Predictions '97: Interactive Newspapers

By: Steve Outing

It's a Tradition, so I really have no choice. I have to do a column looking ahead to what 1997 will bring to the interactive publishing and newspaper industries. But rather than going out on a limb by myself, I've enlisted the aid of a number of industry experts brave enough to make their predictions about the coming year.

Many observers of the new media and Internet scene seem to agree that 1997 will be a pivotal year for this industry. Consumer interest in the Internet is high, following a long period of hype. But barriers to mass use of the Internet exist in the form of slow access speeds (lack of bandwidth) and a still-evolving online transactions infrastructure. Many observers believe that these pieces of the puzzle must be put in place during 1997 if the Internet is to become a medium to effectively challenge traditional media. Here's what a few of them had to say.

What MUST Be in '97

"Rather than predict what will be, I will venture to predict what will have to be if media institutions, old and new, are going to take the Web seriously as 1998 rolls around.
"1. A method of measuring who is visiting advertiser-supported sites (by demographics and Zip code, if not by name, addresses) that is reliable affordable, and acceptable to both consumers and Web site providers.
"2. A micro-payment scheme (or schemes) for buying information, or entertainment by the spoonful that is economical and technically feasible and backed by some players with stature.
"3. The beginning of some real nationwide availability of broadband Web access to the home, via cable modem, satellite, and some telephone-based schemes. I don't mean announcements of pilot programs here or there or of technology breakthroughs, but the capability to order it at $40/month in many cities.
"4. The acceptance of the under $500 TV-based Web machine -- along the lines of the current Phillips/Sony box or a networkPC -- that can involve an audience that understands television but not computers. This also moves the Web from the 15" screen to the 27" screen.
"5. Most important, reasons for the powers that be who invest the capital in the services we use, read about, and/or work for, to expect that they can make a business out of this. Bill Gates may be willing to wait three years and spend big bucks (and maybe wait out other nervous Nellies), but I suspect that unless there is light at the end of the tunnel in 1997, the media companies will start cutting down or closing up (many with a sigh of relief). Developments pertaining to points 1-4 above -- and perhaps other factors -- will determine what expectations are a year from now."
--Benjamin Compaine, Bell Atlantic Professor of Telecommunications, Temple University (

The 'Web cable' trend

"1997 is shaping up as the year of the network, and publishers that don't choose a partner -- soon -- risk getting left out in the cold when the music stops playing. Sure, your site will still be available to anybody with a browser, but, with 50 million pages available to surf, the chances of anyone surfing over to yours will be slim indeed. As a publisher myself, I'm a little vexed to see this trend developing just as publishers are finally freeing themselves of the content ghettoes of commercial online services to create stand-alone services on the Web. The good news is that online publishers may ultimately benefit from this 'Web cable' trend. Recently, Viacom's MTV Networks put the squeeze on online service providers, demanding that they pay multimillion dollar fees or risk having their subscribers blocked from viewing MTV's Web site. If AOL and others bite, it won't be long before other content providers -- at least, the highly sought-after ones -- follow suit."
--Rosalind Resnick, editor/publisher, Interactive Publishing Alert (

< h3>Another tough year

"* Content will not be king in 1997. Gadgets will continue to dominate the industry. Hopefully, after many of the gadgets don't sell, the industry will turn back to the essential issue of any medium: information.
"* There will be increasingly dissatisfaction with the services provided on the Internet. New users will complain about a variety of technical troubles like signing on to American Online or their local Internet service provider.
"* The US government will play a larger role in cracking down on the sexual content on the Internet and the World Wide Web.
"* It's going to be a difficult year, but there is light at the end of the tunnel after the scrutiny of 1997. Otherwise, Mrs. Lincoln liked the play."
--Christopher Harper, associate professor (digital journalism), New York University (

Misc. predictions

"As an industry, we need to support massive bandwidth development -- in the telephone, cable and satellite delivery modes. Bandwidth demand is growing steadily and bandwidth delivery is not keeping up. I have no doubt that we have a nightmare on our hands if the situation is not resolved in 1997-98."
--Michael Romaner, director of online services, Morris Communications Corp. (

"If online publishers are smart they'll come up with products that address the most important commodity of all: time. Anything that saves me time while keeping me up on things I need to know will be on my must-have list."
-- Dan Gillmor, computing editor, San Jose Mercury News (

