--Part 2--

sonya martinez
cns news & features

While independent-minded, local Northern California residents are often the first to complain of "main stream media" not telling it right or ignoring issues of vital interest in their areas, it is paradoxical that Internet news services are almost totally absent in these areas. There are plenty of local Internet nodes serving these areas, but few are host to truly local news content.

Said Bo Simons, a librarian who specializes in Internet services at Sonoma County Library, "I see a lot of tourist attraction sort of things, calendars of upcoming events . . . but there is not that much good, hard local news."

Ann Rennacker, a library technician at the Fort Bragg Public Library who helps with Internet access, sees it the same way. "There's lots of chat and information but no real news."

The reason, said Simons, is that local news-gathering organizations don't have the expertise or the time to develop and maintain web sites. Most news on the Internet is now located on World Wide Web sites that must first be developed in Hyper-Text Markup Language or HTML code. That can require a considerable expense of time and money. Then such sites must be maintained by posting HTML-coded stories.

Both Simons and Rennacker admitted they get most of their local news through the local newspapers. "I get up in the morning and walk out the front steps and pick up the newspaper," said Simons a little sheepishly. "I still find the best source of local news that way."

Most of his use of the Internet is in his professional work as a librarian--that is, in searching other libraries for books and other materials.

But he said that local news sites on the Net seem natural to him. "It seems like somebody could mount a site like that and make some money off it."

Rennie Innis, Business Manager of the Mendocino Community Network and a big promoter of the Internet, nevertheless said he is not sure the Internet is the "most effective way" for local users to read the news. "It's really nice to sit in your chair or hammock and read the paper."

But Innis says that local Internet news has value for people out of the area: it allows them to find out what is going on in Mendocino. "Legislators could tune into those papers that are on line to stay in touch with issues that are pertinent," he said. Visitors to the coast often like to stay in touch with what is happening on the coast, and the Internet would give them a way to do so without subscribing to the local paper.

What Innis said he would like to see is the main-stream newspapers of his area--Westport to Gualala--on the Net, as well as the "alternative" or opinion papers that are already there.

And how crucial is local news dished up 28.8 kilobits per second? Rennacker only uttered, "Might be." Then she pointed out that when something happens in Fort Bragg you see it first in the Press Democrat--the Santa Rosa daily--then in the local paper, the Fort Bragg Advocate-News, a weekly. A little odd, she seemed to imply.

But when something really happens in town, she said, the news travels word-of-mouth. "We're a small town," she said.


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