If you have ever taken an ill-advised turning off the information superhighway and found yourself splashing around the Internet's farthest shores - newsgroups, ftp sites and so on - you might think that you have stumbled upon a place where all the really innovative and exciting things are being said and done. Or perhaps not.

As likely as not, if you tackle one of the popular newsgroups, you'll find extracts from newspaper articles, copies of postings from news agencies and comments on television news programmes. In short, the Internet often doesn't seem to provide alternative sources of information to the traditional media institutions; it simply provides an opportunity to take mainstream information and help it circumnavigate the globe a few times a day.

Supplying news to Internet users has, for some reason, become something of a holy grail for service providers. For journalists, who need to stay on top of the news, this is one thing. But do others want news delivered to them, when it happens, as it happens? Even my short experience working on a national paper's news desk suggests that up-to-the-minute information is something that's needed by only a few key people even in a media organisation.

At the heart of the question is this: why do journalists exist at all? Essentially, it's their job to spend time finding out what's going on in the world so that everybody else doesn't have to. And that's the reason why newsgroups just recycle the same material over and over again. Newsworthy issues and news sources are limited. In the middle of a World Cup, it becomes obvious that when you have a single source of information, all you get is regurgitated versions of the same story.

It's worth comparing the Internet with the start of television: when broadcasting first began, some people believed that newspapers would suffer. In fact, people became more interested in news, and newspaper sales rose. The Internet is a different prospect, however, because there isn't really a way to work out how many people use it to keep up with the news, or, indeed, if they even want it for that purpose.

Reuters, the legendary news wire service, will be familiar to you, if only because you see it in the newspaper occasionally. Their website is clearly meant as an advert for their business and financial services, but their website, Sportsweb, is one of the best online World Cup guides that you'll find.

Yet, ultimately, the best online news source is the BBC. With that organisation's experience in supplying public-service news, it's hardly surprising that it knows how to collate and collect the news.

Now it only remains for people to discover that they actually want online news for everybody to be happy.


The BBC's online service


Reuters' home page


Yahoo, the search engine which is partly owned by Reuters and has a limited news service