Fledgling American Reporter Finds a Corporate Suitor

By: Steve Outing

The American Reporter is the type of online news project that the Internet makes possible. Editor and founder Joe Shea last year gathered together in cyberspace a group of journalists around the world to create an alternative news service (he calls it a “newspaper”), with each participant having a financial stake in their own work. Rather than being paid a salary, those involved in the project get a share of the new company’s profits in proportion to the amount they write. AR’s written product, published five days a week, is sold to traditional and online publishers for republication; it’s a new media wire service of sorts, distributed by email and on a World Wide Web site.

Shea reports that a “substantial offer” has been made by an unidentified information services company to purchase AR and build it into a larger business. The deal has not been inked, but Shea expects the new owner to take over in mid April. He will receive “a nice salary and other perks,” and AR’s writers will receive a lump sum payment of 1 cent per word for their previously unpaid work and be guaranteed payment for their future work. (Till now, most of the writers had been working on the expectation of future shared profits.) Shea will continue to own 10 percent of the venture.

It’s a good deal for AR’s writers, he says, in that 60 percent of revenues derived from sales of AR articles to publishers will be distributed to the authors, their share based on their individual contributions. The rest will support a permanent staff of eight people who will market and distribute AR content to online and print publishers and sell advertising for the AR Web site.

AR charges around $100 per month to publishers for the right to republish any of its articles; individual subscribers can pay $10 a month to read AR’s work, and republish individual stories for a separate fee. Shea says AR’s subscribers number “in the low hundreds,” but he hopes that the addition of a sales and marketing force will grow the venture.

AR bylines are showing up at an increasing number of World Wide Web sites. One of the principal markets for AR news content are Web sites looking to add a news component to their content mix. AR stories also appear in some print publications, including the Philadelphia City paper and the Casper (Wyoming) Star Tribune (the latter the first daily to sign up with AR).

The American Reporter grew out of a discussion that took place on the Society of Professional Journalists Internet discussion list, though it is not affiliated with SPJ.

AR may be familiar to you because it was the first online publication to print an “indecent” article following the signing into law of the Communications Decency Act in the U.S., in a direct challenge to the law that seeks to regulate speech on the Internet. Shea says that so far, the major media — with the exception of the Washington Post — have ignored AR’s role in the lawsuit. “The ACLU gets most of the credit, but we got the ball rolling” for the challenge, Shea says. “We didn’t [challenge the law] for the publicity value, though,” he says.

Shea says the lawsuit has had no noticable impact on the business. Nor have people been rushing to his aid. Only one person has sent in any money for the legal defense fund: $30 from a gentleman in Northern California. “With his help, I had supper,” says Shea.

Contact: Joe Shea, joeshea@netcom.com

Japanese palmtop “newspaper”

Yesterday’s Financial Times reports on “the first pocket-sized palmtop computer newspaper” from Japan’s third-largest newspaper, the Mainichi Shimbun. Selected newspaper stories (not full content) can be downloaded onto a Zaurus palmtop computer via its 2400-baud modem. A menu system allows the user to choose what to download, and can filter according to personal interests. The palmtop PC can be read — even one-handed — on a crowded subway train.

The palmtop edition of the Mainichi is updated twice a day, at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., so that office workers — the product’s primary target audience — can refresh their tiny computers before leaving for work in the morning and prior to returning home. The Zauruses can pick up their news feeds via telephone, mobile phones or public call boxes. One hundred and fifty to 200 stories per day are included in the electronic service, each about 150 words long.

Receiving the palmtop edition of the newspaper is still more expensive than reading it in print, as you would expect. In addition to a modest monthly fee, users have to pay a per-minute telephone charge and a subscription fee to Nifty Serve, the Japanese online service over which the news data is transmitted. Then there’s the price of the Zaurus itself — currently 93,000 yen.

There are, however, 800,000 Zaurus users in Japan(The palmtop is manufactured by Sharp). The newspaper says it needs 10,000 subscribers to turn a profit on the project, which has a staff of 10. It currently has 1,500 readers and says that number is increasing by 200 per day.

I am not convinced that palmtop computing is a viable platform for online news services, although it might fly in Japan while not in most other countries. Tiny screens and slow modems, such as used in this project, are a throughback that will soon be eclipsed by superior digital tablet technology. The Zaurus, however, is due to get a color screen in its next update, and could evolve into an appropriate platform for receiving news digitally.

Advice to new media job-seekers

If you’re applying for a new media job and need to send someone a resume, email delivery is the obvious choice. After all, sending it by postal mail might give the impression that you’re not conversant with new technology. But Rich Gordon, online services manager for the Miami Herald, says he prefers to receive both email and postal mail copies of resumes — the email copy because it arrives faster, the paper copy because it is more personalized and more presentable when shared with others in the company who might not be “wired.”

Gordon says he receives a lot of resumes that are encoded (bin-hex, uuencode, etc.) and must be unencoded. That’s not always an easy trick and might cause your prospective employer to delete your electronic resume before even reading it. He also receives resumes via email sent as attached Microsoft Word or WordPerfect documents, some produced in different versions than his software can handle. The lesson, he says, is for job-seekers to send the email versions of their resumes in straight ASCII text format.

Contact: Rich Gordon, 74763.3324@compuserve.com

Embarrassing clarification

OK, I’m red-faced. Early last week I “apologized” for lining up an all-male panel of judges in the Best Online Newspaper Services Competition, after hearing some complaints. Blame it on overwork or temporary amnesia, but I forgot that Nora Paul of the Poynter Institute was one of our judges. She was traveling for most of the judging period, but returned just in time to participate in the final round judging. My apologies to Nora Paul for this oversight. Nevertheless, I hope to assemble a more balanced panel of judges next year.

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This column is written by Steve Outing and underwritten by Editor & Publisher magazine. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at outings@netcom.com

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