Digital City Now Attracting Major Metro Dailies

By: Steve Outing

Digital City Inc. (DCI), the America Online spin-off that's creating online community guides in many U.S. cities, is beginning to do deals with large metro daily newspapers -- who up till now had been shying away from dealing with Digital City for fear of "aiding the competition." DCI's media partners have tended to be alternative newspapers, suburban papers, TV stations and the like, rather than a city's dominant newspapers.

This week, DCI announced that it had acquired the participation of the Star Tribune (a Cowles property and the largest paper in Minneapolis) in the Twin Cities Digital City. And in southern California, the Los Angeles Daily News is an information provider to the Los Angeles Digital City.

(The Chicago Tribune also is a DCI partner. Its parent, the Tribune Co., owns a 20% stake in DCI, so I've not included the Trib's participation in Digital City Chicago as being representative of newspaper industry attitudes toward DCI. Other Tribune papers also will be part of DCI ventures in their cities.)

The Star Tribune deal seems to indicate a change in the relationship of the U.S. newspaper industry with DCI. In my reporting on this topic as recently as six months ago, newspaper executives who had negotiated with DCI commonly complained that DCI didn't understand their needs, wanted too much content that would have hurt their own Web sites if run on Digital City, and was "arrogant" in negotiations. But that's changed, says Star Tribune Online publisher Robert Schafer; he found DCI this time around to be flexible and open to negotiating a deal that worked for the newspaper.

The Star Tribune has negotiated a deal where it is the "primary" information provider for the Twin Cities Digital City. While declining to discuss specifics of the deal, Schafer says his newspaper has some say in additional media partners that DCI takes on locally, and puts the Star Tribune in the role of the primary or favored provider of news. The Star Tribune will provide selected news stories; entertainment listings, calendars, previews and reviews; and host bulletin board discussions and live chat sessions on the Twin Cities Digital City.

Initially, the Twin Cities service will be provided only on the America Online proprietary platform; it will go on the World Wide Web at a later, as yet unannounced date. AOL currently has about 100,000 subscribers in the Twin Cities area.

Schafer says he sees the deal as a way to increase the Star Tribune's online presence in cyberspace by exposing AOL users -- who he contends do not travel the Web with much frequency -- to the newspapers' wares. When Twin Cities Digital City eventually goes on the Web, the Star Tribune will contribute less content than it does to the AOL proprietary platform site, and Digital City on the Web will include more links to the paper's Web site, he says.

"Digital City recognized that our interests on the Web could be somewhat divergent from their own interests," Schafer says, and allowed a contract that provides for less direct competition for Star Tribune Online on the Web while providing a fuller service to AOL proprietary users.

The Star Tribune deal includes a split of ad revenues, a share of online usage revenues from time AOL users spend in the Twin Cities Digital City area, and a modest guaranteed income. Schafer also says that online classifieds will be part of the deal, but details haven't been worked out yet. DCI recently acquired sophisticated electronic classifieds technology from now-defunct ClassiFACTS and licensed technology from Electric Classifieds Inc.

Schafer thinks the Star Tribune is on the right track by providing content to other platforms, even if it gives up some control over branding. The newspaper is a content provider for Pointcast, a deal which has increased traffic on the Star Tribune Web site, he says. And now, with the DCI deal, the Star Tribune can offer advertisers a joint placement on the Web site, Pointcast, and Digital City on AOL -- which he thinks gives his newspaper an edge in the competitive Twin Cities media market.

Contact: Robert Schafer,

OK to quote from Internet forums, most editors say

A panel of media executives convened at a Media Leaders Forum at Louisiana State University by a slim margin said that journalists can freely quote from conversations "overheard" on Internet dicussion forums, without seeking permission. Online discussion groups can be treated as public forums, and reporters do not need permission from the source of a quote to publish it; however, they should clearly indicate where the quote originated, according to 35 of the 63 media executives who took part in the LSU forum. Six other participants said the quote should be verified, but they would not prevent publication if the reporter could not get "permission" of the source. Eighteen said they would not use the quote without explicit permission of the source.

Seattle Times gears up for Sidewalk entry

The Seattle Times is enhancing its Web site's Datebook entertainment guide in preparation for some worthy competition from Microsoft's Sidewalk online entertainment guide venture. Seattle will see the first Sidewalk entry early in 1997, with several other major cities (in and outside the U.S.) following shortly.

Datebook is now posting comprehensive listings for most theater events in the Seattle area, and has added information about more than 100 performance spaces in the region. The site allows visitors to search for plays that have received a high recommendation by Seattle Times critics, for example. Results of a search then lead to detailed information about the performance space, seating, tickets, etc. In early January, Datebook will add information about concerts and clubs.

The Times has its work cut out for it if it wants to be in a dominant position online as Seattle's entertainment guide. Seattle Sidewalk has partnered with Seattle Weekly and Eastsideweek, the metro area's major alternative news and entertainment weeklies.

Newspapers among most popular news Web sites

The American Journalism Review/Newslink Web site continually runs a straw poll of its users to determine the most popular Internet news sources. (The site includes links to hundreds of Web news sites and is visited by a broad range of Internet users, not just journalists.) In recent months, the top draws in this unscientific survey have increasingly become newspaper Web sites (currently 8 of the top 10). The top sites currently are:
1) USA Today
2) CNN Interactive
3) Washington Post
4) New York Times
6) Jerusalem Post
7) Los Angeles Times
8) Christian Science Monitor
9) San Jose Mercury News
10) Chicago Tribune

As you can see, U.S. media organizations continue to dominate as the most popular source of national and international news. Congratulations are in order to the Jerusalem Post, whose Web site has been steadily moving up the rankings as the sole non-U.S. site in the top 10.

Inland chooses InfiNet for online classifieds

The Inland Press Association is endorsing InfiNet's Online Classifieds product for use by its member newspapers in creating electronic classifieds services. Inland, which has as members 413 daily newspapers and 189 weeklies in 46 states, Canada, Bermuda and the Bahamas, announced its recommendation recently as the culmination of a 2-year study to identify a single database for the aggregation of classified liner ads by its member papers. Inland members are able to purchase the Online Classifieds product at group discounts as part of the deal with InfiNet.

In other InfiNet news, the newspaper-owned Internet publishing company and Internet service provider recently released AdGadget, a Web site advertising management tool for newspapers. AdGadget is designed to schedule, deliver and track advertising. It can schedule static or rotating ads, and can manage placement schedules by days, ad views or "hits." It also has reporting capabilities that show ad views, hits, click-throughs, click-through ratios, and average ad views per day. AdGadget is being provided to InfiNet's current newspaper customers, as well as Inland members who license the Online Classifieds product.

InfiNet, based in Norfolk, Virginia, is owned by Knight-Ridder, Gannett and and Landmark Communications.


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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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