The growth of high-speed broadband connections is leading to a future in which computers are always on "and so are the users," Tom Curley, president and chief executive officer of the world's largest news organization, told the Online News Association conference in Hollywood
The Internet is picking up the readers and viewers that newspapers and TV news shows have been losing, Curley said. It also has changed the balance of power from news providers to consumers, who use Web-surfing programs and video recording devices to control what they want to know and when and where they'll learn it.
Curley, who was publisher of Gannett Co.'s USA Today newspaper before becoming the AP's top executive in 2003, offered a scenario in which a "news enthusiast" would download to various electronic devices an array of news — sports scores, headlines, financial reports and analysis — from a variety of sources.
In the world of personalized news, "the content comes to you; you don't have to come to the content," Curley said. "So, get ready for everything to be 'Googled,' 'deep-linked' or 'Tivo-ized.' "
"You have to let the content flow where the users want to go, and attach your brand — and maybe advertising and e-commerce — to those free-flowing 'atoms,' " Curley said.
That already is leading to changes in how news is covered. For example, Curley said AP is furnishing U.S. bureaus with cameras to provide video for multimedia use and is increasing coverage of news of interest to young audiences.
News media also may need to consider nontraditional services for the Internet. Curley noted one site in Kansas already offers a Web cam service local college students can use to see how long the lines are at a pizza parlor.
More media companies will have to learn how to make their Web operations profitable when many consumers are used to getting their news for free, he said. The market is out there, Curley said, citing a recent study that found 29 percent of Internet users — about 43 million people — go online to get news three or more times per week.
Stephanie Busack, 22, a journalism student at Ohio University who attended the conference, said she gets most of her news online.
"I just go to the Web sites, basically ... it's right there, everything you need to know," she said. "I don't like reading newspapers."
Curley also touched on Internet users who disseminate news and ideas through Web logs, citing one recent estimate that there are 4 million "bloggers" making 400,000 posts per day.
"That works out to roughly 16,000 posts an hour, or about as many stories as the AP sends out in an entire day," he said. "It will get even tougher to be heard above the roar of the Internet crowd, and the business bets will have to be for greater stakes."
Still, Curley predicted current news giants will survive.
"The bloggers need a baseline of facts and professional analysis on which to base their work," he said. "Imagine Drudge without somebody to link to, or Wonkette without somebody to poke fun at."