NetMedia Brings U.K. Internet Press Into Focus

By: Steve Outing

Last week I attended NetMedia 97 in London, a conference designed to cover the intersection of the media and the Internet. Organized by Milverton Wallace and held at City University, the event this year included increased coverage of computer assisted reporting techniques in addition to new media/Internet services topics. Usage of CAR techniques is much less prevalent among U.K. journalists than in the U.S., and Wallace shipped in some American CAR experts to offer instructional sessions.

I came away from the conference with the overall impression that U.K. publishers and news organizations continue to lag slightly behind their American cousins in adoption of the Internet as a medium. Internet usage is less than in the U.S., but nevertheless growing quickly. Holding back the U.K. -- indeed, much of Europe -- from faster adoption of the Internet by consumers are by-the-minute fees for even local telephone calls.

A number of U.K. entrepreneurs made presentations at NetMedia. Yet overall, the country has a problem with a less than ideal investment environment. A number of British business people I spoke with at the conference complained about the difficulty that Internet entrepreneurs have in getting seed venture capital from U.K. sources. Many U.K. Internet start-ups look to American shores, some going so far as to move their headquarters to the U.S. in order to be closer to the American investment community.

While in New York the "Silicon Alley" new media industry is the largest creator of new jobs, in London this new industry is in danger of "brain drain."

Nationals vs. regionals

British media organizations are making progress. Becky Griffiths of the Guardian spoke optimistically about the national newspaper's RecruitNet online jobs service, launched last October. The service typically has 1,500 to 2,000 employment listings online. An "Early Bird" service that e-mailed ads matching a subscriber's profile turned out to be so popular that demand swamped the server running it and the service was shelved temporarily. Early Bird is being revamped and placed on heavier duty hardware and is expected to relaunch within the month, Griffiths said.

One of the longest running Internet newspaper services is that of the Telegraph. Laura Steup of the national daily's new media division says the Electronic Telegraph is getting about 36,000 readers per day -- with 45% of the online audience being outside the U.K. The ET site, which has been known primarily for repurposing print material, is beginning to add more original, online-only content, she said.

In Britain, the regional newspapers are a slightly larger business than the London-based national papers. The regionals are increasingly nervous about encroachment on their turf by Internet entrepreneurs. Regional newspapers' classified ads are worth about 1.3 billion pounds annually, points out Chris Bisco, managing director of Portsmouth and Sunderland Newspapers. "And a lot of people have their eyes on this. We've got it, and we must keep it," he said.

Bisco's company has decided to integrate the various new media businesses that it is engaged in into the core business unit, rather than treat them separately. He thinks that by leveraging and combining print, audiotex, Internet and Teletext, his company can best serve advertisers by giving them a deep reach into the regional market his company serves.

(Teletext, by the way, is a strong contender in the U.K., and could in time become the "Internet for the masses." Most new television sets sold in the U.K. contain a Teletext chip, which enables them to receive a now-crude text news and advertising service. Karen Reed of Teletext calls the service "the original new media." The company has a staff of journalists who write the news for the service; 80% of the news content carried on TV sets via Teletext is written by the company's staff writers and editors. Reed explains that Teletext is awaiting the arrival of digital television, which will allow what today is a crude electronic service to be transformed into an interactive, Internet-like medium -- penetrating most of the homes in the U.K.)

AdHunter on the go

The regionals are taking the classified ad threat seriously, and earlier this year launched the first component of a national classifieds service called AdHunter. The service's first element, AutoHunter, launched last March and combines ads from all participating regional newspapers. JobHunter recently launched, and PropertyHunter (real estate advertising) is due in the fall. Participating papers represent 60% of the regional press coverage and a total circulation of more than 37 million.

Absent from the speakers list of NetMedia this year was the BBC, which has been slow out of the starting gate with only a minimal Web service at But "The Beeb" is in the process of building "something worthy of its reputation in TV and radio," according to one of its new media executives. The BBC will have a large news Web site ready to launch later this year.

In all, NetMedia presented a U.K. that appears a mixed bag of exciting Internet innovation combined with some barriers to success that do not exist across the Atlantic.

Movin' On

Christopher Harper is leaving his digital journalism post at New York University to take the Roy H. Park Distinguished Chair at Ithaca (New York) College's School of Communications. He will teach television and digital journalism.

Liddy Manson is the new vice president of advertising and development for Digital Ink, the Washington Post Company's information services subsidiary. Previously, Manson was a vice president for Discovery Communications Inc. At Digital Ink, she will be responsible for strategy and product development for advertising sales, and for developing third-party content alliances. Digital Ink operates the Post's Web site,

Readers write

Some recent columns filled the old electronic mailbag. Following my column that offered suggestions for promoting a newspaper's Web site in paper editions, including printing Web URLs, Keith Instone wrote:

"You should spend some time to make your URLs as easy to use as possible. For example, think carefully about your file names (use real words), and do not list 'index.html' if it is served up by default. The easiest way to get short URLs is to have a CGI hacker write a little redirector so that you can publish short URLs that will take your readers to the real page at a longer URL. Golf stories could be as simple as, for example. Just too bad URLs were never designed to be human readable; then this wouldn't be such a big problem."

Jakob Nielsen of Sun Microsystems (a Web usability expert and subject of a recent column) also commented on that column:

"Your column is right on target. In particular, I would emphasize the need for specific URLs that link a printed article to in-depth materials and/or a discussion group on the Web site. I call such links 'half-dead hypertext' (they are not live because you can't simply click on them to follow them, but they are not dead either the way a traditional literature reference is where you can't get the referred info unless you go to the library the next morning).

"Printing a generic URL for a newspaper's homepage is not going to do much good since it is not giving people much motivation to go to the site (read news? but I am sitting here with the paper in my hands already!). Advertising the homepage is only good for two things: a) getting new Internet users to go to the site for the first time (after then, they either bookmark it or give up in disgust, never to return); and b) getting non-paper newspaper readers to visit the site. It might be a good idea for a local newspaper to promote its homepage to, say, business travellers from other towns, convention goers, and others who would not be subscribing to the physical product but are interested in what's going on in town.

"The same mistake of promoting generic URLs rather than specific URLs is also seen much too frequently in advertising, where companies will point potential customers to their homepage rather than to a product page with specific info about the product that got the customer's attention in the ad. Don't force your users to suffer through navigating your site when you know what they will be after."

My column about the Michigan newspaper staff that objected to Web page biographies about themselves also brought in some letters. Kevin Halpern, Web editor of the Daily Net Journal, wrote:

"Many papers have done something similar within their print versions when they spotlight various personnel at their newspaper. Reporters, and some editors, are among the most 'public' figures within their communities. If they consider the life of a local celebrity or politician to be an 'open book' then they should expect the same in return."

Steve McQuinn, self described Web entrepreneur and former journalist, commented:

"I side with you, mostly, although your distinction between print and Web disclosure is weak. Given that the Sentinel will be 're-purposing' (read, shovelling) stories to the Web, a personal disclosure for one medium is a disclosure for both.

"Reporters who want to remain anonymous should refuse any byline. What, no takers? I side with them about portraiture, though. The size of one's nose does not correlate with intellect or any other measurement.

"Journalists usually object when readers exercise the same liberties the press thinks reserved for itself, such as inferring bias or ulterior motives. Journalists as 'public servants'? When newspapers donate their profits to the General Treasury, I'll believe that one."


Previous day's column | Next day's column | Archive of columns
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

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


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here