A Newspaper Web Site Dies, Despite Being a "Success"

By: Steve Outing

Booth Newspapers' Great Lakes Environmental Wire, a World Wide Web site that featured reprints of Booth's 8 Michigan newspapers' environmental coverage, has expired. Despite being deemed a "success," the trial run of the service shut down on December 31 and the site probably will not be resurrected.

GLEW provided a weekly compendium of environmental and Great Lakes news stories reported by Booth's bureaus in Lansing and Detroit, Michigan, and Washington, D.C., and by the staffs of the Ann Arbor News, Bay City Times, Flint Journal, Grand Rapids Press, Jackson Citizen Patriot, Kalamazoo Gazette, Muskegon Chronicle, and Saginaw News. It also contained environmental editorials and opinion columns, and Internet related stories. (Booth is owned by Newhouse Newspapers in New Jersey.)

Everyone I spoke to who is connected with this modest project said it was a successful test of what can be done on the Web with minimal resources, having attracted a loyal following of Internet users. The site was primarily the work of David Poulson, an environmental reporter at Booth's Lansing bureau, who put a few hours a week into collecting articles from the 8 papers and massaging them into a free weekly environmental news online summary, and linking articles to government data resources.

The audience for GLEW was, of course, anyone interested in the environment and the Great Lakes region. Poulson says environmental groups used the site frequently, as did government agencies that deal with Great Lakes issues. When the site was shut down, GLEW's loyal but small group of users sent Poulson more than 60 messages urging Booth to continue the service and explaining how important it was to them in keeping abreast of regional environmental developments. The site also was read regularly by people in the environmental movement from as far away as Australia.

Alas, the numbers were small. GLEW was updated once a week; on that day Poulson says the site typically saw about 80 hits, which then tapered off as the week wore on. The site had minimal promotion -- most of it from a weekly note sent to selected newsgroups that highlighted articles in the latest edition of GLEW.

GLEW was a low-budget operation, with Poulson's time the only real expenditure, since it operated on donated server space from the Great Lakes Commission. Booth's news reports were combined with loads of government data about the Great Lakes region to make a comprehensive environmental site. The down side to operating on another organization's server was the difficulty in dealing with a third party in trying to track usage, Poulson says.

The site was never intended to be a money-maker and operated during its brief trial run as a public service. Those involved had discussed options for funding the service, but the plug was pulled before that could be worked out.

Steve Newhouse, president of Newhouse Newspapers New Media, says GLEW was a "successful trial run that ran its course." He could give no indication that it might be resurrected, either as a public service or in a profit-making model.

Just because Newhouse/Booth killed the project does not mean that it is a bankrupt idea. Rather, a service like GLEW could be created to serve a narrow topical niche and still pay for itself through appropriate sponsorships. (As Poulson said of GLEW, it wouldn't look good for Dow Chemical to be the sponsor of his site.) Such a Web site might never be a big money-maker, but it could pay for itself.

More importantly, sites such as GLEW serve to expand the expertise of the newspaper in a particular topic area. Where those involved in the environmental field may have looked to specialty publications in the past, now they looked to a service provided by a general-interest newspaper publisher. Poulson says one of the greatest benefits for the Booth newspapers was that operating the site increased the depth of environmental reporting within Booth "dramatically."

Stop The Presses! stops for holidays

This column has had a number of interruptions through the traditional holiday period. This last Monday was Martin Luther King Day in the U.S., where this column originates, so there was no column that day. Since many readers are outside the U.S., they might not realize why there's a break. Please accept my apologies if anyone was confused by my publication schedule. In the future I will forewarn you when I'm going to take a day off writing Stop The Presses!

Best Online Newspaper Services Competition

Please don't forget to nominate your own company or another for Editor & Publisher/The Kelsey Group's 1996 Best Online Newspaper Services Competition. The nomination form is on the Web at http://www.mediainfo.com/contest.form.html. Deadline for nominations is January 24, 1996. Winners will be announced at the Interactive Newspapers conference in San Francisco on February 24, 1996.

Steve Previous day's column | Next day's column | Archive of columns
Presented 5 days a week by Steve Outing, Planetary News LLC.
Made possible by Editor & Publisher magazine.
Got a tip? Let me know about it

If you have a newsworthy item about the newspaper new media business, please send me a note.

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


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here