Kansas City Star Shifts to the Web ... and Other News

By: Steve Outing

Blame the freak snowstorm that pummeled Colorado late last week for the lack of a Stop The Presses! column on Friday. With power lines down throughout Boulder, my home, the wonders of Internet communications were unavailable and I was temporarily cut off from the rest of the world.

Kansas City Star realignment

The Kansas City Star, which has been developing a proprietary BBS-type online service called Star.Net since 1994, has shifted gears and is creating a World Wide Web-based service, expected late this year. Star.Net the BBS has been in beta testing for some time. Now, according to VP for electronic publishing Nancy Tracewell, development has shifted to creating a full Internet/Web online newspaper service and becoming an Internet access provider.

The BBS system was developed in-house by Star staffers; some of their work will have to be scrapped to accommodate the shift in strategy.

The Star is a Capital Cities/ABC property, as is the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The S-T recently announced that its 13-year-old StarText BBS system will soon make the transition to a Web service.

Clearly, the rapid growth of the Web and the evolution of Web browser software like Netscape made it clear that the old stand-alone BBS strategy doesn't make as much sense for newspapers. Offering online subscribers full Internet access -- especially the Web -- is required today. (There are BBS systems that can be configured to support full Internet access.)

Star.Net's original plans called for a launch with minimal Internet connections -- just email, later to be expanded to include a Web browser. Clearly, today's online users demand more.

Specifics on Star.Net's pricing strategy are not yet available.

Will your Web service bureau be around tomorrow?

The September issue of WebWeek reports that a year-old Web service provider in Florida, WebTech Advertising, went belly-up in August, stranding nearly 100 advertisers who rented server space from the company. With so many start-up companies operating such businesses in a crowded field, this is likely to become a common experience.

Of the now hundreds of newspapers that operate online services on the World Wide Web, a large percentage of them do not operate their own servers -- choosing the less costly route of renting space from a Web service provider. As the Web page hosting business begins to shake out, it's important to be with a provider that you can trust will be around for the long haul. The WebTech episode points out the importance of choosing a reputable company with some money behind it.

Better yet, run your own machine. Operating a Web server no longer has to be rocket science, now that Apple and others have introduced Web server packages aimed at the non-technical market.

Movin' On

Chris Tucher has left Lesher Communications (which was recently purchased by Knight-Ridder Newspapers) in California, where he was assistant to the president. He joins Netscape as sales manager/publishing. He starts the new job today.

Former San Francisco Chronicle international editor David Hipschman has been named contributing editor of Web Review, an Internet-only "magazine" owned by Songline Studios, an affiliate of O'Reilly and Associates (of Global Network Navigator fame). Hipschman, 42, will coordinate the work of staff and freelance reviewers and will write about culture and the media for Web Review. He works via modem from his home in Whitefish, Montana.

Mercury News makes its archive free (for a while)

The San Jose Mercury News (California) has made its newspaper archive dating back to mid-1985 and including nearly 1 million articles available on the Web. During September the service is in beta testing and is free to subscribers ($4.95 per month, or $1 per month for newspaper subscribers). Come October 1, subscribers to Mercury Center Web will be able to search the archive at no charge. Downloading stories will cost 25 cents each for requests processed between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Pacific time Monday through Friday and all day on weekends. Downloads between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday-Friday will be $1.50 per article.

Web surfing

As an example of innovative Web design, check out The James Gang advertising agency site. Note the second screen into the site, with its pop-up button to take you to interior pages. What I like best is that this site is fun! There are hidden links that bring up surprises. Such high-spirited quirkiness is what it will take to get advertising noticed in the online/Web environment.

Steve Got a tip? Let me know about it

If you have a newsworthy item about the newspaper new media business, please send me a note at outings@netcom.com.

This column is written by Steve Outing and underwritten by Editor & Publisher magazine. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at outings@netcom.com


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