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By: Marc Spiegler

Should Newspaper Web Sites Have Their Own Identities?

ZURICH, Switzerland – The often troubled relationship between newspapers’ virtual and physical versions is being played out across Europe. How that relationship should be defined came up repeatedly at the 6th Annual Interactive Publishing conference, held here last week.

During the opening panel, Terje Johansen, online editor of Norway’s Dagbladet, noted that the country’s largest paper, Aftonbladet, has started spinning off its online paper as a completely separate entity (much like Switzerland’s Tages Anzeiger). ?The site may be worth more than the paper,? he said, adding that he expects most newspaper companies to follow that tactic. ?For the first time, the sites could lead in breaking news and follow different strategies.?

From a branding perspective the split is also crucial, Johansen said, because, ?people expect old stuff from old names and new stuff from new names.? Also, while geography tends to limit the impact of the physical paper’s stories, Web sites are de facto global.

That’s a factor that can be exploited, as pointed out by’s Nick Denton, whose site functions as a sort of one-stop-shop for scanning headlines worldwide. By leveraging their physical proximity to an industry hotspot, Denton suggests, more papers could follow the lead of the San Jose Mercury News’ Silicon Valley coverage, which has earned its Web site readers worldwide.

The London-based Financial Times, however, has taken the completely opposite approach. Its online editorial operation was originally set up as its own department, but the paper has decided to integrate the reporting staff of the online and physical versions. (That’s despite the fact that the Web site has had a huge success in attracting advertising revenues, and presumably could be spun off into a high-valuation entity.)

?Rather than having reporters at an online desk and an industry desk, they’ll sit together,? explained Summaries Editor Phil Halliday. ?In the long-term, the same person might do one story for and another for the paper. There’ll be no barriers at all.?


Marc Spiegler is a freelance writer based in Zurich.

Editor & Publisher was a sponsor of Interactive Publishing.

(c) Copyright 1999, Editor & Publisher

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