Orlando Sentinel Helps Lure Blacks Online

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By: Steve Outing

This week the Orlando Sentinel in Florida (USA) launched “Black Voices,” a section of its Orlando Sentinel Online (OSO) service on America Online. It’s an attempt to give more blacks a reason to spend time in the online world, offering a selection of news filtered from the black perspective, and online discussion forums and live chat.

Cyberspace is, of course, a male-dominated place; more women are starting to participate online, but their numbers are still low. (On AOL, only 21% of users are female.) AOL doesn’t track the racial make-up of its users, so we have no idea how many blacks subscribe — but an obvious guess would be that AOL is heavily populated by whites and has relatively few minorities.

Barry Cooper, editor of OSO, says Black Voices is exactly the type of niche “publication” that newspapers would like to produce, but typically can’t because of print space constraints. It offers content and community that will give blacks a reason to go online.

Black Voices is filled with news stories culled from the wire services and from 4 partners newspapers — the Orlando Times, Daytona Times, Palm Beach Gazette and the Florida Star — that cover the black community. Articles written by those newspapers’ reporters covering black issues are highlighted in a Newspapers area. Wire service feeds are filtered and news about black issues, politics and people is divided into various categories: general news and headlines, health, sports, people (“Brothers and Sisters”) and learning.

There’s also a section featuring columns by prominent black writers including William Raspberry of the Washington Post Writers Group and David Porter, the Orlando Sentinel’s chief editorial writer. A “Gallery” area features selected cartoons by Mike Keefe dealing with race issues.

A discussion forum area, live chat room (“Enter the ‘Hood”), and a library of downloadable files round out the main features of Black Voices.

This is the type of service that newspapers should be creating online. Minority-focused print supplements or separate editions are a rarity for U.S. newspapers, and seem to be one of the first things cut back during budget tightening. Any newspaper could do what Orlando has done in the online environment without spending a lot of money. Gather together the minority journalists in your newsroom and turn them loose on creating a minority-focused online service. You might find that you’ll achieve what print newspapers have been unable — or unwilling — to do: attract more minority readers and advertisers.

Microsoft/NBC deal will take online news to the next level

In this week’s Editor & Publisher, a cartoon shows an online news editor sitting at a modest desk squeezed underneath a staircase. As 2 print editors walk by with smirks on their faces, the online editor says, “Don’t be so smug. Someday we may be trading desks.”

Yesterday’s announcement that NBC and Microsoft are creating a 24-hour news and information channel and online news service distributed on the Microsoft Network and the Internet reminded me of that cartoon. The NBC/Microsoft deal points the way to when online news operations will rival those of traditional media. Imagine having an NBC video service on your desktop PC, with you controlling what stories you want to see and when, and having the ability to dig deeper into a broadcast news report by exploring online links to a wealth of content on the subject matter. That would probably be enough to make a sizable number of people give up watching news shows standard cable.

The problem, of course, is bandwidth; such a service would be unacceptably slow over today’s modems. But just wait until more cable companies and @Home begin offering super-fast Internet connections, which should begin to become available in the U.S. in 1996. The NBC/Microsoft announcement may mean the future will arrive faster than many of us have thought.

Best Online Newspaper Services Competition

Please don’t forget to nominate your own company or another for Editor & Publisher/The Kelsey Group’s 1996 Best Online Newspaper Services Competition. The nomination form is on the Web at http://www.mediainfo.com/contest.form.html. Deadline for nominations is January 24, 1996. Winners will be announced at the Interactive Newspapers conference in San Francisco on February 24, 1996.

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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 steve@planetarynews.com

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