Newspaper Print Editions Fail to Promote Their Own Web Sites

By: Steve Outing

Many large newspapers are pouring large amounts of money and expending considerable management resources on their Web sites. The hope, obviously, is that these online ventures will make money. So why are many newspapers doing so little to ensure that their new media units turn a profit? Why are the print operations of many newspapers doing so little to promote their Web sites?

I did a modest, unscientific experiment last week. I drove to my local library and sat down with a stack of major U.S. newspapers, then flipped through the pages looking for references in the print edition to a paper's Web site, and for e-mail addresses for reporters, editors and columnists. The results were discouraging, to the say the least; pathetic might be a better word.

What I found was that in most major U.S. dailies -- including those with ambitious Web sites, operating with good-sized staffs -- print references to their respective Web sites were scarce. You'll typically find more Web addresses (URLs) included in paid advertisements than in the printed paper's editorial columns. I expected to find a good number of "house ads" promoting a paper's online service, but they were rare in the print papers I surveyed.

The results left me wondering, do newspapers really want their Web sites to succeed? If they did, print editions of newspapers would aggressively promote their Web editions, encouraging print readers to visit their Web sites for additional content and services that are not available in print.

Let's take a look at a handful of large U.S. papers, and you'll see what I mean.

Miami Herald

The Herald is the flagship paper of the Knight-Ridder chain (although its San Jose Mercury News does tend to be the electronic trend-setter), and K-R has demonstrated its serious commitment to the Web. I looked at a recent Sunday edition.

On the bottom of the front page is a blue bar running across the bottom that advertises the Herald Web site's URL and gives an 800 number to call to get Internet access service (through the Herald's partnership with InfiNet, an ISP partly owned by Knight-Ridder). On page 2, there's a 2 column by 3 inch HeraldLink standing box promoting the Web site. So far, so good.

But beyond those worthy elements, I found no other references to the Herald Web site, anywhere in the Sunday paper. A page 1 special report on firearms contained no references to further information that might be on the Web site. The business section, where you'd most likely find technology coverage, contained no mention of HeraldLink.

Even worse, only a handful of Herald writers and columnists placed an e-mail address with their work. The page 2 "Action Line" column, where consumers write in with problems, gave no e-mail address and requires postal or fax correspondence. Nor can you send an e-mail letter to the editor. Some columnists do encourage e-mail, and their addresses are listed below their columns.

I don't get it. Knight-Ridder funds a 30-plus staff at its New Media division in California; the company is obviously committed to the Internet. Why is one of its biggest papers practically ignoring in print the existence of its Web site?

Los Angeles Times

On page 1 of the Sunday edition I perused was a 1 column by 1 inch box with the address of the Times' Web site, and on page 2 was a standing 2 column by 3 inch box headlined "Going Beyond Today's News," which mentioned the Web site URL as well as audiotex and other non-print services. Elsewhere in the front section, no mention whatsoever of the LAT Web service.

The Business section did do a good job of referring readers to content on the Web. On pages 2 and 3 of the section, included in two page mastheads were promotional announcements about extra content to be found on the Web. Within the stock listings was a 1 column by 3 inch promotion for stock quotes on the Web. And on page 5 I found a 2 column by 8 inch house ad for the LAT New Media division.

It seems that Business is the only print department that acknowledges the existence of the Web site, however. Take the Real Estate section, which contains no URLs referring readers to the Web site's extensive housing features and ads. In its letters to the editor section, readers are invited to send a letter to the Real Estate editor, but they'll have to use postal mail or fax. It's the same story in the Calendar weekly entertainment section, which doesn't appear to know the Web site exists.

Some LAT columnists attach e-mail addresses to the bottom of their columns, but no reporters publish their addresses.

Detroit Free Press and Detroit News

I looked at the combined Sunday section of these papers, owned by Knight-Ridder and Gannett, respectively. Both papers have excellent Web sites. But you wouldn't know it from looking at the front page of the Sunday paper. There was no reference at all to the Web. On page 2 there was a standing 3 column by 2 inch promotion for content on the site.

There were only a couple other, modest references to the Web site elsewhere in the paper. On page 2 of the Real Estate section was a URL reference. On the editorial page produced by the News was a mention of the News site's URL and an e-mail address for letters to the editor. Curiously, there was an e-mail address listed in one of the News' local news pages for sending news tips to the city editor, but the address was an account rather than the domain that News staffers use for their e-mail.

Some columnists in the Sunday paper did list their e-mail addresses, but they were the exception rather than the rule. No reporters' addresses were listed.

Atlanta Journal and Constitution

Cox Newspapers' flagship paper contained no references to its Web site on the front page of the Sunday paper I looked over. On page 2 was the standing 2 column by 6 inch Access Atlanta Web site promotional box which included URLs to selected features. There was also a brief notice announcing that e-mail addresses are being published for additional staff members throughout the paper. Most columnists did include their addresses. Bravo.

Overall, I found very few references to the Web site. Like many papers, it does not include URLs to Web content in section mastheads -- missing an obvious opportunity to drive traffic to its site.

A cover story in the edition I saw was about sexual predators, and the paper's database editor had acquired several government databases to report on known child sex offenders. Yet this major piece of investigative journalism had no online element. It would have been a great service to readers to allow them to access some of that collected data on the Web. What a missed opportunity.

The paper's weekly Personal Technology section did, predictably, list URLs to interesting Web content. Oddly, it did not include the URL of the paper's own Web site -- which in my view should be included in the section masthead; it was not. Some columnists in the technology section did list e-mail addresses, but not staff writers.

Worse than I feared

I must admit to being dismayed at my findings. The situation is much worse than I realized, having not done such an exercise for some time. Newspapers are missing a golden opportunity to use their print products to drive users to their Web sites -- and help in making them profitable. But in many of the papers I surveyed, a reader has to look pretty hard in the print edition to find references to a paper's Web service. If the Web service of one of these under-promoting newspapers fails, we'll know where to lay the blame.

Most of the other papers I reviewed came out pretty much like the ones I sampled above. There are exceptions, of course, such as the San Jose Mercury News, which does a good job of promoting its Mercury Center and referring to Web content from within print editorial content.

But overall, I give the U.S. newspaper industry a "D" grade on this issue. New media executives at major papers are doing some great work. But they don't appear to be getting much support from their print counterparts. This situation is sad.

Credit where credit is due

Thanks to electronic publishing consultant Mark Potts for suggesting I embark on this exercise. Lack of print promotion of newspaper online activities is one of Potts' pet peeves; it's one of mine, too.


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