Francis Rizzo
Journalism and Mass Media Studies Department -- School of Communication
Journalism 150 -- Independent Study
Advisor: Steven Knowlton


There is a trend on the Internet by many news providers to offer personalized 'news-casts", in which only the topics that the user has interests in will be covered. This idea fits in well with a very individual, have-it-your-way society like America. By offering to trim away the 'unimportant", a news site can grab that person who doesn't have the time to hear about a story that might affect them. It also offers an attractive audience to advertisers, with ready-made demographic groups to aim at, with no advertising dollars wasted.

This new trend is coupled with a new Internet development known as 'push technology." With push technology, a news site can send their content directly to the consumer, without them having to 'surf" for it. This eliminates time wasted by the user, creating brand loyalty in the user towards the helpful news site that graciously places its information onto the hard drive. It also avoids the chance that while surfing through a search engine for news, that the user will come across another site that may attract their attention.

The idea may sound new but it has direct parallels to the print world. As Steve Harmon, senior investment analyst for Mecklermedia, the leading Internet trade show firm, noted, 'Any magazine editor knows you'd rather have readers fill out a subscription card rather than go to a newsstand with 500 titles, which is what you now have with the Web's hunting and gathering tools."

Yet many critics have reservations about the use of push technology. The services that provide the use of push technology are sometimes called the 'Daily Me," a description that explains the problem seen in push technology. The main feature of the software is the ability to chose to be told only the news you are interested in. A person who only wants to know the latest football scores, what's on television tonight, and their horoscope can set their Web browser to tell them those items and remain blissfully ignorant of the rest of the world, thus, the controversy.

Allegra Young, marketing manager for USA Today Information Network, pointed out the obvious conflict push technology has with journalism when she said, 'There's a lot of unpredictability about what news makes a difference in your world. To be a well-read citizen, you need to know more than what you woke up thinking you needed to know." If a person hasn't chosen an area of interest they won't find out about it unless they utilize another news source in addition to the Internet. As Vin Crosbie, a new media consultant in Massachusetts, puts it, 'Push won't replace the morning newspaper that you read over your morning coffee, at least in the foreseeable future, but it's a valuable personalized supplement to your news diet." In allowing this 'narrow-casting", the people behind push technology are then providing the opportunity to create a 'quasi-informed" society. To combat criticism of their focused news delivery some of the 'webcasters" have set policies for 'news flashes," news stories that do not fit into a user's profile, that the webcasters have decided are important enough for everyone to know about. Of course, this just sets up the question of 'How do you decide what everyone should know?" Or as Leah Gentry, managing editor of Excite, a search engine and information service, puts it, 'At what point do you stop respecting the wishes of the user and start feeding them what you think is important?"

A responsible journalist gets all the facts for a story but can they force a person to listen to all the facts they find? Push technology may make the customization of news possible, but the experts point to a different future for pushing information. Push will be especially valuable for highly focused, specialized information that would take hours for a person to compile on their own. Some uses for it may also be found in watching the real estate market, stocks, or in looking or a car. A prospective buyer could be alerted when the item they are looking for becomes available.

The potential of push technology is high with its chance to keep news watchers informed like at no other time in history. But if the technology continues to be used with extreme customizability its power will be wasted. The overseers of push technology should take a second look at their products and decide if their ethics will allow them to help the continued growth of a segmented population based on information.