Online News Association Forming; Interactivity, Part 2

By: Steve Outing While the online news industry has existed for some time, until now there has not been a professional association devoted solely to online news. By next spring, the industry will have an "Online News Association" devoted to the practice of journalism in the online medium.

About 18 senior-level news people from a variety of Web sites gathered in Chicago last Friday for the first organizational meeting of the new association. Initially organized by Rich Jaroslovsky, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, with a small amount of seed money from his boss, Dow Jones chairman and CEO Peter Kann, the meeting sets into motion the creation of the association. The ad hoc organizing group plans to meet again in February to finalize the process and hear reports from several organizing subcommittees, and the association probably will be incorporated as a non-profit professional association by next March.

Jaroslovsky says the group envisions the association as the first international organization devoted to the news and journalism side of the interactive media business. Attendees of the organizing committee meeting represented a wide range of online new media ? from newspaper Web sites, to broadcast sites, to wire services, to online-only media organizations. Attendees included editors from The New York Times on the Web, Financial Times,, MSNBC, and Absent from this meeting were "portal" sites that also employ a news component, but Jaroslovsky says that the group will be open to news personnel at any such entity where journalism is practiced; the group is not limiting itself to traditional journalism venues.

The Online News Association (which is the likely name, though it's not yet finalized) has as its fundamental goal, says Jaroslovsky, the application of the principles of journalism to the online medium. The group hopes to address such issues as the blurry line between editorial and advertising in the online environment, possibly establishing guidelines for its members and educating the industry. It also will work on the issue of securing press credentials for online journalists, which has been a thorn in the side of some sports and political journalists working for online news operations. Other issues that the association plans to tackle include guidelines and practices for instantaneous publication of news.

The group also is likely to create an annual online news awards competition, and will develop an educational component to assist in training the next generation of journalists to work in the complex environment of online journalism.

Jaroslovsky says the group does not want to take on a lobbying role, although on selected issues it might speak out on relevant policy issues.

"The time is right and the need is certainly there" for such a professional association, says Jaroslovsky. He expects the association's members to continue to be part of other associations' new media groups ? such as the Newspaper Association of America, American Society of Newspaper Editors, etc. ? but the belief is that an organization is required that is entirely focused on online news.

Those interested in taking part in the formation of the new association, or who want to get on the group's mailing list to learn about progress of the start-up process, should contact Jaroslovsky at the e-mail address below.

Contact: Rich Jaroslovsky,

'Interactivity, schminteractivity'?

My recent column about what it takes for a Web site to be "interactive" generated a lot of feedback, most of it favorable to the idea that news sites need to be more interactive on a human (as opposed to content) level. On the other side, I received this response from Robert Macias, editor in chief of CitySearch Austin:

"I've often been amazed at this wide-eyed fascination people have with self-publishing. The Web itself is a giant self-publishing tool. Why would I want to put pictures of people's pets on my site, particularly since I know it will get zero traffic? Also, while I like the idea of posting readers' comments alongside professional movie reviews, most people use our service before they go and see the movie. Most people don't come back to a movie review after they've already seen the movie."

Similar skepticism about the role of interactivity came from Stan Jones of Anchorage, Alaska:

"Your column generally takes the view, 'Interactivity good!' and leaves it that, it seems. While that may be true, it would be nice to know for sure. If there is any research on whether interactivity (as you define it, two-way communications among Web users) actually promotes either of a publisher's two chief goals ? traffic and net revenue ? it would be nice to read about it. ...

"The kind of interactivity you contemplate seems to me to be suitable primarily for people who a) have lots of leisure or recreational time and b) want to spend it on the Web rather than going swimming, taking in a movie, having sex, writing a novel, bowling or cruising the local strip. My suspicion is, there are enough of those people around to form some size of market or constituency, but perhaps not a huge one. If these people are aggregated at the national level by a national site, perhaps it pencils out. But for local publishers with a small population base, and an even smaller number on the Web, perhaps the total number of people wanting to look at pictures of someone else's dog doesn't exceed six or seven?"

Let me address these comments. First, when it comes to news sites, there is not a lot to look at to determine the results of a "truly interactive" strategy. As I noted in my last column, only a tiny number of news Web sites have to date embraced the model. A good indicator of its potential is Sunline, which because of the community/interactive approach it takes to the Web gets about 1 million pageviews a month and has 120 advertisers. For a newspaper with a print circulation of 34,000, that kind of Web success is nearly unheard of; as I noted in my last column, Sunline is visited each day by the equivalent of 10% to 15% of the area's physical population. It achieved this in large part by implementing such unconventional ideas as letting its users create pages devoted to their pets, boats and cars.

The other reason to consider the approach of letting your users publish on your site can be discerned by looking at the success of the national community sites like GeoCities and GeoCities claims to have 3 million active members, who have created 27 million pages; boasts 2 million members. (Whether it will prove out to be a profitable model for these national companies is debatable, but the traffic figures are impressive.) A news publisher seeking to increase traffic to its Web site should look at personal publishing as another powerful tool, since some of the users currently using the national sites for personal publishing can be converted to local users. Particularly for a news site that has adopted a "local portal" strategy, personal publishing (which also includes community organization self-publishing) is another weapon in the arsenal.

A more interactive

More and more news sites are experimenting with the personal publishing model. One of the larger newspaper sites to take this approach is the Denver Rocky Mountain News' site. Executive producer Robert Niles reports that this week his site is opening up the beta test for a new free home page service. He emphasizes that the system is not perfected yet and what's up now is a basic (non-HTML) editor for site users to create their own pages. Eventually, the site will offer an advanced editor that will allow users to upload raw HTML code or enter files to the paper's server.

Niles hopes to have the service live by Christmas. It will allow anyone to create a free Web page and have it listed in the directory. This service will be limited to non-commercial sites, "and eventually we'll have 'Geocities'-type banners to support the service," he says. "Also, sites not created through the service are still eligible to be listed in the statewide Web directory."

Contact: Robert Niles,

E-charity drives in action

In another recent column, I wrote about news Web sites adding online transactions to their annual holiday charity drives. Many of the sites are now live and collecting online donations. One interesting charity site is that of The Columbian (Vancouver, Washington), which takes the tack of offering an incentive to get people to contribute online. Web users who make a tax-deductible contribution to the People In Need Fund or who buy an umbrella or calendar as part of the charity drive receive a free lottery ticket (limited to the first 200 to do so).

Other news sites have added e-commerce features to their participation in Toys For Tots campaigns. A typical approach is demonstrated by the Duluth News-Tribune (Minnesota), which allows Web users to select a toy from age-specific catalog pages and purchase it; the toy is then shipped to Toys For Tots.

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Got a tip? Let me know about it

If you have a newsworthy item about the online news/interactive news media business, please send me a note.

This column is written by Steve Outing for Editor & Publisher Interactive. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at


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