To be honest, local online media play almost no role in my use of the Web. There's just too much other good stuff out there.
To write this story, for example, I had to look up the Web site for every major media outlet in Seattle. What I found was reasonably well put together but offered little that would make me go back.
The Seattle Times, for example, provided a database of restaurant reviews. Much to my delight, I found a highly touted restaurant I had never heard of.
But the database, while allowing searches through the 1,600 restaurants by cuisine, location and price, was not directly linked with reviews, making information searches more tedious than necessary.
KOMO-TV surprised me with a simple, yet helpful, weather report. Its news, however, was nothing more than two pages of continuous text--not really the interactive multimedia experience I look for when going online.
DEVOTED TO RESEARCH
I'm on the Web 30 to 40 hours a month, but much of that time is taken up in research for my work. My personal use of the Web is limited mostly to using my bookmarks to check the weather and local sports.
To get the weather, for example, I have bookmarks for the National Weather Service pages.
For sports, I turn to ESPN SportsZone because it offers the best combination of quality reporting, depth of coverage, appealing graphics and interesting multimedia content. Most of the local sites I visited paled in comparison to SportsZone.
Other than sports and weather, I use sites which provide the most detailed information on a specific interest. I visit Better Homes and Gardens' site when I need gardening information, or Conde Nast's Epicurious when I need cooking recipes. The local media Web services offer little detailed information like this.
Most Web site managers at the local media outlets view their Web sites as a marketing tool--a means to support the traditional media operation.
Classical music radio station KING-FM's goal for its Web site is to make listening more enjoyable. It provides information on classical music and composers that its DJs don't have time to provide on the air.
"On the radio, we don't want to spend a lot of time doing that," said Peter Newman, general manager of KING-FM. "This will be a way for us to supplement that."
OUTSIDE VISITORS DON'T HELP
Karen Reed, promotion director and manager of KIRO-FM/AM's Web site, says her overriding concern is to get better ratings for her station. She said it's "nice" that people from outside Seattle visit the site, but it doesn't help her company.
Like Mr. Newman, Ms. Reed sees her station's site as a way to extend what it does on the air.
But since I'm not a regular listener to these stations, I have little interest in their offerings.
The local media seem hurt by their mild attempts to promote their sites. Dick Warsinski, general manager at KOMO-TV, said his station promotes its Web site about once every newscast, but I don't recall ever seeing it.
Media outlets I spoke with, especially TV stations and newspapers, think their trump card for success with online media will be their established roles in the community.
Michael Fancher, executive editor of The Seattle Times, said the goal of his paper's site is to extend its "community service responsibilities," and that it would have an advantage over other local content providers such as Microsoft's Sidewalk because it is known as a "trusted information provider."
But as Mr. Fancher and his colleagues know, the prestige of daily newspapers among younger readers is on the skids. These are the same folks who surf the Net.
The same can be said for TV stations. Only radio, with its more niche-oriented formats, seem to engender enough loyalty to draw in active users of their sites.
The Internet, however, has a long way to go, and traditional media companies admit they are operating from a defensive position--only doing as much as they need to to protect their franchises.
Like everyone else, they are not sure where the Internet will lead them.
"We now focus on what we do for a living, which is local news," said KOMO-TV's Mr. Warsinski. "That's where we're beginning. I don't know if that's where we'll end up."
Copyright May 1997, Crain Communications Inc.