News Library News Online
Vol. 24, No. 2/Winter 2002

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Intranet Q&A...
By Jalyn Kelly
With Cary A. Schneider, News Research Manager, Los Angeles Times


See images of the loop:
LA Times Editorial Library intranet
LA Times Editorial Library's TimesOnline
LA Times Editorial Library Census 2000 page

How and when was the intranet launched?

The Editorial Library first obtained internet access and e-mail accounts from a commercial vendor in 1993 and immediately took the lead in planning to provide individual internet and e-mail access throughout the newsroom. Early in 1994, the library formed an "Ad Hoc Editorial Internet Steering Committee" that included representatives throughout the newsroom. This Committee addressed issues regarding management of the Editorial Department’s internet connection and set policies for internet usage, e-mail, and content on the Editorial Library intranet. By April 1994, just as Netscape was being formed, the library introduced a text-based intranet using the Lynx browser. In July 1994 library staff was recognized with a "Top of the Times" Editorial Award for "taming the internet" as well as the "installation of the equipment and software" and the creation of "a series of easy-to-use menus which allow even novices find their way through the maze of resources."

The library’s training program for individual reporters continued throughout 1994 and by the end of that year over 230 newsroom employees were connected to the net. This initial project brought to the newsroom for the first time Los Angeles Times-sponsored accounts providing access to the internet, a personal e-mail account, the ability to create bookmarks, to browse a subject listing compiled by librarians of the most useful resources on the Internet, as well as a direct link to the library’s TimesOnline archive of Los Angeles Times stories from 1985-present.

In January 1995 the library received another "Top of the Times" Editorial Award for creating a homepage for information about the O.J. Simpson case. It provided quick access for Editorial staff to connect to internet sites containing news stories from other papers, domestic violence resources and even selected text from Simpson’s book.

In November 1995 the library sponsored an open house for the newsroom to debut a library intranet redesigned specifically for users using a graphical browser (Netscape) while maintaining our lynx based browser and text-based e-mail system (PINE). The open house featured a buffet luncheon and door prizes and introduced several new services: multimedia workstations available for reporters to use if their own workstations had not been fully upgraded; a graphics home page with links to photojournalism sites; same-day availability of daily LAT stories in our TimesOnline database; electronic telephone directories; and the introduction of a variety of special resources and databases for the 1996 presidential election.

On August 28, 1997 the library rolled out the web version of its MediaSphere image database which allowed easy access through both PCs and Macs to archived photographs and editorial art. Soon thereafter, links in the text-based TimesOnline system allowed reporters and editors to view the photos and graphics that ran with each story.

In 1998 the library mounted a CD-ROM server that allowed reporters to remotely access Census information, public records, phone directories and other resources directly from the Library intranet.

In January 2000 a fully redesigned library intranet was introduced with improved design and functionality. The over 1,000 useful links to Internet sites that had been displayed on flat pages are now maintained in searchable databases which users can browse or search free-text. Users can "Submit a Request" to the library on any topic, and their requests are prioritized by deadline in a database. Links to specialized, fee-based resources are available (such as Congressional Quarterly, Leadership Directories, phone directories, and Encyclopaedia Britannica) as well as databases developed in-house exclusively for reporters (voter registration records, and campaign contributions at the local, state and federal level). The site also includes a searchable database of the Los Angeles Times Stylebook, and we have compiled a "Journalist’s Toolkit" of major resources for everything from copy-editing to computer assisted research. Links to the corporate intranet — Tribune - and other editorial department resources, such as a "pagination training schedule" and "emergency contact list" for the entire editorial department’s use further extend the function of the site beyond library resources.

At the same time, a special, password-protected part of the library intranet is reserved for "librarians use only" This includes links and passwords to some resources for the researchers use and allows staff to review the incoming requests submitted from reporters.

In April 2000 the library’s intranet was awarded its third "Top of the Times" award, this time for "innovation" in particular, for the many technical innovations on the site.

In November 2001 users of the library intranet could apply for access to Dow Jones Interactive which is featured prominently along with other exclusive services on the library web page.

Is the intranet a newsroom-only intranet or part of a corporate intranet?

The library intranet has always served the newsroom exclusively and was developed earlier than the corporate intranet.

Describe the news library’s role in the development and maintenance of the intranet.

The library’s UNIX computer was the server for all the library intranet applications, and, for the most part was developed and maintained independently of our IT and corporate intranets. Also, for about five years, editorial e-mail accounts were also created and maintained on the library’s computers using library staff. (We were happy to give this up!)

What areas of the intranet do reporters and editors find most useful?

Direct access to the web and in-house resources (text and photo archives as well as specialized databases and resources described above, like voter registration and campaign contributions).

Specialized collections of resources prepared for national elections, political conventions, airplane crashes, the Olympics, and international developments are useful and popular with the newsroom as well as breaking news resources made available as the need arises.

How has the intranet changed the way people in your newsroom perform their daily jobs?

A wide-range of "brown-bag" topics and specialized training classes offered by librarians on a regular basis for at least 5 years (including "Using Search Engines," "Legal Resources on the Web," "Political Resources on the Web," "Profiling a Person Using Web Resources" and many other topics) has broadened and enhanced the tools that many reporters and editors use in their reporting.

What areas of the intranet do news researchers find most useful?

A broad range of public sites, but most importantly the in-house databases we have developed for public records, as well as the specialized pages of information that guide a researcher through public databases to, for example, investigate a plane crash, its service record, maintenance, etc.

Has the intranet gone through any major redesigns?

The major redesign of our web site that debuted in January 2000 was the culmination of a yearlong project that involved direct participation from nearly half the library staff. Three teams - one responsible for the visual design, another for the content organization, and a third team investigating functionality - met regularly to combine their recommendations and formulate the changes. This included extensive evaluation of the "best of" other sites on the web, and an evaluation of the unique demands of a newsroom and our own environment to develop the unique resource we have provided the entire editorial department here at the Los Angeles Times.

What insights would you share with someone developing an intranet?

First, concentrate on what you can share that is most unique and useful to your users, whether this be local resources or a guide to a breaking news event. In a way, we started our intranet long ago, in part, in response to the reporters who were just overwhelmed with an over-load of information when they used a public search engine.

If you would like to spotlight your newsroom's intranet in the next News Library News, please contact Jalyn Kelley at Jalyn Kelley is a researcher at CSC Consulting.