- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

NEW YORK — If the 1991 Gulf war was the making of cable television, then the current conflict in Iraq could mark a similar watershed for the Internet and help redefine how major news events are covered.

From the high-cost, high-tech Web sites of news giants like CNN and ABC to the unvarnished rants of individual "bloggers," the Internet offers an unparalleled variety of war-related reporting, comment, photographs and live video feeds that are pulling in audiences at the speed of a broadband connection.

In Britain, the top Internet service Freeserve reported that "war" had toppled "sex" and "Britney" as the most popular search term, while "Iraq" was No. 1 on the weekly Yahoo search list on Sunday up from 42 a week earlier.

"In terms of coverage, this may well become known as the Internet war, in the same way that World War II was a radio war and Vietnam was a television war," said Dean Wright, editor in chief of MSNBC.com, which saw traffic on its news Web site more than double on the first day of the invasion of Iraq.

The spike in the popularity of the Internet as a primary news source has coincided with the development of broadband technology, which allows providers to deliver images and text at unprecedented levels.

"A chief selling point has been the use of live video on our sites, which brings the war into the workplace in a way that was not possible before," Mr. Wright said.

On the Tuesday before the war began, MSNBC.com served 2.5 million video screens. On Wednesday, that number had exploded to 6.1 million and was topping 10 million by Friday.

About 75 percent of Americans have access to the Internet up 50 percent from five years ago while American offices have some 28.2 million broadband connections.

"That's where the real audience is the at-work segment," said Joshua Fouts, editor of Online Journalism Review.

"What this war has shown is that the Internet has entered into a crucial and symbiotic relationship with the print and broadcast media. Read the newspaper in the morning, surf the Web during the day and watch television at night," Mr. Fouts said.

ABCNews.com is moving toward an round-the-clock live Internet news service. It carried live coverage of the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, as well as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's presentation to the U.N. Security Council last month.

Most analysts say the Internet remains a long way from replacing broadcast media as the most popular immediate news source at least in the evening when the "hands-free" passivity of television viewing fits more comfortably into American lifestyles.

On the real fringes are the "bloggers" individuals who set up personal sites to publicize their personal visions of the world.

One blogger Web site attracting a lot of attention is that of an unknown Iraqi writing daily observations from Baghdad under the pseudonym "Salam Pax" or "Peace Peace" in Arabic and Latin. The diary www.dearraed.blogspot.com is by turns witty, eloquent and vivid. As well as gathering a wide readership, it also has sparked a furious online debate as to whether Salam Pax is who or where he says he is.

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