June 10, 2003
Browsers -- Where No News is Good News
MEDIA WATCH SPECIAL REPORT
In the face of increased media consolidation thanks to the FCC and Michael Powell, the favorite source of inspiration for us serious types has been the "we always have the Internet" mantra. Well, until we lose that, too, interested users can certainly find out a lot of information that will never see the light of day on the TV news. But for the masses who fire up their computers and browsers of choice and stop there, the Internet "news" looks like a combination of The National Enquirer and E!
For example, has anyone else noticed the sudden change in his or her Netscape browser's home page? I used to be able to see at least one or two headlines from CNN, for what that's worth. But within the last couple of days, Netscape 4.7 (which I cling to because I like how the Bookmarks work) has taken on the sheen of the Netscape 7.0 look and the news, what there was of it, has been buried even deeper amid the gossip and trivia.
For example, today (June 5) I was privileged to learn the following: that the Hot Google searches for today (located at the very top of the page) are:
(If someone knows what AFI is, let alone why it's "hot," could you please let me know?)
[BuzzFlash Ed. Note: AFI is the American Film Institute, which is honoring Robert De Niro with a lifetime achievement award on June 23rd.]
Clearly, not many people are searching for the goods on Richard Perle or Paul Wolfowitz.
Right under the Hot Search list is the TOP news story: "Van Tied to Rape, Ritual Probed in Laci Case."
Still looking for news, I glanced down to my left and see: "Movies' Top Heroes & Villains."
And, to my right, I notice "Need To Know." Ah-hah, I say to myself, NEWS!!
Whoops? "Need to Know" is just more of what used to be called "filler":
So down the page I go: "Shopping"; "Today on Netscape," where a link entitled "Schools Ban Everyday Words" (news?) shares cyberspace with "Reese Witherspoon's a Doll" and another eight throwaways; "Downloads of the Day"; and finally, "Just for Fun," with jokes, cards, and questions like "Are you a redneck?" and "World's Dumbest People."
But there MUST be some news somewhere! Getting curious, I push my screen all the way over to the left and behold!! Stock market reports and few headlines emerge from the right margin! But you have to make the effort to do it, or else you may miss these items completely!! Why clutter up all the fun stuff on the screen with hard numbers? I wonder, is it a plot??
So, just out of curiosity, I click on over to Netscape 7.0. Well, thank goodness 7.0 still has its dignity!! "Breaking News" scrolls quickly, VERY quickly, across the top if you choose to click for it!! But, oops, right below is the largest headline on the page: "I WANT TO BE ALONE . . . Hollywood's Most Reclusive Celebs" with a picture of Keanu Reeves front and center. Gee, that was only the third "need to know" story over at Netscape 4.7. MMMM.
And right below it The "Worst U.S. City for Allergies" story again (#1 "Need to Know" over at 4.7), but two new items as well:
A separate box below heralds the "Naughty and Not-so Nice MTV Movie Awards" and OMG, is that Justin Timberlake's picture there???? (And why does it rate its own box, while at 4.7 this is only the #2 "Need to Know" story??)
I don't understand what the Netscape editors are doing!! Why the different emphasis? And why doesn't 4.7 a have a picture of Justin??
But are those the stock market results right below Justin?? Wow! I'm impressed! Of course, they're nearly off the screen and you have to scroll to find them, along with the "Deal of the Day" (sateen sheets, anyone?).
Disgusted with Netscape, I decide to check out Internet Explorer, version unknown, which I use to open up the stream when I listen to Randi Rhodes.
Right below the MSN banner and search box, the very first thing I see is:
I kid you not!!!
And where earlier there had been a little headline about Newsweek's investigation of Iraq's WMDs, at 5 pm MDT, there is now the "Movies Top Heroes and Villains" story, which Netscape had up hours ago!! MSN is obviously slipping! "Greatest Movie Villains" is the MSN headline sitting atop a picture of Hannibal Lechter, followed by "Plus, top 50 'good guys' . . . See which gentle hero beat out Indiana Jones." (Dare I ask . . . GW Bush?)
But, thankfully, it's all seriousness at Today on MSN: "Iraqis awed by Saddam's home videos"; "Serena loses in shocker"; "Experts rate 6 cars"; "Bugbear virus spreading."
Ah, but let's not miss "Also at MSN" where we find out about "Dad gifts under $25"; "Is wireless for you?"; " Win a TiVo for your TV"; "Psych test goes inside serial killers' minds"; and "New watches let you wear the Web on your wrist."
And how does this mix of "stories" differ from what's included in "Your World"? Let's see, here we have "Enhance your broadband with MSN 8"; "See what's new on DVD"; "Can 2 home offices in 1 house co-exist?"; and "12 'heartburn' foods."
Forget it, I'm not even touching the Sports language quiz!
Just as I'm almost off the page, I see MSN "Top Headlines" and CNBC on MSN Money barely peeking "above the fold." One headline on Ashcroft wanting to widen the Patriot Act, one on Bush taking some sort of Iraq message to the troops, and then it's back to babble about whether Eric Rudolph succumbed to loneliness. A moment of "Slate: Opinion & Commentary" ("President Bush brings back class war" -- how the heck did that get in there??) then back to ESPN sports, "Shopping" (Father's Day gifts AGAIN), and "Entertainment" which includes the "MTV Movie Awards Recap" featuring links to stories about how "Yoda gets teary"; "Eminem rips Mariah (again)"; & "Gollum goes a little postal." Skip the "Entertainment Newswire" -- do you really care about how Vin Diesel hurt Paul Walker?? (Who is Paul Walker??)
A quick scroll down past "Today's Sales and Deals," "Fun and Games," and I'm safely to the MSN "Links and Resources." Whew!! And I haven't even really looked at the sidebar which is full of more shopping and FUN!!
So there you have it -- what America sees when it turn on to the Internet. A glorious cacophony of gossip, sales pitches and FUN rehashed and recycled from day to day. (Just to update, the Netscape 7.0 story entitled "'Jackass' Copycats Continue Stupid Stunts" from June 5 shows up on Netscape 4.7 as "'Jackass' Imitators Still At It" under the "Need to Know" section on June 6.)
And I imagine it's the same over at AOL. If you're counting on the Internet to save America, think again. If the top Google searches involve Laci Peterson and Miss Universe, then we're in bigger trouble than I thought. To keep your sanity, you may want to try the UK version of any of the Netscape browsers since the older, less trashy set-up is still being used. (Scroll to the bottom for the International browsers.)
Are browsers just another barrier set up to dissuade the masses from knowing what's going on? After all, in browser-land, NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS. Forget PNAC, lies about WMDs, and the looting of the Treasury. Just Click and maybe you'll win a trip to Cancun . . .
otherwise noted, all original