A Trial Run of AP's 'The Wire'

By: Steve Outing

The Associated Press' much anticipated online multimedia news service, The Wire, is currently being beta tested at two newspaper sites, offering the first public glimpse of the wire service's latest World Wide Web offering.

The Wire can be accessed via New Jersey Online and the Dallas Morning News. Those two sites are the first of among 90 newspapers that applied to be part of the beta testing process, according to The Wire's editor, Ruth Gersh. Four more papers will begin offering The Wire to their readers in the next few days, with additional ones added only after the system passes muster with a modest load of participating papers.

The service might be described as a "Web site within a Web site," in that subscribing newspapers get a ready-made national/international wire service news site that is co-branded with the newspaper's name. It's not quite the same as having wire service content contained on a publisher's own Web site, since The Wire is located on AP's servers in New York; visitors to a newspaper site will see a "wire.ap.org/APwire" URL (Universal Resource Locator) in the address window of their Web browser, rather the URL of the newspaper. But once at the paper's edition of The Wire, they will see the newspaper's logo alongside AP's.

One of the most innovative aspects of the service is its security set-up, which prevents access to The Wire's content except by Web users who come through a subscribing newspaper site. If you go to the address http://wire.ap.org/APwire, you'll be told that you must access the AP site through a participating news organization's Web site.

In elementary form, when a Web visitor clicks on a link to The Wire on a newspaper site, the newspaper's server generates a new URL that contains the paper's AP Wire passwords and identification of the subscribing newspaper. That information is forwarded to AP's server, which then serves the requested pages to the user. Users originating from all subscribing papers see basically the same presentation of The Wire, with some customization for the individual paper. The passwords used to access the site are temporary, expiring after no more than 12 hours, so it's not useful to bookmark individual Wire pages; users must always come through the main local newspaper Web site.

When fully operational, a user entering The Wire through, for example, New Jersey Online will see the NJO logo alongside AP's; local advertising in a frame at the bottom of the Wire page; a localized navigation menu featuring links back to other parts of the NJO site; and a regional news summary for the Eastern part of the U.S. Most other content is the same -- national/international news, business, sports, stocks, etc. -- no matter what paper a user originates from.

Gersh says the site is still very much in beta, so not everything is working yet. The ad at the bottom of the page is a placeholder now, but soon will contain local ads sold by the subscribing newspaper. (Publishers get to keep all that ad revenue.) The search feature should be functional soon, and a "lite" version of the site is coming. (The main site uses frames and is heavy with Java applets.) Additional content is coming, including: a "magazine" section featuring AP's "enterprise" reporting, regular columns, etc.; a markets page that will include an individual stock look-up feature and a list of stock presentations (e.g., list of top 10 mutual funds); and sports agate.

The Wire is unlikely to have original content beyond what AP already produces for the foreseeable future, but Gersh points out that the service has just barely tapped all the information and data that AP generates. While the service is very U.S.-centric at launch -- indeed, early customers are likely to be entirely American newspapers -- Gersh hopes to create international editions of the wire at a later date.

Pricing for The Wire is based on print circulation, for the time being, and ranges from $60 to $395 per week. Broadcast news organizations will pay the same rate as the major newspaper in town, "to make it even," says Gersh. AP won't begin charging for the service until early 1997.

Many newspapers operating Web sites currently subscribe to the AP Online wire, which is an abridged version of the full AP wire. AP Online will continue to be offered, but the pricing will be adjusted once The Wire goes commercial. Not all papers will want a pre-packaged online service like The Wire, so some publishers who prefer to package AP content in their own way will likely continue with AP Online, Gersh says. (For another year, paying AP members can continue to re-use AP copy for their Web sites without charge.)

Contact: Ruth Gersh, ruth_gersh@ap.org

Movin' On

The Seattle Times has created a new media department and added two new positions exclusive to its Web operations. Michelle Buetow is entertainment Web producer, responsible for creating and managing content on the Datebook area of the Times' Web site. (Datebook is an entertainment guide that's meant to compete with Microsoft's "CityScape" online city entertainment guides, the first of which will debut in Seattle in early 1997.) Buetow has been a special section editor for advertising at the Times. Mike Lyons moves from copy editor to online news editor. He will remain in the Times' news department, posting newspaper coverage to the Times Web site and finding links on the World Wide Web to enhance the paper's news coverage.

More advice to Shetland publishers

Howard Owens of the Affinity Group suggests another option for the feuding Web publishers in the Shetland Islands, Scotland, which I wrote about on Wednesday. The dispute involves a newspaper Web site that doesn't want its online-only competitor to link to "inside" pages containing the paper's copyrighted news stories. The newspaper took legal action -- highly questionable in my view -- against the online publisher. Owens suggests a technique that I didn't mention: a Web site can be configured to block referrals from selected domains, since most servers log referring URLs. The newspaper's site would thus block visitors coming from the competitor's site. Of course, implementing this suggestion entails some programming work to achieve -- but that's probably less expensive than lawyers' fees.


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing 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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