State examines online news service

The State Department may be tuning in to the online news business.

The foreign policy department has asked contractors to devise what a

"cyberstation" news clipping service would look like and present ideas to

State officials in mid-December.

Contractors would then operate the sites for four weeks while State

decided whether to pursue the concept. If officials like what they see,

State could issue a request for proposals for designing a fully operational

service.

In researching the idea, State calls for a maximum of two cyberstations — online news channels operating 24 hours a day — that would carry news

articles drawn from local, state, national and international sources. The

stations would be designed and operated by contractors, according to State's

synopsis in the Commerce Business Daily.

A State spokeswoman said the agency would not discuss the clipping service

concept. However, a published synopsis and several sources within the department

described some goals for the cyberstations. They would:

* Serve as a clipping service for State and other federal officials.

* Provide the public — worldwide — a central location for foreign policy-related

articles from what State considers "quality" sources.

* Be a forum wherein State could publish overseas reports authored by

U.S. officials.

The proposal "is still...conceptual," a State source said. "A lot of

people are trying to figure out what we're doing."

Another state official said the department also could use the site to

feature news that may not get highlighted in the mainstream press.

One example would be responding to a public health scare. "Let's say

in Africa there is rumor or speculation that some illness is being caused

by tainted polio vaccine — How do you respond?" the official said. "Here

is a place where, ideally, [we] would be way ahead of the news, or have

the information in a less obscure place than Page 12A" in a mainstream newspaper.

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