New Times Debuts First of 6 Alterative Weekly Web Sites

By: Steve Outing

Phoenix, Arizona-based New Times Inc. has put the first of its six alternative weekly U.S. newspapers on the World Wide Web. Phoenix New Times went online last week with a slick Web site that's heavy on entertainment -- in what should be viewed by the Phoenix dailies as a strong competitive online threat.

The company will put the rest of its properties online in the next few months, all based on the model engineered out of the home office by director of electronic publishing Braxton Jarratt. New Times also publishes Westword in Denver, San Francisco Weekly, the Dallas Observer, the Houston Press and the Miami New Times. With the exception of San Francisco Weekly, all are the dominant alternative newspapers in their metro markets.

What is likely to drive traffic to New Times' metro sites is entertainment; the papers have the potential of becoming the primary online local entertainment source in their markets. While all of the papers have a strong news component -- each of them has a reputation for publishing investigative reporting on topics that the local dailies won't touch -- it's entertainment that truly makes such alternative weeklies thrive. The newspapers are distributed freely and for many people serve as the primary entertainment guide to their home cities.

Jarratt says the dailies that New Times papers compete with are weaker when it comes to entertainment and don't offer listings, dining guides and such as comprehensive as that offered by his publications. The key strategy behind the Web sites is to construct the dominant online entertainment guide for each of its markets, to be supported primarily by advertising.

For the Phoenix site, Jarratt and his crew (four full-timers and a couple people working part time on the project) have done a nice job of databasing the entertainment listings into a searchable guide to what the city has to offer. Looking for a movie? The movie guide lets you find a title and search for where it's playing, what times, and how much tickets cost (plus a capsule review).

A successful entertainment site must do more than force readers to browse through listings to find what they want, Jarratt says, so New Times has invested much time in databasing the information and creating a simple-to-use search mechanism for the listings, reviews and entertainment news coverage.

New Times is doing all of the work in-house -- Jarratt says it is cheaper than doing it with outside vendors or partners -- operating its own server which is connected to the Internet on a T-1 line into the Phoenix office. Jarratt's electronic publishing department will serve as the base for the projects in the other five cities. Each newspaper will have a small online publishing staff of two to 10 locally, with Jarratt's staff providing the technical assistance and running the servers for all. (Most of the papers range in staff size from 50 to 100 people.)

The company plans to bring up one new paper on the Web per month, each under the same model and using the work already done for the Phoenix site. The Phoenix New Times site went live last week in a "soft launch," but won't be publicized for a few more days.

Contact: Braxton Jarratt,

Swedish stocks service on Web is a hit

Johan Hjelm of Bonnier Business Press in Sweden wrote in with an update on Di Online, the World Wide Web service of the Dagens Industri business newspaper in Stockholm.

"We offer something I am not sure any other newspaper offers: A stock exchange quotations page with personal portfolio. You can build a personal portfolio of stocks and the quotations -- the entire Stockholm stock exchange -- are updated every 30 minutes. It is wildly popular; we launched it this week and the server is groaning.

"Our service has actually been going for almost a year, introducing ourselves and readers to the WWW. We started by only publishing the front page news (something that very quickly became a hit among Swedish expats, with a regular following). It has been expanded with other sections, first our English column, then the hotel and restaurant guides, and following that stock quotations.

"But we do not intend to 'put the paper on the Web.' Print is one medium, with its drawbacks and advantages; WWW is another, with its. If we want to give the reader value (and we do), we have to re-work our journalism. So far, we haven't found the model.

"By the way, we do not charge anything (yet). There are advertisements, but we make no money so far. The service has been a service to the readers who cannot get the paper the same day. We feel they should at least be updated. And frankly, so far we have not really found an area where we can add more value on the Web than in print."

Contact: Johan Hjelm,

Dilbert's advice on Communications Decency Act

Occasionally the Official Dilbert Newsletter pops into my email queue. Here's cartoonist Scott Adams, Dilbert's creator, on the Communications Decency Act. Enjoy!

"The government of the United States has passed a law which makes it a crime to transmit indecent materials over the Internet. As a citizen of this great country I plan to fully comply with that law. From now on, whenever I get the urge to use an offensive word in email I will substitute the name of an offensive politician. I urge you to do the same.

"The beauty of this approach is that they can't easily ban these new naughty words without changing their own names. I know I could get in trouble for suggesting such a thing, but I don't give a flying Clinton what they think. And if they don't like it they can come over here and kiss my Gingrich."

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