Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Gazette celebrates 20 years on the Internet, was among first newspapers in nation to have website

By Pula Davis Updated: April 6, 2014 at 8:47 am

A lot of change happens in 20 years. That also goes for Gazette.com, which celebrates its 20th anniversary today as one of the oldest websites in the news business.

Those of us old enough to remember the past two decades know that very little is the same. Technology has moved with incredible speed to change our world. Of all the industries affected by the Internet, print media is probably one of the most affected, along with travel and entertainment.

Contrary to urban legend, Al Gore wasn't responsible for the creation of the Internet. On March 12, 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee put forth a proposal to make information-sharing possible over computers.

Back then, our newspaper was still the Gazette Telegraph. When I first saw the Internet, it was called the Information Super Highway or the World Wide Web. I was a researcher in The Gazette's library. I ferreted out information for reporters the old-fashioned way, through our in-house archives, reference books or phone calls. We weren't in the dark ages. We had several computer terminals, connected to a mainframe computer, which we used to catalog our stories and photos. And we had bought two desktop computers that were slow dinosaurs, but they fascinated my boss Phil Witherow and me.

Phil was the visionary. After attending a newspaper conference at the University of Arizona, he returned to work intrigued by a new way of sharing and accessing data, which at that point was mostly used by colleges and universities.

We began using the technique, which was nothing like what we use today.

We stared at amber-colored type as Web pages slowly loaded, and we waited. The Internet back then was excruciatingly slow, but we didn't know that then. We were hooked.

Phil focused on the concept of newspapers online.

I was more interested in how the pages were built and displayed. So I taught myself HTML, the language of the Web. I remember my jubilation when I successfully uploaded an image. I eventually moved into the role of webmaster for the Gazette, and reporters soon had the ability to do their research online.

Phil now lives in Australia, and when contacted recently and asked about the progress the Internet has made, he sounded disappointed in newspapers and said he actually thought the Web would have replaced print by now.

I don't recall thinking the Web would redefine my industry. I do remember that in the Web's infancy, I did realize this was the next big thing.

The first Gazette online was very basic - some links to stories and a few images. The paper partnered with Internet Express, a Colorado Springs-based computer-information service owned by a long-distance phone company, Telephone Express. The company handled the storage of the data and helped us set up a file transfer from our in-house database to the Web.

As we learned more about coding and got faster modems, our expertise grew rapidly. Eventually, several other Gazette journalists including Dallas Heltzell, Jim Bainbridge and Morris Frazier worked on what was eventually called GT Online. Heltzell was our first online columnist and an early expert on AOL.

I didn't reflect on what it all meant then, but I now marvel at how much freedom we were given to be innovative and creative.

We were one of the first newspapers along with the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post and the Raleigh News & Observer to start an electronic version. We secured the domain name Gazette.com when no one really knew what a domain was. We also own signature domains such as Coloradosprings.com, OutTherecolorado.com and Peakhomes.com, thanks to The Gazette's former publisher from 1994 to 1998, N. Christian Anderson, who saw the business potential in having just the right brand for our Web products.

Phil said that after the first edition appeared a woman called and asked "where are the ads?" He remembers thinking who would want ads online. Within a few weeks, the Gazette's GT Online was popular with people from all over - Air Force Academy graduates, former military members who had been stationed in Colorado Springs and enterprising real estate agents.

Phil remembers our advertising department sitting with glazed expressions when he spoke to them about the Web. And I recall reporters who had such a strong allegiance to print that they didn't want to hear about the Internet.

Along the way, there were some memorable glitches. Once, a newspaper in Wyoming simply took our website and put its framework around the content and reproduced it. Phil contacted the paper, and the site was taken down. We tried a pay wall very early but didn't follow through at that time when usage dropped. We had our own Y2K moment on Jan. 1, 2000, because our automatic dates refused to display correctly. During 9/11, we posted content constantly, including building one of the first special section sites at Gazette.com devoted to breaking news.

We also learned from our successes and our mistakes. As time passed, XML, JavaScript and Flash became part of our daily vocabulary. We concentrated more on design and functionality. Our site evolved and has been through numerous redesigns. Gazette.com has become what we envisioned: a comprehensive, interactive source of news and information.

Lots of technology has come and gone: Bulletin boards, chat rooms, Compuserve, Napster, FidoNet, even AOL's memorable "You've Got Mail" have faded. We survived the dot.com bust.

And we still keep an eye out for that next big thing.

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