AOL's Case: Make Web Key Election Medium By 2000 p.31

By: Mark Fitzgerald A call for newspapers to make the Web 'a force for democracy'
Newspapers should make their Web sites as important to the 2000 presidential election as TV was to the 1960 race, America Online chairman and CEO Steve Case told publishers at the Newspaper Association of America convention April 22.
"We must work together to make this
medium a force for democracy," Case said. He argued that the Internet has the potential to
break the cycle that television's dominance
of elections has wrought: sound-bite reporting, costly 30-second ads that are mostly negative
and relentless fund raising to finance the advertising.
Television transformed presidential politics in 1960 when John F. Kennedy's performance in a series of televised presidential debates was seen as critical in his narrow victory over Richard M. Nixon. Polls at the time found that those who watched the debates on TV thought Kennedy won, while radio listeners thought Nixon won.
Case also urged publishers to make the Web "a medium that respects privacy and decency."
"We have the power to deliver objectionable material under the radar of parents, and we have unprecedented power to find out what people read and watch," he said. "I certainly think there is a role for the newspaper industry to set those standards."
AOL's Case was far more warmly received than last year's speaker from the Internet world, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.
"We value our relationship not only with our customers, but with you," Case told publishers. "Our first partnerships were with the New York Times Company and Tribune Company. . . . I join you as a partner in many senses and as someone who loves newspapers and expects them to be around for a long, long time," Case said.
Even Case's language was publisher-friendly, as he repeatedly referred to AOL subscribers and other Web accessers not as "users" but as "readers." He was also reassuring about the publishers' bottom line: "To put it bluntly, you're probably wondering if you'll ever make any money in this business."
Case answered by suggesting newspapers had built-in advantages not only in content but in advertising.
"Nobody else can say that online is simply a logical extension of their existing business," he said. "Too much scattered, unverified information is as of little service to the reader as no information at all. You have the brand, the trust and the credibility to meet those needs."
Similarly, he said, newspapers will benefit from the so-called 85/15 rule of advertising, that is, that 85% of purchases are made within 15 miles of the buyer's home.
AOL's success ? after surviving competition from better-financed rivals and overcoming disastrous service problems that led critics to nickname the service "America On Hold" ? was also reassuring to newspapers, Washington Post Co. chairman and CEO Donald E. Graham said when he introduced Case.
"It's had to know," Graham said, "whose corporate destruction has been predicted more often ? the speaker's or the audience's."
?(E&P Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher April 25, 1998) [Caption]


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