The bigger picture
According to Nua, a leading Internet trends and statistics research group, the worldwide online population grew from 119 million to 580 million from mid-1998 to early-2003. This represents an astounding increase of 461 million Internet users in just five years. The enormous population growth of this highly cost-effective publishing medium is a great boon to organizations with limited resources desiring to reach the largest possible audience.
Online news overview
News is one of the main objectives of Internet users and one of the fastest growing content markets. Accessing news content is Internet users’ second favorite online activity after email, according to a 2000 survey from Zatso, Inc and the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation (RTNDF).
In the first half of 2002, major newspaper websites in seven of the ten largest US markets saw visitor growth at a rate faster than the market’s total Internet population growth. During this period, the New York Daily News saw a 23 percent growth in visits, while unique Internet users for the total New York market area rose by just three percent. Our experience with the Electronic Intifada echoes these trends. During 2002, site traffic grew from a rate of around 80,000 visits a month to one quarter of a million.
A 2002 survey found that the Internet is the third source of news for British citizens, behind television and radio. Newspapers and magazines have dropped to fourth and fifth places respectively. According to the survey, individuals between 16-34 years of age spend 15 times longer on the Net during an average week than they do reading a newspaper.
In early 2002, the Online News Association published a US study indicating that respondents consider online news as credible as news they obtain from other, more traditional news sources. Ironically, online newsreaders were “more likely to have a firm opinion about the credibility of traditional media while remaining far more neutral about online news sources,” perhaps highlighting a trend toward more critical and judicious reading of the mainstream press.
Popularity of alternative sources
“Alternative” or “supplementary” news websites are increasing in popularity, particularly in the current situation of global political tensions. The Pew Internet Project noted in January 2003 that “specialized political and issue-oriented sites are becoming more popular. Thirty percent of online campaign news consumers reported that they went to such sites most often, compared with just 19% in 2000.”
The reach of online media has penetrated key areas of society, including crucial target audiences for re-dissemination such as the media and young people, audiences frequently described as having a “multiplier effect.”
Almost 75 percent of all US journalists used the Internet daily in 2000, representing a substantial increase from 48 percent in 1999. More than one-third of reporters said the Internet is the first place they go to gather research, according to a 2000 survey sponsored by public relations agency Burson-Marsteller. A 2002 study from the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet (IPDI), reached similar conclusions, finding that more than 50 percent of political journalists in the US read political coverage online.
The Internet is an effective and efficient way to reach young people. An Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) study in Autumn 2002 found that pressure groups are more likely to engage young people in political activity through the Internet than through more traditional methods. Just 10 percent of Internet users were found to delete messages forwarded by acquaintances, compared to 29 percent who delete unsolicited political emails.
Middle East-related websites
The Guardian newspaper reported in October 2001 that traffic from the UK to Middle East news websites surged as Internet users sought out alternative news sources in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy.
Harris Interactive reported that the number of US Internet users who say the Internet is their primary news source has more than doubled since those events. The percentage of people using the Internet as one of their information sources, if not their primary source, jumped from 64% to 80% in the two weeks following the attacks, overtaking radio (72%) and second only to television, with 98%.
Sixty three percent said they went online because they could obtain information at times that suited them, 43 percent because more detailed news could be found online, 42 percent because more up-to-date information was available online, and 42 percent because they could access news while at work. Similar trends were evident in site visits to the Electronic Intifada during the same period.
This brief overview of Internet users’ approach to news gathering on the Net demonstrates that online news publishing is a cost-effective, high growth industry; a proven way of reaching out to key groups (including those who contribute content to traditional media) and the younger generation who will shape the future; and an excellent venue for publishing political viewpoints that are excluded, marginalized, or minimized in the mainstream and traditional media. The Electronic Intifada is well placed to maximise its impact on public understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 “Internet Users Like Choosing News”, Nua, 18 May 2000.
 “The Net is the third source of news for UK users”, Nua, 29 July 2002.
 “The Internet and Campaign 2002”, Pew Internet Project, 5 January 2003.
 “Journalists Scour the Net for Story Ideas”, Nua, 13 March 2000.
 “Just the Online Facts, Ma’am”, by Genia Jones, The Industry Standard, 19 December 2000.
 “American political journalists rely on Net”, Nua, 17 October 2002.
 “Politicians must exploit Internet to win ‘apathetic’ young voters - study”, ESRC, 9 September 2002.
 “Arab websites see traffic soar”, by Owen Gibson, Guardian, 9 October 2001.
 “Harris Interactive Survey Shows Internet’s Growth as Primary Source of News and Information in Weeks Following September 11 Attacks”, Harris Interactive, 5 October 2001.
Nigel Parry is one of the four founders of the Electronic Intifada, and has worked as an Internet consultant and web designer since 1995, when work began on the original Birzeit University website. In September 1996, Nigel and a team of Birzeit staff and students published the first alternative news website from inside a war zone. In August 1997, he spoke at the United Nations on the development of the Palestinian Internet. Today he coordinates supplementary news projects The Electronic Intifada and Electronic Iraq and works as a commercial web designer. His business website can be found at http://nigelparry.net.