I've just returned from the America East newspaper operations and technology conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where I participated in its New Media World component. Since there were some valuable sessions at this conference, I'll report on some of them in today's and tomorrow's columns.
Kudos to Dave Morgan, CEO of Real Media, and the staff of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association for putting together an outstanding program.
Terry Maguire, newspaper consultant and general counsel for the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers (FIEJ), gave his audience a break from the constant barrage of hype about the World Wide Web. Email remains the Internet's "killer app," he said, and publishers need to take email publishing more seriously. He believes that email has broad potential audience appeal, beyond just the expatriate market that newspapers like the Irish Times are trying to target with their email editions.
Maguire offered this advice to electronic publishers:
* Email at this time is a better investment than the Web. So, consider bringing an email service alongside your publication's Web site.
* One of the best services you can offer your customers online is a brief email newsletter -- with the emphasis on brief. This serves to remind readers of what's on your Web site.
* Newspapers can't allow "techies" to lead their cyberspace ventures, but must assemble balanced teams of people, with journalists -- who understand the potential of the online medium -- in key roles.
* Integration of your print and electronic operations should be your No. 1 priority.
* Out-of-market online readers are equally as important as those in your publication's circulation area, Maguire suggested, perhaps challenging popular newspaper industry wisdom. With such huge numbers of people using the Interet, there are people around the world who are interested in what your newspaper has to offer; for example, Italian computer users might want news of an American football team that's a specialty of your paper.
* Your Web site's pages should all offer readers the opportunity to interact and be engaged with your service. Allow them to have a voice.
Finding the edge
Dave Richards, president of Infinet, the Internet company owned by Landmark Communications, Gannett and Knight-Ridder, offered this gem of advice:
Don't be bleeding edge.
Don't be retreating edge.
Be leading edge.
Richards suggested that Web sites of today -- many of them run on single PCs hooked to the Interet -- will give way to more serious hardware. Tomorrow's state-of-the-art sites will operate by assembling dynamic pages served up from databased content. The days of static Web pages are numbered.
Think like Tom Sawyer
Stan Linhorst, director of new media for Syracuse Newspapers in New York, urged newspaper new media managers to think creatively. As an example of innovative thinking, Linhorst has engineered deals where content providers pay him for hosting their materials on the papers' audiotex service. He got a local TV weatherman to pay to put up his forecasts, for instance. "Think like Tom Sawyer. Who can you get to help you whitewash the fence," he said.
There are many organizations in your community that can provide valuable content to your audiotext service, and then promote your service to their members. An example of that approach is getting churches to regularly include audio announcements of events -- and then you have ministers around town telling their congregations to use your audiotex service.
Linhorst also uses his audiotex service to "beat" the newspaper on breaking stories, but puts up only brief clips which give the headlines and key points. Audiotex stories promote what's to come in print.
Paying for Web content
Bill Densmore, president of Newshare Corp., suggested that the Internet is at a similar stage as television in the 1950s. There was no way then to connect to users and give them what they wanted individually. That changed with the advent of cable TV -- and even more so with the introduction of the VCR. This historical trend of media technologies moving toward greater personalization is being mirrored on the Internet, as Web publishing services evolve to offer information customized for each user.
Densmore sees Interet publishing evolving in this sequence: 1) A free-content model, with information on sites supported by advertising; 2) a subscription-fee model; and 3) a pay-per-click environment where consumers can seamlessly buy content for small sums of money. The latter stage of this evolution, which Densmore's company is working on creating, allows consumers to purchase information from distant publishers by using the same access code or password as they use in the relationship with their "home" publisher -- presumably a newspaper operating online.
New Century Network update
Peter Winter continues to tantalize newspaper new media conference attendees with more details of New Century Network, the joint cyberspace venture of 9 of the largest U.S. newspaper chains. As in his appearance in San Francisco at Interactive Newspapers last month, the interim CEO was not ready to make any substantive announcements. However, he confirmed that April 28 will be the big day when all is revealed -- in New York just prior to the Newspaper Association of America's publishers conference.
Winter told me that the long search for a permanent CEO is nearly over, with the process narrowed down to 2 finalists. As for Winter himself, he plans a well-deserved vacation immediately after the announcement. When he returns, he will be on the NCN board, but likely will go on to another project at Cox Newspapers, where he is a vice president.
AP Multimedia update
Hank Ackerman of the Associated Press gave an update of the wire service's multimedia service, which will supply online newspaper services with content of various flavors: text, photos, graphics, animated graphics, audio and video. Key staff, headed by James Kennedy, are in place, and a prototype will be introduced in New York on April 29th at the NAA publishers meeting. The service should be fully available in the fourth quarter, Ackerman said.
Oh, right! Everyone has one!
Jim Debth, vice president and general manager of the Interactive Media subsidiary of The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, reminded attendees of the importance of audiotex in a publication's whole new media mix. Why do audiotex when online is the hot medium? "Oh, right! Everyone has one (a phone)," commented Debth.
Infinet going to wholesale pricing
Infinet, mentioned in an item above, is going to a wholesale pricing scheme for its affiliate newspapers who operate as Internet service providers (ISPs), according to vice president of marketing Peter Ill. Infinet affiliates thus will be able to set their own price for Internet access accounts that they sell co-branded with Infinet. Until now, all Infinet affiliates have been offering local access accounts at $24.95 per month for 100 hours -- which is not a competitive offering in some markets.
The move is partly in reaction to the introduction of AT&T's new Internet access offering, which offers 5 hours free (for AT&T customers) then hourly charges, or $19.95 for unlimited usage.
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