By: Steve Outing
It wasn’t that long ago that the typical newspaper was filled with
content from a few predictable sources – staff writers, assorted
freelancers, The Associated Press, Reuters, smaller news services like
Los Angeles Times News Service and Copley News Service, and columnists
and comic strips from syndicates like United Feature Syndicate, King
Features, and Creators. One newspaper in one part of the U.S. carried
pretty much the same content as another 1,000 miles away.
The growth of Internet-originated content is starting to change that.
Increasingly, content from online sources – from lone content
creators to huge Web content sites – is showing up in print
editions of newspapers. Where once print editors distrusted content
originating from online content companies, now there is much more
acceptance that online content can be every bit as good, if not better,
than content acquired from traditional media sources. (See the venerable
Associated Press’ recent acceptance of Cnet as its first online-only
news content provider as an example.) And best yet, online content
creators are producing new types of content that simply weren’t
Supplemental crime coverage
A prime example is New York City-based Web content company (http://www.apbnews.com)APBNews.com, a
2-year-old Web site and online news service that produces deep coverage
of all things related to crime and law enforcement. Its Web site is a
crime buff’s ultimate news, information, and entertainment source.
APBNews has some 50 staff editors and writers, plus several dozen
freelance crime writers stationed throughout the U.S. It covers not only
breaking crime news, but offers up assorted crime-related content –
such as book and movie reviews, crime databases, crime mystery games,
and live police scanner Webcasts from various cities.
According to executive editor Hoag Levins, a former newspaper
journalist (and former executive editor of Editor &
Publisher), a major thrust of the business is to syndicate its
content to online and print clients. (The APBNews.com site also
generates advertising money and is developing an e-commerce revenue
APBNews articles are mostly turning up on other Web sites –
because, Levins says, that seems to be where the most money is now
– but a few newspapers have begun running stories with APBOnline
bylines, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dallas Morning
News, and a few smaller newspapers in the U.S. South.
The company has a dedicated syndication sales staff of five, and it uses
Universal New Media as a syndication agent. Levins says that much of the
content produced by his editorial team should be of interest to
newspapers, since it can complement local crime coverage, and offer
in-depth coverage of national crime-related stories that traditional
general-interest wire services don’t cover.
Syndicates focus online
Syndication companies are starting to see more online content get into
print newspapers. Universal New Media, for example, represents several
online content creators. While it has placed APBNews in only five
newspapers to date, the more well-known (http://www.fool.com)
Motley Fool site has a weekly print version that now
runs in some 170 newspapers, according to Universal marketing director
Nancy Meis. Another success story is (http://www.4kids.) 4kids.org, a Web
Site guide to the Internet for kids that Universal has helped develop into a
print product. That’s now in 120 newspapers.
Universal also carries an online-originated interactive puzzle and a
word-search game, both of which were converted into printable versions.
The crossword runs in more than 30 newspapers, and the word game in more
At Tribune Media Services, two Internet-bred comic strips are getting
prepared for sale to print newspapers, according to executive producer
Fred Schecker. By the end of this month, TMS will be ready with
(http://www.peterzale.com/helen/) Helen,’ a popular online strip by Peter
Zale that’s known on the Internet as ‘Helen, Queen of the Internet.’
(Schecker says the strip name probably will be shortened for print
syndication, simply because the Web title is too long for print comics
pages.) Lead character Helen is a computer geek and the strip wittily
handles tech and relationship themes.
While ‘Helen’ looks much like a conventional newspaper comic strip,
(http://www.supercomics.com/)Captain Ribman’ is far from it. Written
and drawn by Rich Davis and John Sprengelmeyer, respectively, Ribman
is a cultural parody strip done in full color and using non-standard sizes.
The Captain is a slothful superhero who’s not the brightest bulb in the room.
The cartooning duo frequently enjoin celebrities to join in the Ribman
strips. Not content to just draw famous people, Davis and Sprenglemeyer
convince celebrities to participate and help out with the writing. Among
the guest celebrities have been Mark Hamill of Star Wars
fame; ex-Clinton aid Dick Morris; Playboy’s twin
‘Playmates of the Millenium’; and actress Suzanne Somers, who
participated in a ‘Thighmasters of the Universe’ series of strips.
