National Internet Services Offer Enticing Deals to Newspapers

By: Steve Outing

In a presentation I gave at Internet World in Boston earlier this week, I emphasized that newspapers are wise to ally with other organizations if they expect to profit online. Going it alone is a risky proposition, when a publisher is competing in the online environment not only with other newspapers, but magazines, TV and radio stations, entrepreneurs, online services, wire services, software companies, and on and on.

With some recent announcements, and some yet to be made officially, a trend is emerging in the online newspaper business. More opportunities are opening up for newspapers to ally with national Internet services firms which will act as the publisher's Internet access partner, plus these companies will provide national content to add to the publisher's local content. Allied with such a company, a newspaper can become the dominant information provider in its community; provide an extensive range of content that it would not be possible to create on its own; and become a major player in the access business within its region.

InfiNet, an Internet service provider (ISP) in Norfolk, Virginia, owned 50/50 by Landmark Communications and Knight-Ridder Newspapers, is partnering with newspapers (and TV stations) around the U.S. to offer newspaper-branded Internet access accounts to the public. (Newspaper/InfiNet access customers will get a newspaper-home-page branded browser, such as Netscape, to access the publisher's service.)

As part of the enticement for publishers to sign up, InfiNet will begin providing some national content services to be shared by all its affiliates (but not available elsewhere on the World Wide Web). Features like "Newshound," a personal news online clipping service developed by the San Jose Mercury News (an InfiNet affiliate and Knight-Ridder property), probably will be available to all affiliates at some point. This is the kind of thing individual newspapers would have a hard time creating and paying for on their own.

Now I hear that News Corp./Internet MCI will be offering something similar, according to spokesperson Nancy Morrisroe. While the News Corp./MCI joint venture's details have not been fully ironed out or put into place yet, the beginnings of the ambitious service are being put in place.

The likely model will be that News Corp./MCI will provide the Internet access foundation and customer service component, and will partner with media companies -- including newspapers -- to sell Internet access accounts bundled with content services and a customized Netscape browser application. As you would expect, Rupert Murdoch's newspaper empire will be included in this deal (Murdoch owns News Corp. and Delphi Internet Services, the latter of which is folded into the News Corp./MCI joint venture). But Morrisroe reports that other non-affiliated newspapers also are being courted (with no deals announced yet).

What News Corp./MCI is likely to offer the online consumer over its competitors is a LOT of original online content, which will be tied in to a newspaper partners' local content, bundled in with Internet access. Some of that national content can already be seen on the News Corp./MCI site, which currently includes a mix of editorial features. Much of that content is being created and put online -- for free -- today by the "digital newsroom" announced by News Corp./MCI this summer called "News Center." An editorial and content staff of 100 to 150 people is busy generating content for the service. (Recent online features created by the News Center staff included coverage of the Pope's visit to New York and World Series features.)

While News Corp./MCI is rolling out new features for free now, at some point they will become part of a subscription service, Morrisroe says, available as part of an Internet access package or, possibly, independently. The site also is expected to have advertising.

A second, but possibly dominant, part of the News Corp./MCI service will be extensive "guidebook" services to the Internet under the name of "I-Guide." The overall service is evolving to combine original content produced by an online-only newsroom with directory and searching tools for the greater Internet. Combined with local content from a newspaper, this package is designed to create an on-ramp to the Internet that will be more appealing than Internet access offered by other ISPs that have little or no content to add to the mix. Says Morrisroe, "What's different about us is that we're coming at it from an editorial perspective."

So that's the trend, I think. Rich content, combining national features with local information from local media/newspaper partners, increasingly will be used to enhance Internet access services. If you are a newspaper thinking about whether to go into the ISP business, consider that allying with a company like InfiNet or News Corp./MCI offers significant advantages and may allow you to compete at a higher level in the access business than doing it alone.

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.

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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