Re-launch Treads Where NCN Got Lost

By: Steve Outing Nine newspaper companies working together under the now-defunct New Century Network banner couldn't do it. But a single Canadian newspaper chain has executed in part what some NCN executives felt was the most important strategy for newspapers to thrive in cyberspace.

As reported in this column in recent weeks, before its owners shut it down last month, NCN officials were working on a strategy that would have provided its affiliate newspapers with Web search and navigation functionality, enabling them to (in theory) take away some of the traffic that floods to the national Web search engines and directory services. The idea was that users of a local/regional news Web site no longer would need to go to national services like Yahoo!, Excite or Infoseek when they look for information on the greater Web.

Southam Newspapers also subscribes to that theory, and the Canadian chain has implemented it in a major redesign of its national Web site. (The new site is expected to debut later this month. You'll see the old site design if you click on this link now.) Key components of the site are a bilingual Web search engine developed in partnership with Inktomi, the company behind the HotBot search engine, and a co-branded free Web e-mail service that will offer "" permanent e-mail addresses to consumers.

According to Brian Porter, executive producer of, the strategy is to provide Canadian Web users with a comprehensive portal to the Internet -- and therefore drive significant traffic to the national site which can thus attract national Web advertising. By offering services like Web search, a Canadian news search feature, and free Web e-mail services, users won't need to go elsewhere, the idea goes. Visitors to the site are thus exposed and directed to Southam's various local newspaper sites, which each operate independently.

Porter says the strategy was borne from the inadequate Web traffic coming to Southam's individual newspaper sites. "Alone, they were just not generating the traffic that would attract significant advertising dollars," he says. Southam's papers have a mandate to operate autonomously, and some newspapers' Web sites were performing better than others -- depending on management commitment to the Internet as well as local demographic factors.

The idea behind the new is to have a strong national site send traffic to the local sites, and allow the local sites to be the jump-off point for local Internet users when they want more than local news.

Mike Pilmer, vice president at Hollinger Digital who oversees the project (news chain Hollinger owns Southam), describes it as a "high-traffic utility site" that will not only provide useful Web navigation and e-mail services, but also provide the central aggregation point for Southam's scattered classified advertising resources. It will be the Web entry point for Canadian national auto, careers and real estate classified sections, with ads coming from the Southam Web sites and search functionality allowing a consumer to type in their home postal code to find listings local to them. (Some of these classifieds features won't be ready for this launch, but are expected later this year.)

Search me

The Inktomi-powered search engine is the "anchor" for the new which is expected to attract visitors initially. Once on the site, users can do a Web-wide search (in either English or French), or search using a news-only search engine (also using Inktomi technology). The news search, which is similar to the news search function in NCN's old "NewsWorks" site, searches most Canadian news sites -- not just Southam papers' sites but also the company's competitors -- as well as some prominent international news sites.

The news search feature is part of what is being called the "News Cafe" area, which also includes a "News Picks" section that features the top story and photos of the day from Southam's own news wire service. There's also a News Wires area that features a live news feed from the Canadian Press wire service, in English and French, that's broken up into National, World, Sports, Business and Entertainment. (This is similar in concept -- sans the bilingual aspect -- to The Wire online news service from The Associated Press.)

News Cafe also will feature daily the top news story from each Southam property, chosen by those newspapers' editors. The single top local stories will actually reside on the server and appear with the interface rather than the local paper's. This is meant as a teaser to get visitors to click on links to see more of the local news sites.

Going the other direction, visitors to Southam local sites will see logos for promoting the search functionality of the national site. "Start Your Search From Home" is the catch-phrase being used on the local sites and in marketing for

'Get your e-mail here!'

The free Web e-mail service being offered by is in conjunction with iName, a U.S. Web e-mail service that does private-label deals with publishers and others. will offer free e-mail accounts -- similar in functionality to popular services like HotMail and Yahoo! Mail -- that give consumers a permanent e-mail address and the ability to read mail from any Web browser anywhere in the world.

Addresses will be of the form "," and will cost a small (not yet announced) annual fee. Pilmer says that he also will offer free service for those willing to use other Canada-related domain names. For example, might be free while a address will cost something. "We think there's some affinity around that ( address), and it's simple to remember," says Pilmer. He plans to offer about three other domain names without charge, with the service supported entirely by advertising.

Given that free e-mail services like HotMail have been successful -- HotMail has well over 10 million accounts, though only a fraction of that are thought to be active accounts -- a newspaper-sponsored free e-mail service stands a good chance of doing well. Of course, the free e-mail industry has yet to demonstrate that the concept is profitable. It will be interesting to see if can succeed in prying money out of consumers' hands for the "prestige" of a address.

Commodity services

Web search engines and free e-mail are basically commodity items nowadays, and is using them to get Internet users to the site initially. Beyond that, "it's what we put around it that's important," Pilmer says. In looking at sites like Yahoo! or Excite, which have adopted that same strategy, Pilmer thinks that can stand up to that high-powered competition -- and indeed exceed it for Canadian users because of the content of the 65 newspapers in Canada controlled by Southam and Hollinger.

Other peripheral content on the site will include several co-branded services: a Canadian business directory service called "Hello Yellow," done in partnership with ABI Inc.; a travel reservations services by; live stock quotes from Bloomberg; local TV listings from TV Data; local weather from The Weather Network; horoscopes; comics; and crossword puzzles and games.

A Paying Client

The re-launch of includes a "significant" marketing campaign and budget, according to Pilmer. Ads will be featured in most of Southam's properties, but Pilmer says he'll be paying for those ads rather than accepting free "house ad" placements. "You can't launch a program (like this) hoping that someone will run your ads," he says. will pay for its print ads because that will insure that a full page color ad on page A3 gets placed. "I am treated as a paying client" within the Southam organization, Pilmer says.

Advertising sales for initially are being handled by a single national sales manager, Alex Nichols, and his assistant. He can sell combined Web deals for the national and local sites, and place into selected local Southam sites to serve regional advertisers. Of course, Nichols' efforts are in addition to local site online advertising staffs.

Vaguely familiar

In hearing about's plans, I couldn't help feel badly for NCN. What Southam is about to launch for its own properties is similar to what NCN was working on before its demise. Pilmer says he wasn't at all surprised by NCN's self-destruction. His company was able to pull off a search engine and free e-mail deal because "I don't have nine owners to appease," he says.

National newspaper link?

Finally, it's worth noting that Hollinger owner Conrad Black has been in the news a lot recently as rumors swirl that he's about to announce the start-up of a new national Canadian newspaper that would compete with Thomson's The Globe and Mail. This major relaunch of might fit in nicely should the rumors be true. When asked about that, Pilmer would only say that there are no plans "that we're publicly disclosing."

Contact: Mike Pilmer,
Brian Porter,

Is Seattle Times dashing P-I's Web hopes?

Seattle Weekly, the alternative newsweekly, has an interesting story about the Web sites of the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and how the newspapers' joint operating agreement (JOA) has prevented the P-I from having a Web site that features that paper's current news online. The Times, meanwhile, has one of the better newspaper Web sites in the country. This situation has made the P-I practically "invisible" to some constituencies who get their news mostly from the Web, not print -- such as Microsoft employees and Washington, D.C., officials, for example.

The Weekly story makes interesting reading. You can check it out at

No column on Friday

Stop The Presses! will take a short break for the Good Friday-Easter holiday weekend. There will be no column on Friday, April 10; it will resume on Monday, April 13.


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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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