Originally created 01/30/98

White House scandal is spurring interest in news Web sites

NEW YORK -- At work and at home, wired Americans are rushing to online news sites for the latest on the White House crisis.

Large news sites on the Web such as The New York Times and MSNBC are seeing extraordinary numbers of computer users looking for news about the sex allegations swirling around President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

"When people want information like this, they want it timely and they want it accurate," said Graham Cannon, a spokesman at Time Daily, the online version of Time magazine.

At Fox News Online, executive producer Scott Ehrlich said nothing he's seen before -- not even the death of Princess Diana -- has generated as much traffic. On a normal day, about 1 million pages are served up to computer users. Now, it's twice that.

MSNBC general manager Jim Kinsella said up to 800,000 individuals a day are visiting his Web site or participating in its message board exchange. That's a 150 percent increase from December.

"People are congregating and talking about it," he said. "That's one of the most interesting byproducts of this crisis."

Ruth Gersh, editor of multimedia services at The Associated Press, said the AP's online service, The Wire, said about 200,000 pages were served up on Tuesday, compared with 80,000 a week earlier.

"Probably most telling was on Monday, when various reports on the president outpolled the Super Bowl 3-to-1," she said.

The New York Times on the Web has seen a 20 percent to 30 percent jump in vistors and serves up about 2.5 million pages a day, said editor Bernard Gwertzman.

Web news sites are reporting the most traffic during business hours, indicating that many people are checking from work.

But weekend and evening hours vistors are setting records, too, and the Times reported 1.3 million pages served last Saturday, a day that never sees anywhere near that number.

The online gadfly who blew the lid off the case, Matthew Drudge and his Drudge Report, also has seen swell of people surfing over to his site. It was Drudge who reported Jan. 17 that Newsweek was sitting on the story that Clinton had had an affair with the 21-year-old Ms. Lewinsky.

Drudge's biggest day so far was Monday, with 349,075 "hits." His site usually averages about 52,000 a day. His Internet provider, L.A. Internet Inc., moved his site to a separate, high-speed server to handle the load.

"The server is just barely surviving," said Sassan Behzadi, director of Web development.

Does the White House story prove that the Internet, after so brief a childhood, is ready to handle breaking news alongside broadcast and print media?

"This medium is unlike any other, so I think it's going to be difficult to say, 'This is going to be the thing that puts us over the top,"' said Fox's Ehrlich. "Just as the television business wasn't built in a day, this isn't going to be built in a year."


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