"I think 1997 will bring some tough examples of large money driving out smaller operations. Perhaps that's stated too harshly, but we have all come to see that the best ideas do not necessarily win on the Internet and that the power of marketing and deep pockets has particular strength in the technological areas. A big issue of 1997 may be online publishers/content providers/service developers who walk away or are driven away because the cost of the game becomes too high."
--Dominique Paul Noth, interactive publishing consultant and columnist (

"1997 will be the year when the Internet audience outside the U.S. begins to amount to something. Advertisers will be able to sell into local markets worldwide. Internet publishers will have to develop means of delivering localized audiences to advertisers or develop mirror sites. The idea of an 'international' Web site will wither: the homogeneity of the Internet will collapse as publishers address local audiences, often in their own languages."
--Alex Balfour, marketing manager, CricInfo (

"Online news will be more entertainment oriented. When the Washington Post hires Marc Teren, former vice president of Disney Interactive's entertainment division, to be president of Digital Ink, I think we can see the beginnings of a trend."
--Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, freelance technology writer, (

"Homegrown efforts to create and maintain automated Web publishing systems will play a prominent role in the immediate future (and present). ... Two (key) McClatchy (Newspapers) Systems people ... talk about the fact that large integrators can't be responsive enough to changing needs to deliver something that papers can use or want -- because it's a moving target. So it seems to make more sense over the long run to try to develop something in house. It certainly will energize a staff to do something in house given support and some time to work. So I see a community network of floundering systems folks trying out new tools to automate and systematize the end results of the growing desires of paper folks to get their sections online. I'll be one of them."
--David Fair, publishing systems analyst, Anchorage Daily News (

"By this time next year, the combination of inexpensive, Windows-compatible information appliances and massive marketing of local consumer databases by companies like Microsoft, Yahoo and Digital Cities will lead news organizations to focus much more on packaging evergreen content into just-in-time consumer advice. The value of restaurant reviews, movie reviews and show times, apartment classifieds and even crime reports will increase ten-fold when it can be retrieved quickly and coupled with one of the many mapping databases on the Web. The information will be packaged not primarily for personal computers, but for the toaster-like appliances that will bring digital information not just to the desktop, but to the masses no matter where they are."
--Dan Pacheco, online producer, (

"Maybe someone will figure out why we plug a TV cable into our computers so they can look like TV and a telephone line into our TVs so they can look like a computer."
-- Michael Carmean, director, (

'Don't be discouraged'

My column of a week ago, in which I expressed discouragement that a number of newspaper publishers still remain oblivious to the potential impact of the Internet on their core businesses, prompted several reactions.

Robin Lind, president of WebPointers, wrote:
"Don't expect leadership from people who don't want to go anywhere. Yes, I have also had publishers of daily newspapers tell me the Internet is only 'a fad.' I just chuckle to myself and route around them. They wouldn't recognize the difference between a hula-hoop and penicillin if it came up and bit 'em."

But Michael Romaner of Morris Communications (see his '97 prediction above) sent in a countervailing view:
"I am not certain that I agree with your assessment that the newspaper industry is not taking digital communications seriously. Set aside what that values report said and what John Consoli said and look at the portfolio of online work done in 1997: Hundreds of new newspaper online sites, millions upon millions spent, thousands of newspaper staffers trained in online publishing, publishers in droves awakening to the possibility of online. ... I could go on and on. Consider my own company, Morris Communications Corp: We own 32 daily newspapers with most being under 50,000 in circulation. Already, we have half of these papers online. What's more, we've got a multimillion dollar commitment from corporate to do so and strong direction from the company owner, Billy Morris, to all of his publishers to take this business seriously. And we are. Trust me, we are. Moreover, I sense the same from my counterparts across the country."

And for another perspective, take a look at an item spurred by my column in Electronic Recruiting News. (By the way, ERN is a Web "newsletter" service that's well worth following. Its focus, of course, is on online employment services, and ERN tracks activity by newspaper companies as well as the numerous competitors in the fast-growing electronic recruitment industry.)

New Year's break

There will be no column this Wednesday, due to the New Year's Day holiday. The next Stop The Presses! will be published on Friday, January 3.


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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


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