Digital Ink Prepares for Shift to Web as Brazeal Takes Time Off

By: Steve Outing

Yesterday I reported on AT&T's move to take its Interchange online service and convert it over to the World Wide Web, over time moving the service away from the proprietary model to embrace the open standards of the Internet -- and thus impacting the online strategies of its newspaper partners, the Washington Post's Digital Ink, the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune and the New Haven (Connecticut) Journal Register. The story evolved a bit on Thursday, so I need to follow up.

First, it's worth noting that Don Brazeal, publisher of Digital Ink announced yesterday that he is taking a 90-day sabbatical from the job. According to Digital Ink founder and Washington Post Co. vice president-technology Ralph Terkowitz, Brazeal is taking a well-deserved break after "two grueling years" of building Digital Ink. Brazeal was the first key individual brought in by Terkowitz to found Digital Ink. Brazeal formerly was weekend editor for the Washington Post.

Terkowitz will fill in for Brazeal during the 90-day sabbatical. It is not known if Brazeal intends to return to his job after the break, and I was unable to reach him for comment yesterday.

Speculation on the online-news and online-newspapers Internet mailing lists, where many newspaper new media professionals discuss industry happenings, quickly focused on the timing of Brazeal's leave and AT&T's move to shift Interchange away from the proprietary network model. Could Brazeal be getting forced out because he made the decision to go with Interchange? Many Post watchers (including former Digital Ink employees) think so.

Terkowitz insists that the two events are "truly and absolutely unrelated." Digital Ink executives knew that AT&T intended to turn Interchange toward the Web some time ago, and Brazeal had made the decision to take his leave at the beginning of 1996 before anyone knew that AT&T would be making its announcements at the same time. And, Terkowitz says, it was he who made the decision to work with Interchange, not Brazeal.

Now that AT&T has made public the decision to move to a Web-centric strategy, Digital Ink must make its next move. Terkowitz confirmed that Digital Ink for some time has been working on a Web strategy, which includes ElectionLine (its joint political site with ABC TV and Newsweek magazine to be launched in the coming weeks). The Washington Post's Digital Ink service will continue in the short term on the Interchange network, and over time evolve to a Web-oriented service. Certainly, within a year -- and probably less -- Digital Ink will be accessible by any Web user. (This previously had been part of Digital Ink's strategy, as a member of New Century Network.) Terkowitz said he is unable to announce a timetable at this point, which is why Digital Ink did not issue a press release following yesterday's announcements by AT&T.

Terkowitz said Digital Ink's continuing relationship with AT&T New Media Services in running a Washington Post Web-centric service remains negotiable.

On the AT&T front, AT&T New Media Services president Michael Kolowich, quoted in this column yesterday, held a conference call with reporters and confirmed the company's intention to become a Web-based service. AT&T New Media will be working with its publishing partners on a transition strategy, he said.

Kolowich said the Web version will charge for Interchange network use, and that current subscribers will still be able to use the network. AT&T also will offer bundled access to Interchange and the Internet, he said. The entire Interchange network has attracted only "several tens of thousands" of customers.

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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