E-mail Publishers Aren't All From the News Business

By: Steve Outing

Competition in the online news field can take on many forms. Consider LSoft, the software developer that created ListServ, the dominant commercial Internet mailing list manager. Shortly after TWA Flight 800 exploded and crashed last week, LSoft created a mailing list in order to provide a virtual forum for worldwide discussion of the disaster. LSoft also arranged for press clips to be posted to the list as they become available, thanks to an informal arrangement with PR Newswire.

News organizations have been creating discussion forums online for some time, of course. But the media have no special lock on being the venue host for public discussions of news events. In fact, the majority of newspapers operating Web sites host Web-based threaded discussion forums, rather than e-mail lists.

LSoft's John Karpovich says the company in the future will create new lists on the occasion of significant news events, giving computer users who can't get enough information from other media sources a place to share news tips and offer opinions. The Flight 800 list, launched late last week, attracted about 350 participants in its first few days. The list's creation was announced on PR Wire and with online messages posted to Internet lists and newsgroups, and sent to interested government agencies such as the NTSB, FAA and FBI, which are investigating the crash. The lists are run as a public service, Karpovich says, with the goal of increasing LSoft's exposure.

Says Karpovich, "Who better to host a list on a hot topic than LSoft?" Well, traditional news organizations are an obvious answer. But while many sites like WashingtonPost.com and NYTimes.com have Flight 800 discussion forums, none seem able to create the definitive online discussion forum on the disaster. LSoft seems well positioned to create what could become the central discussion list on this particular news event; not being tied to any one geographic location, it can establish a worldwide central discussion forum.

I find this disturbing, since I believe that facilitating discussion of news events can best be done by news organizations, and this is an important role of any news organization operating online. News organizations are well advised to create their own discussion e-mail lists, as a handful of publishers routinely do, when significant news events occur. As is becoming common in the interactive publishing world, if a news organization doesn't do it, a new crop of competitors who are looking enter the news business will.

LSoft isn't going into the news business, of course, but this is another example of non-news companies moving into news territory.

To subscribe to the Flight 800 list, send an e-mail message to LISTSERV@HOME.EASE.LSOFT.COM and type "SUB FLIGHT-800 yourfirstname yourlastname" in the body of the message. To browse the discussions, check out the list's Web archive.

Contact: John Karpovich, john@lsoft.com

Here's another great e-mail idea

The Pottsville Republican & Evening Herald has come up with a nice application for e-mail. Earlier this month it published its first "Letter from Home," a monthly letter written by the newspaper's editor aimed at expatriates from Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. The idea is to keep former local people informed of happenings in their home county, as well as to gauge interest in future e-mail products.

The July letter went out to 176 people, who got on the list because they had made contact with the newspaper's editors via e-mail in recent months. The 35,000-circulation paper also solicited e-mail addresses on its Schuylkill OnLine Web site.

For many local or regional newspapers' Web sites, the expatriate market is one not to be overlooked. Web sites of newspapers have given many people a way to keep abreast of events in their former home towns. An e-mail newsletter aimed at expatriate online visitors serves to remind them to check in occasionally on the Web site. It also can serve as an advertising vehicle, if you can find a sponsor for the monthly missives.

A Republican-like e-mail essay is a small project that any publication can undertake at little cost. All it takes is some mailing list software, which can cost anywhere from nothing (for a mailing list manager like Majordomo) to a couple hundred dollars (for a commercial application like ListStar) to $2,000 or more a year (for an industrial-strength e-mail manager like LSoft's ListServ).

A monthly letter from home is an obvious application, but also consider offering e-mail delivery of other components of your service -- a local columnist's work, or the weekly city council meeting summary, for example. An ideal e-mail service might include a Web interface, allowing users to type in their e-mail address and select what they want delivered (and offering a simple way to turn off the mail at a later date). An example of this concept in action can be found on the Web site of Mercury Mail, a start-up that I've written about previously in this column.

E-mail also can be useful for tourists. A small newspaper in Aspen, Colorado, for instance, might have a monthly e-mail letter for repeat tourists, with another aimed at expatriates and another at part-time residents. It also could offer e-mailed ski conditions reports, supported by a sponsor (one of the ski resorts or the airline serving the community).

Consider e-mail delivery as an additional advertising vehicle. While some publishers may fear that e-mail services will steal away traffic from their Web sites, advertisers can be placed on the Web site and on e-mail deliveries, increasing their exposure. E-mail "teaser" services also can serve to remind people to visit the Web site.

Micropayment 'mini-summit'

Clickshare Corp. and the Christian Science Monitor are planning a ne-day "mini-summit" in Boston on August 9 to help publishers understand emerging micropayment and audience-measurement technologies. Vendors represented at the event will include Open Market Inc., CyberCash Inc., First Virtual Holdings Corp., Interse Corp., Internet Profiles Corp., RealMedia Corp., Visa International, Compuserve and the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

The event is being limited to about 50 attendees and seats are still available. It runs from 10:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. and costs less than $100. For information, send an e-mail note to corp@clickshare.com.

Knight-Ridder papers join Pointcast

Knight-Ridder this week announced that it has reached an agreement with Pointcast Inc. to offer regional and local news and advertising in KRI's U.S. newspaper markets. Pointcast Network affiliation is planned for the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times in California, the Miami Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, the Detroit Free Press, the Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer, and the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald Leader. Viewers of Pointcast, an Internet news screensaver application, in these KRI markets will be able to read regional headline news and information.


In a column last week about Digital Cities, I indicated that the Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia, has operated a BBS as well as a Web site. It does not have a BBS, but does have a Web site and 1-Line, an audiotex service, in its new media stable.

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at steve@planetarynews.com

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