Gazette Co.’s FYIowa Site Refocuses

By: Steve Outing

FYIowa, the Web site operated by The Gazette Company of Iowa, has reinvented itself in what is becoming a trendy way. The newspaper company’s Interactive Media Inc. subsidiary has redesigned the site with the idea of becoming more of a “hub” that is meant to keep Iowa Web users from having to go elsewhere to look for information not offered by the newspaper site or any of its affiliated content partners.

In operation since late 1995, FYIowa is now convinced that to grow beyond its current respectable but not huge monthly pageview average of 1.3 million, it has to better hold on to its users and provide them with a more complete experience than it has before.

According to Jim Debth, vice president and general manager of Interactive Media Inc., the site is adding some key elements designed to encourage repeat usage:
A free Web e-mail service provided by CHEK. Iowans who want a free, permanent e-mail address can get “yourname@iowaemail.com,” and check their mail by visiting the FYIowa Web site. Such free Web e-mail partnerships are becoming increasingly popular, as news and other content Web sites try to match the offerings of the national portal or hub sites like Yahoo!, Excite and others. National and local yellow and white pages directory services, in partnership with Zip2. Enhanced daily weather features from WeatherPoint and KCRG television. Selected daily news headlines from the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Iowa Farmer magazine and DesMoines.com. Interactive crossword puzzles. To be a true “hub” site (the term Debth prefers over “portal”) serving Iowans, the site still needs to add Web search capabilities if it expects to deter people from using Yahoo! Debth says that an affiliation with a search engine company is likely to be the next deal entered into — possibly with a search engine that provides more targeted searches than the general Web search engines.

FYIowa is not really meant to be a focused news site, so the headlines it offers will be limited to top stories from the Gazette and other news content partners. For some news coverage, the site will simply link to other news providers. For coverage of the John Glenn space flight, FYIowa links to Florida Today’s Space Online site, for example.

FYIowa has been primarily an umbrella site for content from several of the Gazette Company’s properties — GazetteOnline.com, KCRG.com, IowaFarmer.com and DesMoines.com. It also houses the official Cedar Rapids Area site (produced by the local chamber of commerce); CorridorCareers.com (a jobs site done in cooperation with the chamber that Debth says is one of FYIowa’s most successful components); and HawkeyeSports.com (a sports specialty site covering University of Iowa athletics). Most content affiliates’ pages include FYIowa branding. (In that respect, the model is similar to the Boston Globe’s Boston.com.)

Aiming for profitability

The company’s new media arm is not yet profitable, but Debth hopes that the new hub strategy will aim it in that direction. Iowa the state has about as many people as the city of Chicago, so not being in a top 20 U.S. market makes it difficult for FYIowa to attract non-local advertising. If the hub strategy can increase traffic, “then we’ll have a better story to tell to national advertisers” who typically restrict their buying to the top 20 markets, says Debth. “We’ve got to attract enough eyeballs to our site to justify national advertisers coming to us.”

Despite FYIowa’s age, it’s only recently that online ad sales efforts have been taken truly seriously. Web ad sales are handled by the Gazette’s retail advertising staff, which has added some bodies to accommodate Web site sales. Now there are four people doing online sales, added only recently, including an online sales manager. Debth is particularly pleased with how sales for the Zip2 yellow pages product are going, now that that selling effort is about two months old. “It’s more than encouraging,” he says.

Prior to the redesign, the site simply didn’t have that much useful inventory to sell. While the old site had two ad slots for sponsors on most pages, the new design offers three, and the ability to target ads to selected audience interests has been expanded considerably. The new site has been in “soft launch” mode for about three weeks now, and Debth says he’s planning a serious promotion campaign soon.

Contact: Jim Debth, debth@fyiowa.com

Have RV, will publish

The E.W. Scripps Co.’s online division is covering the John Glenn space flight in an innovative way. Director of online content Bob Benz explains: “We’ve put four 20-something Web developers in an RV and sent them to Cape Canaveral to cover the launch from a tourist’s perspective.” The Web site, which is designed to be used in a frame by the chain’s news Web sites, is called “T-Minus-4: An RV Road Trip to Cape Canaveral.”

Don’t expect the crew of the “RV Leprechaun” to take this journalistic assignment too seriously. This is mostly for fun. But bravo to Scripps for sinking some money into online-original content for a major news story.

Contact: Bob Benz, bbenz@scripps.com

Who needs NBA players; play it yourself

As the National Basketball Association lockout continues, some news and sports Web sites are bracing for damage to their traffic counts as a result of the league’s cancelled games. The Chicago Tribune is not waiting for real play to resume, however; its Web site has developed a Virtual NBA fantasy poll where fans will get to “play” the league’s schedule by voting on how games would turn out if they were actually played. The polls will stay live for each day of the imaginary season, then overnight the poll switches to the next day. The site also plans to keep track of daily standings, gleaned from the votes, and will offer up daily schedules.

The poll is far from scientific, but it’s just for fun so it’s doubtful anyone will care if some ballot-stuffing goes on.

Movin’ On

Joe Michaud has been named president of the New Media Development Group, which has been the online arm of Guy Gannett Communications in Maine. The Group is scheduled to become part of Blethen Maine Newspapers in early November, when the owners of the Seattle Times complete their purchase of Guy Gannett’s Maine newspapers. Michaud has been online editor of the Group since the company launched the Press Herald Online (Portland, Maine) in 1995. The newspaper company has developed about 20 Maine-related news, information and advertising Web sites. The New Media Development Group operates with a staff of 25.

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Steve

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This column is written by Steve Outing for Editor & Publisher Interactive. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at steve@planetarynews.com

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