While millions of people were able to tune in to television to watch officials commenting on eerie green footage of the air strikes in Iraq, millions more were at work with no TVs in sight. For these people, the Web, unhindered by many of the territorial boundaries inherent in traditional media, offered a way to get what otherwise would have been inaccessible news.
Judging from preliminary numbers, the Net once again provided a vital link to breaking events as news sites rallied to provide constantly updated stories. Whereas television is able to provide only one story at a time, the Web allows sites to provide several stories simultaneously, using several different media: text, audio, and video.
The Internet also offers something else that television, radio and newspapers cannot--immediate interactivity.
CNN's Web site, for example, reported that the strongest reaction it received to the Iraq story today came as 500 people streamed into its chat rooms just after the attack was announced at about 5 p.m. ET. It's traffic peaked at 475,000 hits per minute at one point.
ABC News, for its part, reallocated resources to cover both "Operation Desert Fox" and the presidential impeachment hearings. Like CNN and other breaking news sites, the network rushed to post audio, video, text, and community resources on the story.
The Net is not without its failings, however, especially when it comes to broadcasting video. Time and again, the Web has shown that it is not yet up to par with television in terms of fluidity or accessibility. While the Net must, by nature, limit the number of people to which it can stream each broadcast, television has unlimited bandwidth that gives it a tremendous advantage.
Many surfers reported difficulty in accessing news sites today due to bandwidth issues, but even so, the events of the day made it immediately clear that the Net has become a viable alternative--or at the very least a complement--to other media.