Best Features of Online Newspaper Services

By: Steve Outing

Today I'm in Norfolk, Virginia, speaking to an affiliates' meeting for InfiNet. At one of my sessions, I'm looking at some of the most innovative features offered by online newspaper services. For today's column, I'll give you a few pointers to some of the more innovative ideas out there today.

* Here's a great idea, especially for smaller papers. The Delta County Independent in Colorado has a "Brag Book", where proud parents and grandparents can boast about their off-spring, pets or whatever. When I visited the brag book yesterday, a couple grandparents had posted pictures of newborns. This is the place to brag about your kid's straight A's or your spouse's recent promotion. It's a great way for newspapers to let readers "self-publish."

* The Evansville Courier in Indiana allows its subscribers to create their own Personal Home Pages. It's another example of a publisher giving the power of publishing to its customers. Judging by the number of people who've taken advantage of this opportunity, this is an idea that people like.

* The Houston Chronicle's Web site has a number of innovative features, including the Virtual Voyager. Reporters are dispatched to distant conferences and events with laptop, digital camera and cellular modem, and their reports are published online. Readers can send email to the correspondent while he/she is on the road, making suggestions or requests. A Virtual Voyager will go to the upcoming Women's Online conference; another attended the First International Conference on Elvis, which turned out to be popular with readers.

* USA Today has an excellent "What's goin' on online" page that is sort of an online TV Guide for cyberspace. It highlights outstanding new Web sites and includes a calendar of online activities, such as scheduled chat sessions and special events on the Internet and commercial online services.

* The San Jose Mercury News' Mercury Center Web Comics Page is an obvious idea, yet I've yet to see any other newspaper copy it. From the list of comics -- all the ones that run in the printed newspaper -- click on the ones you want to see, then click on the "Create personal comics page" button. Getting past the directory page requires a paid subscription to Mercury Center Web ($5 per month or $1 if you subscribe to the printed Mercury News).

* This is not a newspaper site, per se. The AdOne Classified Network features an "AdHound" service that automatically searches for specified ads from its client newspapers and emails you the results once a day. Want all the garage sale ads from Lafayette, Colorado? AdHound will send you them as they appear in the local newspaper.

* The Detroit News recognizes that presenting information on the Web is not ideal for everyone; some people prefer to receive online news via email. The newspaper has an email component on its Web service that allows you to subscribe to various sections of the online newspaper service -- news, sports, business, etc. -- and receive stories daily as email.

This is just scratching the surface, of course; there are lots of innovative things being done by newspaper online services. If you have something you think is innovative and want others to know about it, send me a note. I'll write a follow-up column on this theme if I get enough response.

Reading ... On the Train?

Graham Retzik, new media specialist for the AdOne Classified Network in New York, sent in this amusing online newspaper anecdote:

"I was taking the subway home from the office last night when I noticed that the guy sitting next to me was very busy studying some papers. These documents were just regular letter-sized sheets of paper. My commute generaly takes about 15-20 minutes, so I had the oppertunity to glance over and see what he was reading. He had printed out the majority of the NandO Web site and was reading it on the train!

"Now, I don't know how many times I have heard the argument that online newspapers can't compete with the printed version because people don't bring their computers on public transportation, etc. But I wasn't about to tell this guy he should have bought a newspaper."

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 Deadline for nominations is January 24, 1996. Winners will be announced at the Interactive Newspapers conference in San Francisco on February 24, 1996.

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