Net stands up in trial coverage

The Internet appears to hold its own against television and radio in reporting the guilty verdict in the British nanny trial in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Jeff Pelline Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jeff Pelline is editor of CNET News.com. Jeff promises to buy a Toyota Prius once hybrid cars are allowed in the carpool lane with solo drivers.
Jeff Pelline
3 min read
The Internet appeared to hold its own against television and radio last night in reporting the guilty verdict in the sensational British nanny trial in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Within minutes, Internet sites were joining with TV and radio in reporting the second-degree murder verdict against teenager Louise Woodward in the death of an infant she was baby-sitting.

"British nanny found guilty of baby murder," said BBC News, which managed to get a story, complete with links to related stories, posted in the middle of the night London time.

In the United States, news Web sites carried full stories, complete with photographs of Woodward being led from the courtroom.

Perhaps the most comprehensive coverage of the trial is not on the site of a major news outlet, but rather on Town Online, a local site covering stories of interest to residents of eastern Massachusetts.

"We are currently getting over 100 messages an hour posted to the fourth message board we've set up for this, a dozen or more chatters at a time have been in the chat room for over three days now, and the site has the only complete history of the case, plus over 100 news stories on the case from our two Newton papers, the TAB and the daily News Tribune," said Kirsten Alexander, marketing and product development manager for the site.

"This site has become the common ground and central meeting place for concerned people on both sides of the Atlantic," she added. "Woodward's vicar has been posting our stories for weeks at the Elton church, newsstand, and post office."

As for the larger news venues, ABC's Web site included audio of the dramatic reaction by Woodward to the jury: "Why did you do that to me? Why, why?" (By then, according to radio reports, the jury had left the courtroom.)

MSNBC's links included stories such as "Child abuse: statistics, research, and resources," as well one on sudden infant death syndrome.

CNN carried the news and, like Town Online, offered a bulletin board of the trial on its CNNPlus site.

More than 900 messages were posted throughout the trial on CNNPlus, but the verdict sparked an instant flurry of responses, most of them supportive of Woodward.

"Is there anyone there in Elton, England?" said one Netizen, referring to Woodward's hometown. "I want them to know there are lots of us on Louise's side."

Added another: "Forgive my language, but O.J. Simpson not guilty, and Louise Woodward guilty. Un-friggin'-believable."

"Tell au pairs to quit immediately, contract or no contract," said a third.

The Boston Globe also managed to quickly post a headline of the verdict on its news site, although the story carried a byline from the Associated Press wire service rather than a staff reporter.

Last night's reports are a stark reminder of the Net's power as a new medium, not only for reporting news but also for providing instant interactivity with those viewing.

On the other hand, the Net has run into criticism for its technical limitations, such as clogged networks during peak periods. In addition, some question the credibility of the medium vs. the more established print and TV worlds.

On this story, at least, the competition from radio and TV was stiff, and cameras were allowed in the courtroom to catch the verdict live.