A Critical Look at 24 German Newspapers on the Web

By: Steve Outing

Of the 414 daily newspapers in Germany, 24 have a service on the World Wide Web. Someone who knows exactly what each of these cyber-savvy publishers is up to is Verena Ranner, who is working on her post-graduate thesis at the University of Constance about German newspapers online. Her work is entitled "Chances and risks for newspapers and freesheets online in electronic markets," and is expected to be complete in early September.

Ranner has provided a tally and reviews of the interactive publishing activities of these German newspapers, which she groups into five general categories.

Four of the publications -- the Sueddeutsche Zeitung in Munich, the Bild Zeitung, the Taz (politically left newspaper) and Die Welt -- are national newspapers, while the others cover only regions or cities.

Shovelware services

Ranner says three newspapers' online services consist primarily of part of the print content moved online, "which aren't adapted very well to the different medium. These services offer no interactive features like discussion groups or chats. There is hardly any exclusive Internet content apart from a few surf tips. These services (which are free access) do not seem to be very attractive, and accordingly they contain hardly any advertising," she says.

These papers include:
* Frankenpost (Hof)
* Schweriner Volkszeitung (Schwerin)
* Zeitungsverlag Waiblingen (Waiblingen)

Information services

About one-third of the services Ranner labels as "information services." Print content is available online, "but here the online versions are better adapted to the medium and offer better services like searchable archives. In most cases the whole content of the print version together with older editions can be read online. Most of these services offer discussion groups, searchable ads and content exclusive to the online product. However, these services focus very much on the print version. Most of the content is from the print edition and in design and layout they refer to it, too," she says.

These papers include:
* Holsteinischer Courier (Kiel)
* Passauer Neue Presse (Passau)
* Rhein-Zeitung-Online (Koblenz)
* Sueddeutsche Zeitung (Munich)
* Tagesspiegel (Berlin)
* taz (Berlin)
* Die Welt (Berlin)
* Westfaelische Nachrichten (Muenster)

City information services

These services are not based on the print version at all. Ranner says, "They mainly offer information on the city or region like (calendars) of events, restaurant and cafe guides, and tourist information. (RP-Online offers) a huge amount of information with very good design and additional articles on different topics. The city-info-netz site has a very detailed list of companies in the area."

These papers include:
* Rheinische Post (Duesseldorf)
* Schwaebisches Tagblatt (Tuebingen)

Online services for information and entertainment

"These services are well designed and have extensive content including chat and discussion groups, newspaper content (news) often with archives, programs of events, surf tips and other Internet-exclusive content," Ranner says. "All these services use the possibilities of the new medium quite well (interactive components)." All of the three online services of tabloid-style papers -- Express, Bild and Hamburger Morgenpost -- fall into this category.

These papers include:
* Express Online (Cologne)
* Hamburger Morgenpost (Hamburg)
* Bild Zeitung (Berlin)
* Berliner Zeitung (Berlin)
* Boeblinger Kreiszeitung (Germany-live)
* Saarbrueckener Zeitung (Saarbruecken)

Online versions as marketing instruments

The main objective of these online services is to get readers for the print edition, Ranner says. "They offer hardly any newspaper content and not much additional information. Total Digital by the Nuernberger Nachrichten offers surf tips and Internet articles; the Mannheimer Morgen offers a few surf tips. These services are not very attractive for users. I doubt that they can attract new readers for print if they do not offer good online content."

These papers include:
* Schwaebische Zeitung (Biberach)
* Mannheimer Morgen (Mannheim)
* junge welt (Berlin)
* Mittelbayerische Zeitung (Regensburg)
* Nuernberger Nachrichten (Nuernberg)

Newspaper home pages

Additionally, three German newspapers have home pages but have not yet done anything with their Web sites other than place promotional information about the publications and staff and advertising contact information:
* Freie Presse Chemnitz (Chemnitz)
* Hannoversche Allgemeine (Hannover)
* Lueneburger Landeszeitung (Lueneburg)

Ranner's view

"As with American online newspapers, financing seems to be a problem," she says. "Only eight of 24 services contain advertising. All services excluding Germany-live and Rhein-Zeitung online offer free access; two offer Internet access. Rhein-Zeitung online seems to have the best business model: advertising + Internet access + charge for selected content. Germany-live is run by a newspaper company, but it is not based on a specific print paper.

"Fourteen services offer some kind of discussion area but only five newspapers use contests or games to draw in users. Twenty newspaper services include some kind of content which is exclusive to the Internet version, but mostly it's only surf tips," she says.

Ranner says that after reviewing them all, she thinks the best services are Berlin Online, Saarbruecker Zeitung, taz and Welt online. The worst, in her opinion, are Schwaebische Zeitung, Mannheimer Morgen and Holsteinischer Courier. (The latter "is especially confusing and difficult to access," she says.)

"Striking is that all the 'respectable' German newspapers try very hard to keep this image up in the online version," she says. "Entertainment is an absolute no-no here. Best example is the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. The print edition is a very good newspaper indeed (I read it myself), but the online offering is just boring."

Contact: Verena Ranner, ranner.ewald@t-online.de

Sun-Times wins Dvorak Award

The Chicago Sun-Times Web site has won a John C. Dvorak award as Outstanding Online Newspaper for 1996. Computer columnist and author John Dvorak praised the site for the amount of original online material it has generated without the need to throw a lot of resources at the project. Dvorak said the Sun-Times beat out the Los Angeles Times' Web service, which was a close runner-up. The Sun-Times site was created in October 1995, with a major redesign in February 1996.

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