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Cyberspace races to offer Jackson verdict

News sites used the highly awaited event as a chance to experiment with methods of getting news out fast.

It took the jury seven days to decide Michael Jackson's fate, and it took less than two minutes for cyberspace to deliver news of the pop star's acquittal.

While all the major news sites had posted word that a verdict was coming, there was a scramble to find the fastest way to deliver the news that a jury had found the "King of Pop" not guilty of all 10 charges in the closely watched child molestation case.

News sites used the event as a chance to experiment with methods of getting news out quickly. CNN.com, for example, put a scorecardlike page up ahead of the verdict, with a color-coded system in place to mark "guilty" or "not guilty," as each juror's specific decision was read.

Michael Jackson
Credit: Kevork Djansezian/
AFP/Getty Images
Michael Jackson arrives at court
to hear the verdict on Monday.

But rival MSNBC.com appeared to get the news out first with a breaking news alert at the top of its screen that said simply: "Jury finds Jackson find not guilty of lewd act on child."

However, in a sign that automated news sites may have some work to do to catch up with their human-powered counterparts, the Jackson verdict was not prominently featured on the Google News site several minutes after the decision was read.

The Jackson case was not listed as one of the two "top stories." Mentions of the story along the right side and in the entertainment section of the site pointed to a MTV online article that said a verdict had been reached, but the Google News headlines did not say what the outcome was.

However, by 3 p.m. PT the acquittal had indeed risen to a prime spot on Google News. It was also the top story at the Web sites for the BBC, the Times of London and the Melbourne Herald Sun, Australia's best-selling daily newspaper. Jackson was the No. 2 story on The Wall Street Journal's site, just below the earlier news that Morgan Stanley's CEO was stepping down.

The Web was already in high gear just on word that a verdict had been reached. An animated siren graphic rotated atop the Drudge Report, later upgraded to two sirens as the decision neared. "Jacko Jury Reaches Verdict" screamed a banner on Fox News' Web site. CNN's Web site featured a photo of a fan covering her eyes while waiting for the verdict with the headline "Tense times for Jackson's fans outside court."

The New York Times was more subtle, showing a small photo of the assembled news vans leading to a story on the imminent verdict. However, even the Gray Lady was promising live audio of the verdict.

Yahoo was carrying a live video feed as TV cameras focused on the procession of black SUVs carrying Jackson and his entourage to the Santa Maria, Calif., courthouse. Jackson fan sites, such as MJJSource.com, also carried word that a decision had been reached.

Despite the intense interest surrounding the verdict, major news sites appeared to weather the increase in traffic.

"The leading news sites appear to be operating normally at this time," Dan Berkowitz, a spokesman for Internet performance monitor Keynote Systems, said shortly after the verdict was announced.

Just seconds after the verdicts came in, fans on message boards such as the Michael Jackson Cafe, began posting ecstatic congratulations, full of capital letters and dancing emoticons.

The jury in central California cleared the pop star on four counts of child molestation, one count of attempted molestation, four charges of giving alcohol to a minor and one charge of conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.

Conviction on all the counts could have sent Jackson to prison for nearly 20 years.

The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for seven days before acquitting Jackson. They had to consider testimony by 140 witnesses and some 600 items of evidence.

CNET News.com's John Borland and Reuters contributed to this report.