Using Print to Drive the Next Wave Online

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By: Steve Outing

So much of new media attention by newspapers is focused online — primarily creating Web sites or perhaps allying with other companies and lending their brand name to other online ventures. This is all good and well for serving those newspaper readers who already are online. But what about the great majority of newspaper print readers not yet steeped in the ways of the Internet?

Robin Lind thinks newspapers are not paying enough attention to the “newbies,” especially those who may own computers but have not yet gone online, and those who go online only rarely, when they have something specific they hope to find. The way to reach them is obvious — through the printed page — yet many newspapers are not providing their Internet newbie readers with enough information to help them navigate cyberspace when they do go online.

Lind and his wife, Kitty Williams, have created a print-Web combination called WebPointers, which is a three-day-a-week self-syndicated print column (the first of their fledgling company, New Hope Press) with an online supplement. Currently, eight newspapers around the U.S. carry the column, which is co-written by Lind and Williams.

The columns are published simultaneously on the World Wide Web as well as in print. Anyone can read the columns free on WebPointers’ site, of course. But the intent of the Web site is to give subscribing newspapers’ readers a place to go online to link to the sites mentioned in the columns (as well as to find an archive of past columns).

The columns are written in layman’s terms, from the perspective of a relative newcomer to cyberspace. While many large papers have Internet or cyberspace columnists (and their work is available to smaller publishers via newspaper chains’ wire services), Lind says they generally are written for a more Internet-sophisticated audience.

Recent WebPointers columns have instructed readers on how to use the Web to mine for college and financial aid information. Another took the topic of “mad cow disease” and demonstrated how to use the Web search engines to look for information; it further instructed readers on how to determine the source of a found document by backing out of a URL to find the source institution.

Lind says that today’s Internet users tend to be technically minded enthusiasts, and their numbers will continue to swell. But the next wave on the horizon are the generalists. “They’re bright, but not blinded by computer envy; they’re intrigued by the possibilities but want something useful for the time invested,” says Lind. “They’re newbies. … Those who believe that advertising will be the economic basis for Web publishing ought to recognize that the key to that scenario is attracting the newbies. Without them, the advertisers won’t come.”

Internet makes self-syndication possible

Lind and Williams’ love is writing, and they initially hoped to sell their column idea to a national syndicate. When the couple went looking for a syndicator last fall, they were told: the market is flat; newspapers have been contracting their news hole; sales of new columns are hard to come by; and there’s little interest in columns about the Web.

Undaunted, they set up their own syndicate to market WebPointers. Lind says that e-mail is what makes it possible for the couple to sell the column. The costs of mailing or faxing material to newspaper clients would quickly eat up the modest revenues generated by the column, which costs a newspaper only a few dollars per edition. While the standard syndication model of collecting syndication fees from publishers is the current revenue model for the company, the central Web site and publishers’ linked pages to the WebPointers site will eventually be a source of ad revenue, as well, Lind says.

Shrinking print newshole is obviously a problem for a primarily print syndicated product, but Lind believes that the content will overcome that hurdle because newspapers want to drive more usage of their online ventures. He’s seeing interest from some newspapers affiliated with InfiNet (an Internet service provider owned by three U.S. newspaper companies), who see the print column as a potentially good way to generate interest in their Internet access business.

Contact: Robin Lind, catbird@i2020.net

Reporters’ legal resource

Journalists who need lawyers as sources will be interested in a newly launched service called Counsel Quote. The site allows reporters to indirectly post queries on Counsel Connect, which is a 35,000-member online service for attorneys. Lawyers, many who are eager for publicity, reply to reporters directly. There is no charge for journalists to use the service.

Contact: Tony Robinson, robinini@sirius.com

Movin’ On

After a short stint at the Chicago Tribune as Internet editor, Leah Gentry is returning to California forced by family reasons. Gentry previously was with the Orange County Register’s new media department. The Tribune is now looking to fill the position. (Interested job-seekers can contact Gentry at lgentry@tribune.com.)

Addendum

In Wednesday’s item about the UK classifieds network, ADHunter, being organized by the country’s regional newspapers, I lacked an important piece of information. The network is being created by London-based Electronic Publishing Services on behalf of the newspaper companies. EPS’ chairman, David Worlock, is non-executive chairman of ADHunter. He can be reached at drw@epsltd.demon.co.uk.

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

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company.

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