More Contest Comments; More on AT&T Threat

By: Steve Outing

As promised, here are the final batch of judges' comments from the Editor & Publisher/Kelsey Group 1996 Best Online Newspaper Services Competition. For an explanation of the comments and how they are presented, please see my column of last Friday. (Click on the link at the bottom of this column.)

Best use of advertising by an online newspaper service

Best online classifieds section

Best niche online service by a newspaper company

Best original feature of an online newspaper service

In case you missed the list of winners, here they are again.

How AT&T affects newspaper ISPs

I received a few responses to my recent column about AT&T's new Internet service (which offers 5 hours of free access per month) and the negative impact I suggested it could have on newspapers operating in the Internet service provider (ISP) business:

Bob Ingle, vice president/new media, Knight-Ridder Newspapers
"My guess is that the most immediate impact of AT&T's free 5 hours will be on the commercial online services. I don't think it hurts InfiNet that much, because (a) it enlarges the overall market; and (b) the $2.50 AT&T hours add up fast if the user spends much time on the Web. It does, clearly, put some pressure on ISPs as well."

Bob Gale, newsroom systems coordinator, The Herald, Everett, Washington
"I've spent the last six months trying to convince my bosses not only to get off the dime and get on the Web, but to set aside this notion of trying to be an ISP. The Internet is a crucible that rewards those who concentrate on what they do best and burns away the also-rans. What we do best is tell stories and try to make sense of the day's events for our readers, not baby-sit pools of modems, provide technical support when users can't connect, or distribute software. Branded browsers are great for making novice users feel comfortable, but 'novice' is a transitory state. Users quickly realize that the browser and the content are two separate things. I'm willing to partner with ISPs and arrange discounts for our readers, but I don't want our financial future tied to a commodity business like Internet access."

Steve Tippie, marketing director, Tribune Media Services
"I believe that the entry of ATT into the ISP business is more ominous for local providers than you portray it. In the near future, streaming of video and audio are going to put incredible demands for bandwidth on ISPs. The local ISP is going to find it difficult to provide the same level of service as an AT&T, MCI, Baby Bell, or cableco. This demand for bandwidth will change the economics of the local ISPs. If they are to compete with the big guys they will need to make a large investment in pipes at the same time they are reducing their prices to keep their current customers. If they do not make this investment, they risk a rapid deterioration of service levels in comparison with these competitors."

Brian Knight, director of computer systems, San Diego Union-Tribune
"Newspapers excel at local community content. Yes, we would like to get all Internet advertising, but unless something at the national level (NAA) is done, AT&T and MCI and Sprint will be best positioned to offer ISP services across the country. I would bet on the long distance companies as ISPs. I think they will have a leg up on National Advertising also. Newspapers have to provide compelling local content and innovative interactive services that can't be replicated at the national level, in my opinion. This was previously my argument against AOL, etc."

Howard Weaver, McClatchy Newspapers New Media
"Thinking about how newspaper ISPs will fare with the entry of AT&T and other telco giants into the business reminds me of an old Italian proverb: 'When the bulls fight, the grass is the loser.'"

John Callaham, Observer-News-Enterprise, Newton, North Carolina
"I agree that the new system announced will be a big headache for the national online services, but the newspapers are safe for now. I called the WorldNet number to see how many numbers will be in North Carolina, where I live. Only two, one in Charlotte and one in Fayetteville will be available, so people with local access will be much better off. In other words, Nando.Net is in no trouble in losing any customers. An 800-number will be used by WorldNet, but it will be (very expensive). Also after a year, AT&T will be back with costs per 5 hours just like AOL. AT&T therefore is not really competative in my view. Here in Catawba County we have no less than 5 ISPs with more coming, with better prices and service than AT&T can handle. AT&T had better do a better job in pricing and access or it will find its service wanting.

No, that's not a functional URL, but the title of an excellent overview of the impact that new media is having on traditional media, published in the March/April 1996 issue of Columbia Journalism Review. The author is Katherine Fulton, who writes, "Two and a half years ago, I assigned myself the story of my professional lifetime. I wanted to explore the fate of journalism in the digital age." Fulton has written an outstanding overview of the issues that digital media present to the press. It's must reading -- particularly for those publishers who are still sitting on the sidelines of Internet mania. The article is also online at

St. Petersburg AIDS family project online

"Three Little Words" is a print/online project of the St. Petersburg Times that you'll want to check out. Authored by Poynter Institute faculty member Roy Peter Clark, this is a 29-part series focusing on a family dealing with AIDS. The Times' Web site runs each article one day behind the newspaper appearance, adding some extras not found in the print edition.

Rochelle Lavin, online editor for the Times, reports: "This project has been a real eye opener. It is possible that this form of experimental journalism works better as an online project than as a newspaper project. I say this because the response to the series online has been much better than the newspaper's letters to the editor."

The series can be viewed at the paper's Web site,

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