Schecker thinks the strip will be a hit with campus print newspapers,
which will be Ribman’s primary print market. But TMS also will market it
to traditional newspapers – not necessarily for the comics page,
since it wouldn’t fit except in the Sunday funnies section, but also for
entertainment or style section fronts.
Syndicated buys and one-shots
Some of the most well-known and respected Web sites and zines have inked
deals with traditional syndication companies to sell into print markets.
The New York Times Syndicate (NYTS), for example, offers print features
from (http://www.thestreet.com/) TheStreet.com (of which parent The New
York Times Co. has a financial interest) and Microsoft’s
NYTS special projects director Patrick Vance says TheStreet.com
is currently contributing a package of four articles each Friday, which
is being picked up by a handful of newspapers (including the Denver
Rocky Mountain News and San Francisco Examiner). These are
mostly highly opinionated commentaries, including those by TheStreet.com
founder James Cramer and columnist Herb Greenberg. NYTS
last month picked up TheStreet.com as a syndication client from United
Media, which had been offering the weekly print package. Vance hopes to
develop it into a 5-day-a-week offering in time.
Slate also has a handful of newspaper clients for its content, including
the Philadelphia Daily News, Toronto Globe & Mail, and
La Nacion in Buenos Aires. However, says Vance, where it is most
successful is in one-shot article sales. NYTS sends out wire advisories
to newspaper editors offering selected Slate (and TheStreet.com) content
– political commentary and other features that syndicate editors
deem appropriate for newspapers – and editors can call NYTS to
order a story. One-shot buyers of Slate articles have been diverse
– from small to large papers, from U.S. to overseas publishers.
Vance says the stories are selling themselves, and the fact they come
from an online source really makes no difference to the buyers he’s
seeing. If an article from an online zine is compelling and well
written, it’s selling. Also, some of the online content from
TheStreet.com and Slate is more in-your-face opinionated than what
newspaper editors are used to seeing from other sources. Editors seem to
be buying perhaps because it’s different and fresh compared to what they
get from traditional sources.
Originating from within
Online content bound for the printed page really is diverse and often
different – which is ideal for the newspaper editor wanting to
differentiate his or her pages. At the Patriot-Times in
Harrisburg, Pa., for instance, editors use some state public affairs
coverage from (http://www.capitolwire.com) CapitolWire, a Web news
service that was co-founded by a former P-T staffer.
A dozen newspapers run a print version of (http://www.thisistrue.com)
This Is True, a popular weekly e-mail newsletter of humorous news
items written by Randy Cassingham. He’s had the most success getting
published in alternative newspapers, such as the Atlanta Press and The
Echo (Bellingham, Wash.), as well as newspapers in Sweden and New
The online content that perhaps has the best chance of seeing the
printed page is that produced by an online division of a newspaper
company, and there’s an increasing amount of that. The Web site of
(http://www.csmonitor.com) The Christian Science Monitor, for
example, has two sections devoted to online-original content.
Associate editor Tom Regan says it’s happening more often that
online articles are appearing in the print edition several days after
online publication, as print-side editors see a piece online and decide
they’d like it for the print edition.
Washingtonpost.com runs a thrice-weekly column by Joel Achenbach
called ‘Rough Draft,’ which is occasionally picked up by the newspaper’s
‘Style’ section. And Scripps Howard News Service has added to its print
news service feed a column by Maria Cornelius that’s written for
the (http://www.goladyvols.com)Go Lady Vols basketball Web site.
Gradually diminishing suspicion
Although online-originated content no doubt is increasingly finding its
way to the printed pages of newspapers, there may remain some lingering
sense of uneasiness by editors at accepting journalism from Internet
sources. APBNews.com’s Levins says he continues to sense at many
newspapers some suspicion about the quality of what online journalism
entities are presenting. ‘They’re still not sure how to deal with it,’
But, Levins continues, newspapers still have the age-old problem of
finding interesting and innovative new content to put in their print
editions. What better place to look than the Internet?
This column is written by Steve Outing for Editor & Publisher
Interactive. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at
(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher