Hollinger Web Network Covers Chicago Region, North to South

By: Steve Outing

Hollinger International has the Chicago region well covered. It owns the Chicago Sun-Times metro daily plus three suburban newspaper chains, which gives it about 70 print titles covering the region from the Wisconsin border down through the northern tip of Indiana.

Now Hollinger is taking its newspaper properties and combining their resources in cyberspace, in what is a serious challenge to the cyber-savvy Chicago Tribune and its Chicago area Digital City online community guide sites.

The regional Web effort, which formally launched today, is called the Chicago Newspaper Network Online (CNNO), located at http://www.chicago-news.com. It combines the Web site of the Sun-Times with Web sites of all the Hollinger suburban papers. Hollinger owns Pioneer Press (48 newspapers covering the north/northwest/west suburbs); the Daily Southtown (covering south/southwest Chicago and suburbs); and Star Newspapers (20 papers covering the south/southwest suburbs).

Pioneer Press already has a central Web operation that provides sites for each of its small papers. The Daily Southtown and Star newspapers got their Web sites running as of today, as part of the CNNO launch.

Sites remain independent

Heading up the project is Fred Lebolt, director of online publications for the Sun-Times and vice president of Hollinger Digital. He explains that the "newspaper network" concept adds a regional layer on top of individual newspapers' own Web sites, which continue to operate independently. Visitors to an individual newspaper's site will see a navigation interface to take them to other members of the network.

A central CNNO site (chicago-news.com) initially points visitors to the four main Hollinger companies -- the Sun-Times and the three suburban newspaper companies. Users see a map of the 8-county Chicago region covered by Hollinger properties, and when they click on a city or town they will go to the individual paper that covers that location.

CNNO Web visitors can click on links for general topic areas, such as breaking headlines, business or sports, and the system will generate a page of appropriate headline links from papers within the network. This is a way to see the top stories from all the regional papers, for example.

A "powersearch" function lets the Web site visitor search for a topic within any combination of the 70 newspaper sites. And there's a free, customizable e-mail edition with which subscribers can identify topic areas of interest to them, then have matching articles from the papers sent to them.

(Content on the Web sites does not include everything from the newspapers. Some syndicated content and freelance material is not posted on the Web.)

Region-wide classifieds interface

In what may be the online newspaper network's most compelling feature, CNNO combines the classified ads of all 70 papers into a searchable database. Lebolt says that this allows a person looking for a car the ability to search through the autos for sale ads for each paper, but then narrow the search down to a particular region of the Chicago area. Conversely, you can start with a narrow search of one or a few papers, then expand outward to search through more papers if the search doesn't turn up what you're seeking.

In another example of e-mail Push, the system allows classifieds users to "subscribe" to a search if a Web search turns up empty. When a matching ad enters one of the newspapers' classifieds databases, the subscriber receives an e-mail message with the ad. E-mail searches expire after 30 days unless the consumer opts to resubscribe. This was a home-grown system developed with help from an outside vendor.

Lebolt emphasizes that Hollinger "is not homogenizing" its papers' Web sites; each will continue to have its own personality. "The idea is not to make them look alike. The idea is to give people a chance to move easily among the sites," he says. Each site employs universal page footers that steer visitors to the network. And the sports section of the Sun-Times, for instance, includes buttons linking to other Hollinger papers' sports Web pages.

Advertising model

The network is supported primarily by advertising banners, and Hollinger is able to offer targeted Web site banners covering specific regions of the Chicago metro market. Online-only ads are offered, and a rate card is being worked up with pricing for the various areas of coverage. Lebolt says his company also has had some success in bundling advertising, offering print, online and audiotex placements. "We do not use the Internet as a giveaway," he says, but rather when making an Internet sale also try to sell a bundle including print and audiotex.

For national advertising, Hollinger is working with New York-based Web advertising network Real Media. (Hollinger's Chicago papers are not part of New Century Network or its national advertising program. Rival Tribune Co. is a co-founder of NCN.)

Lebolt says that regional telephone company Ameritech pre-purchased five home pages before CNNO launched. Most of the Web ads sold so far have been to companies that wanted a specific regional reach or who wanted to advertise in a particular topic area throughout the region.

CNNO has meant only a modest increase in staff for Hollinger. Lebolt says he will be getting one new staff member, and the Daily Southtown and Star Newspapers had to each hire a Webmaster.

In an already highly competitive media market, CNNO ups the ante. The Sun-Times/Hollinger and the Tribune compete aggressively in print; now the newspaper war enters cyberspace in a big way. The Tribune already is building its cyberspace regional online community guide network by setting up Digital City sites covering the metro area. (Tribune owns 20% of America Online spin-off Digital City.) But Hollinger may have an edge by already having locked up media partners in nearly every town in the Chicago metro market.

Contact: Fred Lebolt, lebolt@suntimes.com


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 steve@planetarynews.com

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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