CompuServe Wants Newspaper Relationships (Really)

By: Steve Outing

While the newspaper industry has experimented in cyberspace for the last few years, CompuServe has been pretty much out of the picture. It managed to sign up a handful of U.S. newspapers to run discussion forums on the CIS (CompuServe Information Service) proprietary network, but that's about it. Back when newspapers were still seriously considering working with the commercial online services, Prodigy and America Online got the attention.

Now that CIS is about to transform itself into a World Wide Web publishing company, it is actually looking to establish relationships with newspapers. And it recently hired Fred Lowy to head up its news services. Lowy previously was with Prodigy, where he managed its newspaper industry relationships.

CIS is primarily looking to enhance its Web news offerings by establishing cross-promotional relationships with newspapers. CIS will point its users to partner newspaper sites in exchange for promotions on the newspaper sites about CIS services, Lowy says. No cash changes hands, typically.

An example of what the company has in mind is an upcoming CIS Olympics Web site to be called Atlanta Summer Games. Much of the content of that site will be references to the best coverage from other Web sites, such as the Atlanta Constitution-Journal's Atlanta Games site, USA Today's Web site, and IBM's official International Olympic Committee site. CIS' news staff will select the best coverage from within those sites, write brief summaries of this third-party content, and then link to those inside Web pages from the CIS-produced summaries.

The concept -- which is similar to what AT&T does with its Lead Story news Web site -- is to save the consumer time. Cruising all the Olympics Web sites to find the best stuff would be time-consuming, so CIS editors will do it for you and offer capsule descriptions so you can see what you'll get before actually clicking on the link. CIS will sell advertising on its home page and summaries pages.

Lowy says that newspapers are invited to enter into a relationship with CIS, but it will not go out and pro-actively seek outstanding content (as does Lead Story). To be "sanctioned" by CIS, a newspaper must apply, sign a contract with the online service and meet "quality standards" -- which basically means that CIS wants to make sure that your newspaper's server is going to stand up to a large load of traffic. "We don't want to link to a server that's busy all the time," he says. Participating papers also can't charge a subscription fee for accessing content.

Lowy thinks that participating sites will get a lot of traffic, since in the case of high-profile CIS sites like Atlanta Summer Games, CIS subscribers (there are 4 million of them) will see promotions when they log on. If a subscriber has browser-enabled software to access CIS, selecting the Games icon will launch the browser and go to the site. Games also will be available as a typical Web site to anyone using the Internet.

Is this a good deal? If CIS wants only a modest amount of promotion on your newspaper's site, the traffic it has the potential of bringing to your Web pages should be attractive. But your site will need to have good content that gets summarized and linked to by CIS editors, otherwise you'll be running CIS "ads" on your site without getting much in return.

CIS continues to host three U.S. newspapers' discussion forums on its proprietary service: the Detroit Free Press, Florida Today, and Gannett Suburban Newspapers (New York). Each of these publications also operate independent Web sites.

Lowy says he's working with other newspapers on new deals, and announcements are forthcoming.

Contact: Fred Lowy,

The 'Online Word Biz'

In case you've missed it, there's a new columnist on Editor & Publisher Interactive (host of this column): Debbie Weil is writing a twice-monthly column called Online Word Biz. She promises to bring you "hard reporting and common sense musings on what writers and editors, publishers and content developers are thinking about when it comes to the online word biz."

Weil runs a Washington, D.C.-based Web consulting company, Wordbiz.Net, which specializes in the design and development of content for Web sites.

Contact: Debbie Weil,

'The mating sounds of dinosaurs'

That description comes from Walter Brooks, editor and publisher of Best Read Guides Inc. of Orleans, Massachusetts, regarding recent newspaper industry developments in cyberspace. He writes:

"After hearing (Boston Globe VP-new media) Lincoln Millstein (speaking to an almost empty house at the CyberCafe at NAA last month) tell us that The Globe Web site will become profitable in 'four and a half to five years,' and reading your column from Vegas (last week), I think we may be hearing the mating sounds of dinosaurs when we pay any heed to what urban dailies opine about the Web or our industry. The way sites like, Star Tribune and LA Times, et al approach the problem is the way an arrogant superannulated industry has attacked all the similar problems since they lost their 'communication exclusives' at the birth of network RADIO two generations ago.

"I've been a newspaperman through that and each succeeding incursion into our media turf, and each stage (TV, cable and now the Web) has reached maturation quicker and removed another chunk from our franchise. My industry's response each time has been inertia, indifference and drift. Now we are about to see newspapering retreat from the Web, too, as each fails to be profitable by offering either an online repeat of their already overblown and irrelevant publication or an egocentric 'all things to all people' format like the sites I mentioned above. These urban daily sites are awkward, jumbled, and typically what ageist males think a 21st century world requires.

"When we launched our 'pint-sized newspaper for Americans on vacation' seven years ago, and when we began putting each online this winter, we created products which a 30-year-old woman with a double masters would want to read or surf to, and assumed everyone else would be satisfied. We've grown from one Best Read Guide to 20 during the recession, this year will print 15 millions copies east of the Mississippi, doubled our ad rates in the process, and our first Web site was in the black BEFORE it went online.

"Lacking the funds to jerk around for half a decade, we did it the old-fashioned way: profitably. The year that the NAA CyberCafe has as many attendees as any seminar on Want Ads or Reporting, when the dais at that and other newspaper conventions reflect the America of today rather than a hierarchy of 60-year-old males, I will change my Cassandra-like predictions, but as a 50-year-old, black, woman, ad manager said to me at NAA, 'Gates and NBC may be successful because THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT A NEWSPAPER IS.'

"I'm 65. ... I spend four-plus hours daily online and I do know what a newspaper IS, and more important, what it must be to compete in today's world."

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