‘Rocky Mountain News’ Creates Online-Only Election Extra Edition

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By: Jim Rosenberg

Denver’s Rocky Mountain News took its election night coverage beyond its usual three print editions and ongoing Web updates.

From Tuesday into Wednesday, the 275,136-circulation E.W. Scripps daily carried the latest election results and other news into “replica editions” — searchable, printable electronic facsimiles of the ink-on-newsprint editions.

Through use of Denver-based Olive Software’s ActivePaper technology, the Rocky ordinarily replicates its final edition. Because paying subscribers download the digital edition, the virtual copies count toward total paid circulation under Audit Bureau of Circulations rules.

After the polls closed, however, a digital fourth edition and a fifth electronic “extra” edition did not replicate printed editions and were free to anyone through a link on www.rockymountainnews.com.

Editor and Publisher John Temple said that Web site would continue to be updated, but that “there’s something different about a newspaper,” and that many prefer the format and the ability to print and save the news as a newspaper page — even if no such physical paper ever had been distributed.

In fact, owing to round-the-clock updates, Temple said, “the Web site will be further advanced than the Olive edition,” although for some readers, its presentation of presidential election results, for example, would lack the impact of a printed front page. “If that’s how you like to get your information,” he said, the Olive electronic edition is very readable and searchable.

From his paper’s operations standpoint, Temple added, “with Olive you don’t have the distribution issue that attends every printed edition.”

But just like election night itself, more editions — whether in ink or only on screen — “means we have more work,” said Temple. “But I would’ve wanted to do an extra anyway, if I thought it was worth it.”

Still, Temple emphasized that technology helps speed the work. Creating two successive late electronic editions, he said, probably amounts to no more work than putting out one printed extra edition did 12 years ago.

“We should be using technology to maximize the benefit for the reader,” he said, adding that any savings that result from use of new technology should be transferred into product improvement. Among examples at his paper, Temple cited technologies used to create online aids to understanding issues and candidates’ positions.

“I think it’s a very natural use of the technology,” said Olive CEO Mike Edelman, citing not only the speed of getting it to market but also opportunities for product enrichment, including the addition of audio and video.

Olive’s ActivePaper pulls different content sources into a single repository that combines archives and current publications in what it calls “a commerce-ready, XML ‘plug-and-play’ environment” for delivering electronic publications, ads, and tearsheets.

This week was the first time the Rocky Mountain News created an electronic-only edition. Edelman said a number of Olive customers have created electronic-only editions at one time or another. He expects to see that happen more, he said, and he predicts that electronic editions will gradually incorporate features now only associated with the Web — blogs, video and audio streaming, and just-in-time publication/production.

Time Inc. magazines, Edelman said, have created special editions without print counterparts. The one or two other newspapers believed to have considered using Olive software to create electronic-only extras did not immediately reply to inquiries.

Also not immediately available was comment from NewsStand Inc., based in Austin, Texas, which also supplies technology for creating and delivering electronic versions of its customers’ print products.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rocky Mountain News notices a spike in circulation once their readership experiences the online election coverage,” said Olive Software Vice President Chris Kelly.

“We’re not worrying about the counting,” said Temple. Because the electronic replicas are free, they cannot count toward total paid circulation. But, provided a publisher is an Audit Bureau member and if some provision of the bylaws does not prohibit it, payment may be the only barrier to inclusion in circulation figures even when an electronic edition has no corresponding printed edition.

“I don’t think there’s anything that says it has to be ink on paper,” says John Murray, circulation vice president at the Newspaper Association of America. If such a product is paid for and meets the requirements of an extra edition, he said, its circulation may be counted for an electronic edition, but not the total paid print circulation to which a replica edition can contribute.

“We looked at issues related to an extra, if the [election] results are really late,” Temple said the afternoon of Nov. 2. The decision was to go beyond replication of the last print edition and provide a later, fourth, electronic-only edition. Only if needed, he said, would staff build a fifth, electronic edition, which, depending on timing, might would be called an extra.

That extra appeared online at 5:40 the following morning, headlined “Wating Game.” (The preceding electronic edition carried the “Deja Vote” headline used also by other tabloids Chicago and New York.) The Rocky landing on doorsteps the same morning was headlined “Ohio’s Call.”

Eric Wolferman, Technology Vice President for the Denver Newspaper Agency, which handles business for the jointly operated News and Denver Post, said News pages completed within the Unisys publishing system are passed into two channels: as Portable Document Format files for processing through Olive software for ordinarily password-protected online availability, and as PostScript files for raster-image processing and platesetting.

“It’s truly getting close to the notion of output-independent publishing,” Wolferman remarked.

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