For This Small Paper, the Web's Out of the Business Plan

By: Steve Outing

Many small-town newspapers struggle with making a business case for operating Internet services. While it may look promising as a future business segment, small-paper publishers often are loathe to devote much of their limited resources to something as speculative as Web publishing, which may not promise much of a financial return any time soon.

That was the case with the Griffin Daily News in Georgia, which at the end of June shut off its Web site project, which had been publishing local news online since the summer of 1996. The 12,500-circulation daily got a new publisher, Thomas Overton, when Thomson Newspapers sold the property to Paxton Media Group (Kentucky) in March. He looked at the situation and decided that for now, the Web is out of the business plan.

The Daily News' Web venture was modest. Newspaper editors regularly shipped editorial content to an outside vendor, who formatted repurposed articles and photos from the paper into a Web site. The site was not successful in gaining advertising and was a drain on the paper's budget, Overton says, although it did generate a "sizable" number of hits.

Overton says that when he entered the picture, he found several non-electronic areas where the paper needed to be expending effort and resources. "We need to be putting our energies there."

He doesn't dismiss the importance of Internet publishing to the newspaper industry, however. "I foresee that this (electronic publishing) is the way to go," Overton says. "I'm just not sure if in the near term future it's worth it for us. It's timing more than anything else."

Atlanta ISPs serve community

Griffin has the markings of a community that may not support Internet ventures anytime soon. While many rural newspapers have found opportunities by providing Internet access to local residents, some by partnering with local Internet service providers (ISPs), such is not an option here. Griffin is located about 40 miles south of Atlanta -- and is a local toll-free phone call away. Most area residents who use the Internet have accounts with ISPs serving Atlanta and there are no local ISPs in Griffin. Hence, small newspapers' foremost opportunity for profiting on the Internet is mostly untenable here.

Another Paxton paper in Kentucky, the Paducah Sun, does serve as an ISP in partnership with InfiNet, and Paxton operates a Web service for the Sun and NewsChannel 6, a Kentucky NBC television affiliate.

Overton says the Daily News Web site was getting hits from around the world -- another element of the Web venture that troubled him. Presumably, many were people who used to live in the Griffin area and wanted to keep up with local news. But it was difficult to find out anything about these far-flung Internet visitors.

"What are we going to offer these people?" Overton asks. "They're not going to go down to the hardware store and buy a saw or a hammer."

Little local activity

The Daily News for now may have the luxury of waiting before diving back in to Internet ventures. Overton reports that locally there are no other companies producing local news online or creating online community guides. Griffin is far enough out from Atlanta not to be a focus of Atlanta's Web news providers.

Overton does expect to revisit the Internet at some point. Meantime, he's hoping that others will show the way to making money as a small newspaper publisher operating on the Internet. "Show me the market," he laments.

Is the Daily News' shelving of its Web site indicative of a trend among small-town newspapers? Overton doesn't think so; rather, it's the situation in a particular town with demographics that don't tend to support Internet usage among its population. Griffin is a rural industrial area known primarily for its textile plants.

"Timing is everything," says Overton about Internet opportunities, and he remains open-minded about again adding the Internet to the newspaper's business plan.


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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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