By: Staff Reports

Weekly Newspaper Tries Online-Only Approach

In these lean times for online journalism, who would ditch their
print product in favor of an online-only version? A weekly
newspaper in Virginia, that’s who.

Copublishers Eva Scott and Christine Anderson say printing
expenses and the postal rate hike forced them to move their
community newspaper exclusively online about three weeks ago.
The News Journal, in print since 1993, was a weekly
covering Powhatan and Amelia counties in Virginia. NJwebnews.com had been online
for five months before closing the print edition, but with their
new motto ‘Why wait?’ posted on the site, NJWebnews.com is
offering daily news updates along with e-mail features.

The site is being maintained by writer and Web administrator
Courtnie Walton who recently upgraded the site to be “more modern
and fun.” The publishers say traffic already has jumped to about
800 hits a day.

Walton said the site will make daily news its top priority by
updating the site regularly. Walton, who graduated from college
nine months ago, said that switching to daily deadlines from a
weekly print schedule is taking some getting used to. But she’s
learning quickly as she uses Adobe GoLive to keep the site
updated continuously.

Walton is also working on adding more photographs to the site.
Until now, there was only one image at a time, but already she’s
interspersed images throughout the homepage, featuring some
compelling images of Civil War battle recreations.

Walton hopes the site will be a community resource, including
high school sports updates and city hall reports. The editor of
the newspaper took another full-time job, but he does attend
community meetings in the evening to report on them. “I am the
only full-time reporter,” Walton said.

Copublisher Scott plans to eventually sell advertising on the
site. “We have not really worked it yet. We built up a good list
of advertisers,” Scott said of the News-Journal’s print
years. So far, Walton said, they have only a few classified ads

Considering the state of online advertising, the timing to become
an online-only publication could be questioned. But The Daily
Journal in Orem-Provo made the jump from print to exclusively
online in August 1999 and it’s still going strong.

“It worked quite well,” said Levor Oldham, publisher of Journal
Publications. The site has more robust advertising than most
other sites, he observed. But he admits that not all of the old
daily’s advertisers were interested in the online option.

“It’s a fairly new world for online advertising,” Oldham said.
Some advertisers have even said, “We’ll wait 20 years.” So Oldham
continues to publish the weekly print newspaper, Utah County

“The weekly is an ongoing catalog or sampler of what more we do
online,” Oldham said. The weekly print edition and the daily Web
site complement each other, both editorially and financially, he
said. Oldham frankly answers the perennial profitability question
with a simple “No.” But he doesn’t expect online operations to be
profitable on their own. “An online operation will not succeed
without traditional media of some form, but that’s not an
inadequacy on the part of online.” It’s more a healthy symbiosis,
he said.

The site’s traffic in January and February exceeded a million
hits and 35,000 unique visitors a month, said Oldham, who added
that the competing print daily in the region does not have a
print circulation that high. When The Daily Journal
started out as a print publication, it only got 2,500 subscribers
in nine months.

One newspaper that tried the online-only approach in late 1999 is
nowhere to be found today
The Coosa River Times, started by an old newspaperman in
Alabama, couldn’t be found online and neither the Alabama Press
Association nor the competing local paper have any recollection
of the online-only publication.

Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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