--Part 1--

sonya martinez
cns news & features

In theory, the Internet should make a great abundance of local news available in smaller communities--communities that have often felt left out of the news loop or misrepresented. But so far the facts don't seem to bear that out.

A look around the North Coast counties of Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Humbolt reveals little real local news coverage on the Net.

"Sonoma Online" has a beautiful layout, but beyond that it is almost all cross-links to other publications that are not local and don't deal in local issues.

Marin County provides almost narcissistic volumes of information about itself--people, places, businesses, entertainment events, and so on--but again no real news. The most real thing about the Marin on-line offerings is perhaps the presence of the Marin County Sheriff Office with practical information on how to obtain your police record, file a grievance against an officer, and so on.

Humbolt, likewise, offers lots of information about itself but almost no real news.

In counties where individualism is a highly developed art and complaints are constantly heard against the "main stream media," it is surprising that few are filing in to provide real news of those areas.

A look at "What's New" on Netscape, the popular Internet browser, reveals a similar distaste for reality.

Take for instance the new "Personal View" page by Ziff-Davis. This lets you filter the news so that you read only what you want to read. Not a bad idea in some ways, but it also prevents an individual from receiving news that is really new or unexpected. It allows for only the predictable.

Or so it would seem. Actually getting into this web page proved to be nearly impossible--either due to technical problems, or the number of other users trying to get in and put a filter on their news.

Then take "Netropolis." It lets you build the kind of city you want--a "virtual city." You can become a "noxious corporate giant" and "line your pockets with cash." Or it says you can, anyway. This site, too, was so over-contacted that it was impossible to get in. But that in itself may be a dose of reality or a message to some.

Then there is "Hair Care For Men." The idea is the same as in the little black-and-white adds in newspapers that show a sullen, balding man next to another guy with a full youthful crop. But here it is in full color, and in the "after" picture the guy is accompanied by a beautiful blond. Both are of course smiling. There is a shot also of a sour-looking black man with thinning hair. In the after photo he is not shown with a woman; rather, he is jumping into the air with a football.

Then there is "Fashion Dog"--yes, about clothes for dogs. And Cyber Cafe--about coffee from around the world and perhaps a bit more sobering. At least until it refers to the "growing coffee rage" around the world, as though coffee had just been discovered by the cyberspace jet set.

Is this the information superhighway that vice president Gore touted a few years ago--or just another form of escape?

Opinions vary.


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