Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 1, Number 4 / August 1, 1994 / Page 9

Pyxis Cyberea: Discovering content in a new medium

Lessons from the Florida Compass WWW news prototype

by Gary Ritzenthaler (, Assistant Editor CMC Magazine

[During the spring of 1994, seven students at the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications developed a prototype for a World Wide Web-based news service called the Florida Compass. While many of the lessons we learned were just new versions of guidelines already established in journalism, both these 'new versions' and the process of our re-learning might be of interest to those watching the future of the news media. This essay is the third in a series of reflections on the what we learned from creating the Compass. I welcome all comments via the address above - you can read selected responses to this column here.]

Discovering content in a new media

I've been looking at old newsreels with a new interest lately.

I've found a new fascination with early television programs, and I've been reading some old history of journalism textbooks purely for pleasure. I've even signed up for a class in the history of journalism this fall. I've found an appreciation for the old stories and anecdotes about the history of journalism, and an excitement about the people who innovated in media and the decisions and mistakes they made. What might be more important is my belief that this excitement can be infectious.

I'd like to use this column to pass on my secret, since it springs from my experience as team leader of the Compass project. I'm not sure about all students studying the media, but I've found that students who work on the development of news projects for the World Wide Web are a bit more receptive to the legends of journalism history. They're more attentive to the past because they can relate to problems the pioneers of earlier mass media faced in their search to find useful, interesting, stimulating content--quality information to light and decorate the mostly barren landscape of a new medium.

The early winners in the fields of print, radio, film, and television succeeded in part because they created the best bridge between old and new, the best combination of the productive elements of existing media and the intriguing possibilities offered by the new technology. In the last few years, media technology has progressed again, adding a new chapter to the mass communication textbooks of the future. The growing market of Internet news consumers can expect that information will be delivered to them in ways never before possible, but the kinds of information these people want will stay the same.

The lessons of past media successes and failures are there; I believe that students who study them closely will be the most successful content innovators for the mass/personal media of tomorrow.

The Compass development team faced the problem of lack of content early in the construction of our prototype. Since the product we developed was the result of a class assignment, (not a venture formally allied with any traditional news medium available in the UF College of Journalism and Communications), we began and ended the project without any established sources of content. Like the pioneers of earlier media, we had two fundamental options for the creation of Compass material: In the course of our work we tried several activities devoted to finding good material in these two possible directions.

Content Development Projects

Lacking any formal source of news content to fill up the publication, the development team explored a number of id