Web is conduit for Flight 800 data

When The Washington Post wanted to do a story on the high-technology gear used by the Navy to search for wreckage of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island, it tapped into the Navy Public Affairs Library World Wide Web page at http://www.navy.mil/navpalib/.www/welcome/html.

Cable News Network, the newly launched MSNBC cable-and-Internet network and The Post's on-line service also endorsed the solid news value of the Navy Web site by featuring it as the first link from their pages on the Internet. MSNBC went one step further and aired a news feature on the Web page.

All this interest by the general media in the Navy PA site reflects its ability to deliver spot news and imagery on a close-to-real-time basis. Alan Goldstein, director of technology in the Navy Office of Information - the PA Webmaster - said he plans to continue to use the on-line service "to concentrate heavily on a situation where the Navy is heavily involved."

The on-line Navy coverage of the Flight 800 search-and-recovery effort has kept pace with the service's involvement with the operation, with frequent updates posted under a "what's new" link on the main page. As the story evolved, this included imagery of the people, vessels and equipment involved in the operation. Besides providing topical information, Goldstein also provided links to background information, such as "fact files" on the vessels involved and biographies of key personnel, such as Capt. Raymond Scott McCord, the Navy's supervisor of salvage.

Goldstein also used the PA page to showcase digital imagery taken by the Navy's news photo division from the recovery scene, including photos of Navy divers who recovered the aircraft's flight data recorder. The combination of digital cameras and the Web site allowed the Navy to offer "near real-time imagery" from the crash scene, Goldstein said."We're using GIFs on the Web site, but if the media want a high-resolution image, all they have to do is click on it and download a JPEG file," Goldstein said.

Goldstein, who retired from active duty in 1994 after 26 years in which he served as both an enlisted and commissioned public affairs specialist, views the Web as "a great tool" for communications with the general media, the public and what he called "the Navy family." While Goldstein does bring technical knowledge to his job - he helped computerize the Navy Pentagon PA shop in the late 1980s - he believes that's a secondary skill for any Webmaster.

"Anyone who does a Web site has to truly understand the organization because the Web site is your face to the world.... You need a person who knows and understands content to run a Web site," Goldstein said.

Other federal agencies involved with the TWA 800 recovery and investigation also used the Web to disseminate or gather information, although none match the depth of information provided by the Navy.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration used its site, http://www.noaa.gov, to highlight the role its survey ship Rude played in helping locate the TWA plane. Updated frequently during the search, the page features good hyperlinks to information about the equipment used by the Rude.

The Federal Aviation Administration's public affairs page, http://www.dot.gob/affairs/faaind.htm, offered text-only statements from FAA and other government officials about the crash and increased security measures. The FBI used its Web site, http://www.fbi.gov, to ask for the public's help in determining the cause of the crash, providing both an 800 telephone number and an e-mail address, newyork@fbi.gov. The National Transportation Safety Board, http://www.ntsb.gov, does not offer anything on its role in the TWA 800 investigation but does offer several fact-filled pages of information concerning flight data re-corders and comprehensive records of air crashes dating back to 1983.

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