Alternative Press' Answer to NCN

By: Steve Outing

New Century Network officially launched its NewsWorks site recently, which aggregates content from U.S. daily newspapers. Left out of that Web news venture are America's spirited alternative newsweeklies, which are every bit as invested in Internet publishing.

Without as much notice as NCN's public debut, a similar service "soft-launched" at about the same time specifically for the alternatives. It's called Weekly Wire, and is designed to be a national news and entertainment site that culls the best stories (selected for having national interest) from the U.S. alternative press.

Like NewsWorks, Weekly Wire selects what it considers to be the best journalism produced in the previous week by the alternative press to create a national site that it expects to attract a national audience. Like Newsworks, it drives traffic down to local newspaper sites. And like NewsWorks, Weekly Wire uses links and promotion from its affiliate newspapers to drive traffic to itself, thus earning new advertising revenues and sharing the take with affiliate publishers.

Independents join forces

Weekly Wire is a creation of DesertNet LLC, a privately held Tucscon, Arizona-based company that is partly owned (30%) by Tucson Weekly, an independent alternative newsweekly. At launch, Weekly Wire had 8 affiliates: Tucson Weekly, the Weekly Alibi (Albuquerque, New Mexico), Nashville Scene, Memphis Flyer, Gambit Weekly (New Orleans), Austin Chronicle, Salt Lake City Weekly, and Knoxville Metro Pulse. All are independently owned newspapers. To date, the alternative newsweekly chains haven't signed on.

DesertNet CEO Wil Gerken says he hopes to have at least 25 newspapers participating by the end of the year, out of a pool of more than 100 members of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN).

Gerken says that Weekly Wire is not about listings or classifieds, two staples of alternative papers' revenue streams, but rather is trying to profit from the "journalism with an attitude" that is the stock in trade of the alternative press. He believes that people will be attracted by the strength of the editorial content -- which, like at most sites, is given away free.

The national online alternative newspaper site is divided up into six sections: News & Opinion; Film & TV; Music; Arts & Leisure; Books; and Comics.

When a story is selected from an affiliate paper, it is repackaged to include Weekly Wire branding (accompanying the originating publisher's brand, of course) and Weekly Wire-sold banner advertising. The local-site ads that might accompany the story as it appears on the original site are not there, but you will find links back to the paper's local Web site.

Weekly Wire hopes to work with national ad agencies, and when interviewed for this column Gerken was interviewing with several. National advertisers will be able to buy specific topic areas (say, music or theater) and/or specific geographic areas represented by affiliate newspapers. While Weekly Wire is primarily responsible for selling ads into the site, local newspapers also can sell into Weekly Wire. (So, an affiliate might place a local advertiser on its own piece of the Weekly Wire service as well as its own Web site.) Weekly Wire is working with New York-based Real Media, a newspaper Web ad placement network.

Gerkin says that the affiliate publishers get a majority of the ad revenues generated by the service.

Affiliate promotion

As part of the deal, affiliate sites provide a good deal of promotion for Weekly Wire, with links and banners on their own Web sites and by running ads in their print editions. Gerkin also is planning a campaign of traditional advertising in print and on the Web in late July and August, when the site goes through a more formal public launch. The site soft-launched in time for the AAN annual convention in Montreal one and a half weeks ago.

Up next, says Gerken, are "Push" features and mailing lists that will alert or deliver to readers updated content that matches their interests (topical and/or geographical). The 5-person DesertNet staff also are working on a "big brother" feature that watches a consumer's usage of the site and builds a "custom paper" based on previous history of usage. The feature will keep track of a user by utilizing cookies. A PaperBoy feature already is partly in place, which lets a site user select publications and sections they are most interested in and assembles matching content into a custom navigation page.

Gerken says the overall concept is complementary to what alternative newspapers are already doing with their Web sites, bringing in some national advertising dollars and bringing added exposure to the local sites from a national audience -- thus increasing local Web traffic and thus local ad revenues.

The concept sounds good in theory. The big question is whether consumers who have such a wide choice of free news content available on the Web will gravitate to a site that repurposes news from other publications. Like many other Web news projects, this one's success may hinge on how good a job the affiliates and Weekly Wire do in promoting it in print and through its available Web marketing channels.

Contact: Wil Gerken,


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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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