HOW THE INTERNET IS CHANGING THE WAY WE COMMUNICATE; PACIFIC ISLANDS NEWS

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ASSOCIATION TO OPEN NEW WEBSITE

By Erin Phelan Pacific Islands News Association Special to the Pacific Islands Report

SUVA, Fiji Islands (October 4, 1999 – PINA Nius Online)---Think of a journalist 40 years ago. Tapping away - with luck on an electric typewriter - until the wee hours of morn', a flask of whiskey aside, scattered notes strewn over the desk, a rotary phone like a heavy paperweight, ringing loudly with the scoop of the day. Now, think of a journalist in 1999. Information saved into folders on Word or MacIntosh, websites saved in bookmarks, interviews interfaced through cable wires with unmet subjects thousands of miles away.

No technology has been more pervasive this century than the computer, and no information medium more revolutionary than the Internet. In fact, every 100 days the volume of traffic on the Internet doubles. Media and information have become instant and, without sounding trite, if you want to compete you've got to get with the program.

According to Mike Marasigan, chief operating officer for BusinessWorldOnline, news media today aren't prevalent unless they have a website, and the Internet has fast become a predominant source for news information.

"The craze started exactly five years ago when the World Wide Web was born and became a very popular segment of the Internet. It is the fastest-growing medium in the history of mankind and has in fact the ability to consolidate or merge all media into one web site," said Marasigan, in a fitting electronic interview from Manila with the Pacific Islands News Association last week.

Mike Marasigan is a regional expert on the Internet and the evolution of the media. He has been a central force in the development and success of the Philippines-based Businessworld, whose websites have been voted some of the best in the world. He has spoken throughout Asia-Pacific on related subjects, and this year marks his third appearance as an invited speaker for the annual Pacific Islands News Association convention, being held in Suva from October 7-11, 1999.

"The Internet has also enabled media companies to distribute their products cheaply and more speedily. Five years ago, some media companies could not fully grasp what the Internet could do for them, but for the last two years, almost every media outfit - print, TV, radio - wants to have a web site. Give it another five years - all media companies will be on the WWW."

During the Kosovo crisis, traffic on the Internet increased by 40 per cent. Websites such as CNN and MSNBC have incorporated video and audio into their sites, blurring lines between mediums. Marasigan says that Businessworld makes money by selling subscriptions and by selling advertising. They have also begun to venture into e-commerce, teaming up with other websites to sell products and services. But with technology changing fast, it is often a race to the finish.

"Media in general are still catching up, but pretty soon media will be a force to reckon with as far as the Internet is concerned. Right now, we are all overwhelmed by the technology, but like any other technology, the Internet is just another tool and that's how we should look at it."

Some critics are less optimistic. They envision a time when sound bytes and headlines stream across the computer screen, focused on immediacy rather than accuracy or content. Marasigan disagrees.

"Eventually, media will no longer be limited to providing news articles, feature stories or opinion columns. They will go into a full e-commerce mode, selling everything they could through the net. The media will be a force to reckon with."

The Pacific media are well established on the Internet, and the traffic is growing. Marasigan says he keeps up to date with Pacific news via several websites every day. Marasigan cites the French Polynesia based Tahiti-Pacifique as an excellent example of a website run by a one-man show. He has also been working on the new Pacific Islands News Association website, to be officially launched next week.

"During the early days of the World Wide Web, people were saying: everybody can be a publisher. That's true and that's how I understand the way the Internet has democratized the media," said Marasigan. "Everybody can publish what he wants to publish even if it is garbage. The internet can give anybody the power to express or distribute information whether it is useful, relevant or otherwise."

Is there the threat of the traditional newspaper becoming obsolete?

"I don't think so, but maybe their reach and influence will be reduced," said Marasigan. "We must remember that some developing regions do not have access to electricity or computers."

Not entirely true. Recently Somalia became one of the last countries in the world to get connected, however access to phone lines - required for the Internet - is limiting the reach. The Pacific suffers from the same problem and in many countries - such as Fiji - one company has a monopoly on the cable wires. Opening up the market for competition will allow the Internet to grow - and it is growing fast.

"We ain’t seen nothing yet. New technologies are on the way and when they're finally here, the present Internet we know will be kid stuff," said Marasigan.

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