Military Papers Adding Web to AOL Service

By: Steve Outing

Military City Online (MCO), the online service of Army Times Publishing Co.'s newspapers (Air Force Times, Army Times, Marine Corps Edition-Navy Times, and Navy Times), is happily ensconced on America Online -- one of only a handful of newspapers doing business on the AOL platform.

But like nearly everyone else in the newspaper industry, these private newspapers serving the U.S. military community are expanding to the World Wide Web. In October, Army Times Publishing Co. will launch a Web site that will include content of its 4 newspapers on AOL (mentioned above), plus Federal Times, Defense News and Space News. The Web service will be free, probably with some premium charged content, and include advertising.

What I find interesting about MCO's strategy is that AOL will remain the primary online publishing venue for the 4 newspapers serving the branches of the military. The papers also will be represented on the new Web site, but with limited content compared to the AOL service. The Web will serve largely as a marketing tool for MCO on AOL. (Federal Times, Defense News and Space News will only be on the Web.)

Director of online content Lee Ewing reports that his company's relationship with AOL is a profitable one; it wanted to expand its online reach beyond AOL subscribers, yet preserve the AOL service, in which the company has invested considerable resources.

MCO Online gets its principal revenue from AOL from shared usage fees. It's a typical AOL deal, where a publisher receives 15-20% of usage revenues derived from time users spend in the MCO area. It also sells MCO start-up kits, which include MCO as the dominant brand name rather than AOL. MCO users see the MCO logo at log-on. MCO gets a royalty for bringing new members to AOL.

What would appear to make MCO successful on AOL, while other newspapers complain that AOL's revenue sharing scheme isn't attractive enough, is the heavy usage of MCO's online discussion forums and live chat sessions by military personnel. Ewing says the discussion forums have clocked in 46,000 postings since the site launched in June 1994. "Conference rooms" are open 24 hours, and MCO schedules regular chat sessions on specific topics or with special guests.

MCO is very much a supplementary service to the newspapers. Full text of newspaper stories are available on MCO, plus additional material that doesn't fit in the print edition. The papers have published online the full transcripts of military jet crash investigations, for example. Tag lines in the print edition refer readers to supplementary material available only online.

A much-used part of MCO is a 110-megabyte online database of military installations worldwide. A military family about to be shipped to a new base can learn about the new facility, the local economy, spouse employment opportunities, etc. Available for download are photos of military ships, planes and equipment; software; sound files; speech transcripts, etc.

A feature that has proven to be very popular is an electronic version of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. Online users can search a database to find a name and leave a message, in much the same way visitors to the physical wall tape messages next to a loved one's name. Ewing says the electronic "wall" has generated similar strong emotions for those leaving messages.

MCO has created a successful "online newspaper" by fostering an online community. Military personnel use the opportunity to communicate with each other online, moreso than read the content of the newspaper. As is often the case with online newspaper services, it is the interactive component -- not the news -- that breeds success.

Military City Online can be found on America Online at the keyword "MCO." A Web address for MCO is not yet available.

Contact: Lee Ewing,


"Online and the PC world in general are following an adoption curve traced by many previous technologies: books, newspapers, electricity, telephones, automobiles, television are a few:
1. Initially expensive and available only to the well to do. Often they are complex and require great technical skill. The auto's early days, radio sets and their multiple tuning dials are two. Newspapers were for the elite before the Industrial Revolution helped create the need for mass literacy.
2. A period of decreasing costs and complexity with commensurate broadening of penetration.
3. Relatively low cost and mass use.
We are probably near the end of the first phase for the online era. Rome wasn't built in a day."
-- Ben Compaine, chairman, Center for Information Industry Research, Temple University (in a recent posting to the online-news Internet list)

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


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