Alabama Live 'Gets There First'

By: Steve Outing

The various local online city guide companies -- Digital City, CitySearch, Microsoft Sidewalk and others -- are spreading throughout the U.S. But there remain a few regions of the country where they have not yet arrived. Newspaper companies in such markets have a little breathing room to get something online before the "outsiders" arrive.

Such is the case in Alabama, where Advance Publications Internet is moving forward with a newspaper-based service called Alabama Live, a regional news and community Web site designed to serve the state and its principal cities. The site's editor-in-chief, Michael Carmean, expects the outsiders to arrive someday. "Alabama is too good a plum to ignore," he says, "but we're going to get there first."

Leveraging strategy

Alabama Live (AL) is scheduled for a "soft launch" on Monday, then a public launch is set for September 1. (The site is live now, but not all elements -- including news feeds from its partner papers -- are fully functional yet.) It is a collaboration between Advance Internet and three Alabama newspapers owned by Newhouse Newspapers/Advance Publications: The Huntsville Times, Birmingham News, and Mobile Register.

The site is being designed as a city and regional online guide, augmented with local and state news from the partner newspapers and other content partners serving the rest of the state, says Carmean. The Newhouse papers represent three of the four largest publications in the state; the only major Alabama city not included in the mix is Montgomery, the state capital. (The Newhouse papers' statehouse staffs will cover goings-on in that city.)

AL operates as an independent company, with offices located in Huntsville, several miles from the Times building, and a staff of nine full time and six part time employees, headed by Alabama Live LLC president Cindy Martin. Carmean directs a staff of five on the editorial side.

The Huntsville and Mobile newspapers have operated Web sites for about a year -- each with a staff of one -- while the Birmingham paper has not had a Web presence to date. A staffer at each paper will feed news to the AL site, and a top editor at each paper is designated as the liaison with AL. Carmean emphasizes that this "will not be just shovelware," and decisions about editorial weighting and placement online will be made at the newspapers. AL will not offer much wire copy on the service, "unless events dictate otherwise," he says.

Carmean says the AL site is being modeled somewhat after and The Gate, Web sites of the Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle, respectively. He's looking to build content that well covers the entire state by partnering with television and radio stations, regional magazines, and other newspapers (such as rural papers and weeklies covering entertainment and business).

The site will include some originally created online content, for example to cover major breaking stories where material from the partner newspapers isn't sufficient to meet an Internet publishing schedule. Carmean is working with stringers around the state, and has a regular freelance writer and photographer. AL's core editorial staffers also are prepared to do reporting on their own as the need arises.

Alabama is 70% rural, Carmean points out, so it's important to cover not just the major cities.

Giving the community a voice

Carmean is enthusiastic about the prospect of "community publishing." Early next year, he plans to be using Pantheon's Community Publishing software to allow statewide community groups to maintain their own areas within AL, where they can post news, event calendars, etc. "I can't tell you how excited I am about giving human beings who don't work for the newspapers ... access to this franchise," says Carmean.

A half dozen interns have been gathering data for the community guide aspect of the AL site, collecting data from hotels, restaurants, tourist destinations, etc. Archives from the partner newspapers also are being converted to Web format, to be included as part of the site. Classified ads also will be online, though at launch only the papers' employment ads will be live. Initially, newspaper classifieds customers won't pay extra to have their ads turn up on AL, but an upsell (classifieds rate hike used to pay for the ads going online) is being considered for next year.

AL will be funded primarily by advertising, and the site hoped to launch with several charter sponsors. The sales staff has been approaching companies with a statewide presence, such as Internet service providers and bookstore chains. Partner newspapers also can sell space on the site, or simply refer interested clients over to the AL sales staff.

The Alabama Live model has been played out elsewhere in the Advance Publications family. The company also operates New Jersey Online, Michigan Live, Cleveland Live, Oregon Live and New Orleans Live.

Contact: Michael Carmean,


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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

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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