs and a bit of advertising. I am currently teaching college courses after spending more than 15 years in daily journalism. Few of my students read dead-tree newspapers beyond the casual glance. This is no surprise and, as we all know too well, a cause for great alarm in the news business. On the other hand, many of them are big consumers of news. They just get it from the Web âÄî the medium they are most comfortable with âÄî often outside traditional news channels. That has created some disconnect from what we all held dear at the Daily, such as the power of our editorials (of course people read our editorials!) and our hard work, five days each week, in choosing a rational and balanced mix of news from the University of Minnesota and beyond. The good news is that the power of the written word hasnâÄôt waned too much. In a media world awash in blogs and marred by credibility gaffes, young people still crave a fair and balanced story told well. In other words: They still like their journalism, just delivered in a different way. If newspapers can emerge from the current crisis under their dreamed-about new business model âÄî some harnessing of advertising revenue to the Internet âÄî they could continue to evolve in ways we could have only once imagined. And the Daily could say it was there at the very beginning. âÄîGregg Aamot can be reached at [email protected]