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by Paul Flemming

The Internet is a lot like television; you can use it or it can use you.

Many's the evening when I've clicked off the television after vegetating before its cool glow and wondered where the last several hours of my life have gone. Viewed indiscriminately, television has the power to suck time, brain cells and muscle from a body.

The same has happened to me in front of the monitor of my computer, grazing here and there on the World Wide Web.

By the same token, I've tuned in my television set for a specific sports event, news program or show and gotten exactly what I wanted: entertainment or information. The same with the Web. It's best when used with precision and purpose.

And as those two characteristics are highly individual, it would be presumptuous to dictate how you can use the Web precisely and purposefully.

Allow me, therefore, to tell you how I use the Internet to perform my job at the Business Journal. Because the paper's content is so wrapped up in what its readers are doing in their jobs, this description may help you in the use of this increasingly important tool.

At home I can listen to my nephews broadcast a Stanford basketball game or have an Austin, Texas, radio station as background noise. But the wow factor doesn't travel far at work: how is the Internet helping the Business Journal in hard, concrete ways?

First thing each morning we check for e-mail and do so throughout the day. This function of the Internet is more than communication, it is also transportation and labor reduction.

As electronic mail approaches ubiquity, more documents will be delivered electronically with less transition back and forth from hard copy. Paper reduction is a reality and typesetting doesn't happen much around here any more.

More of our columnists and contributors submit via e-mail each week. I'm writing this column at home and will e-mail it to my account at work, eliminating the need for a hard copy or remembering to haul a disk in on Monday morning.

The recently released iMac's notable lack of an external floppy drive as a standard, on-board feature makes sense for a machine designed, marketed and used in an electronically connected world.

E-mail also serves to alert me to important information on the larger Internet. I get automatic notices from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Securities and Exchange Commission. When those two agencies post information that I've told them I want to know about, they notify me by e-mail that the information exists and provide a hot link within the e-mail to take me directly there.

These two sites are indispensable for the work of the editorial department of the Business Journal.

At the commercial site

http://www.freeedgar.com

I compile a watch list of publicly traded companies. Every time any of these companies makes a filing to the SEC, I get notified via e-mail.

All publicly held companies may be researched by way of their required filings, which include quarterly and annual financial reports. Past reports are available, too. The site has software available that allows you to download financial information into a spreadsheet for easy number crunching.

Some fellow named W.W. Reid (that's the return address on the e-mail at any rate), from the FDIC e-mails me to let me know when the banking agency issues new rules and releases new data. For instance, I was notified Dec. 10 of the release of new summary of deposit information that resulted in a story for this very issue of the Business Journal.

Other sites take more active participation. The U.S. District Court that has jurisdiction in Springfield is increasingly requiring electronic filing of court documents. Check out

http://ecf.mowd.uscourts.gov

for recent cases filed in federal court.

And of course, I have to get my news fix, as well. My browser at home has as its default home page The Washington Post's Web site. I regularly check in at The Christian Science Monitor and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, as well.

Of course, the best place to narrow and direct the use of the Web is at a directory or search engine. If you are unfamiliar with Boolean operators, get yourself educated or these tools will be of little or no use. (On any search page there will be a place to seek help in refining your search parameters.)

One of the ways I use Yahoo! is to check out its Today's News page and search on Springfield, Mo. This turns up many leads for further inquiry, usually from company news releases that are a part of PR Newswire, or some other corporate communication funnel.

If you go to the Web site of the Springfield-Greene County Libraries at

http://thelibrary.springfield.missouri.org

you can search its catalog for when a story appeared in the Business Journal. That way, we'll be able to help you a lot faster when you call to inquire about getting a copy of the story.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Springfield Business Journal online. If you are reading this paper, our Web site will at this point be of limited use to you.

We offer full-text versions of a few stories each week and synopses of other stories, as well as a lot of information about the paper's advertising rates, deadlines and editorial calendar. It's a good introduction to SBJ, but hardly a substitute.

Stay tuned however, for significant changes in our electronic version in the next six months. These changes will make our Web site more useful to me in my job, and as is the thesis for this piece, may also be of use to you. The entire paper will soon be available online.

For a reasonable additional price to subscribers and for a not-quite-as-reasonable price to others, all of our content will have digital access. And not just the current week's paper. A searchable archive of past issues will be available, as well.

This development will provide the Business Journal with something it has never had: an indexed morgue. (That's what we newspaper folks call a library of stories: the morgue. What does that reveal?)

Subscribers will be able to search for every mention of, say, Springfield Remanufacturing Corp. in our pages. Or, for instance, every appearance of my byline. I can see my mother will be online very soon.

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