From AJR, October 1999 issue
Another Mainstreamer Does the Net
By Kimberly Marselas
Kimberly Marselas is a former AJR editorial assistant
W HEN PULITZER PRIZE winner Sydney H. Schanberg walked through the door of his new newsroom for the first time, he was a happy man. He was surprised to find the opportunity he'd been looking for in an office full of Internet reporters.
"I saw traditional journalism,"says Schanberg excitedly. "No hype. No distortion."
In mid-August, Schanberg, 65, became one of a growing number of print and broadcast journalists joining Web sites: He signed on as editor for special investigations at APBNews.com, a site devoted entirely to crime reporting.
APBNews--that's APB as in all points bulletin--started out last November with a relatively small staff and a commitment to producing original crime stories. Now the site has a 36-member editorial staff in New York City and contracts with 144 freelancers nationwide. Sometimes referred to as APBOnline, the site offers declassified government documents and live police feeds from major cities in addition to original reporting.
Schanberg will head APB's first attempt at in-depth investigations focusing on white-collar corruption. "In the early days we were just trying to survive,"says Hoag Levins, APB's executive editor. "The nature of the projects we need to be doing [now] are really large, cutting-edge pieces. Schanberg's the kind of person who can envision and carry out a project that might take two months."
Although the former New York Times and New York Newsday columnist and reporter has done plenty of long-term stories, Schanberg has never reported solely for the Web. He had been working on books and other projects since leaving Newsday in 1995.
"It's not something that five years or 10 years ago anyone would have imagined me doing,"he says. "It's not something I imagined myself doing."
Until this job began, Schanberg didn't even check his e-mail that often. Now he's intimately connected to the Web with the leeway to work on investigative ideas he's been collecting throughout his 40-year career.
Schanberg, who won a 1976 Pulitzer for international reporting, has covered everything from Cambodia to corporate America, but he says there were still constraints on what he could do. "You become a captive of other people's agendas,"he says. "There are subjects by the dozen that never get touched."
Like Schanberg, most of APB's editorial staff comes from non-Web media outlets. Larry Pryor, director of the online program at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and executive editor of the Online Journalism Review, says many journalists are turning to the Web because print and broadcast outlets are too confining and too budget-oriented.
This migration, Pryor says, has "serious implications for traditional publishers and broadcasters."They'll eventually have to evaluate what they're doing, he says, and find ways to lure reporters back to newspapers and TV studios.
Meanwhile, he predicts well-known journalists like Schanberg, Hugh Downs and Peter Arnett who've made the switch to cyberspace will lend credibility to online news, which has been criticized by some for its lack of ethical standards. "They're going to have an enormous influence on how the public perceives Internet journalism."Arnett joined foreignTV.com after leaving CNN in April and Downs begins work for iNEXTV this month.
Schanberg doesn't see ethical perfection happening on the Internet anytime soon, but he says readers can feel safe about venturing onto APB, which won the Society of Professional Journalists' first-ever award for Online Journalism Deadline Reporting this spring.
"I don't imagine the Internet is going to clean up its act,"he says. "But there will be islands of calm and reason, and I think APBOnline will be one of them."