Press Association Project Puts Colorado Newspapers Online for Free

By: Steve Outing

Regional press associations can go a long way in teaching member publishers about going on-line. This last weekend, the Colorado Press Association winter convention included several "how to" sessions on on-line publishing (including my own presentation). CPA members also heard about a service that allows them to publish on the World Wide Web for free. It's called NewsNETwork and is a joint service provided by the CPA and the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

NewsNETwork is the brainchild of CU professor Bruce Henderson, who teaches the school's Electronic Media classes. He's created a Web service where CPA member publishers can use space on the university's server to create their own Web sites, and be included in a statewide on-line newspaper service directory. It's ideal for small publishers who want to experiment with Web publishing, but don't yet have an understanding of the medium and need a place to learn, or don't have the resources to commit to a new media project.

Henderson has created a simple forms-based system where participating newspapers can post materials to their section of the NewsNETwork Web site without knowing HTML. Once the core newspaper Web area has been set up and the newspaper given a log-on name and password, editors simply cut and paste text into a form and click a button to submit it for posting to the server. The system was home-grown by Henderson using a series Applescripts.

The first newspaper to publish regularly on the site is The Mountain-Ear, a small community paper in the mountain community of Nederland. The Mountain-Ear site includes selected weekly articles, a Web discussion forum, on-line classified ads, and an archive of previously posted stories. A couple other Colorado newspapers are experimenting with the site.

NewsNETwork also includes links to all other independently operated newspaper Web services in Colorado. At the very least, press associations should be providing a service where computer users can go to find a hyperlink listing of all the newspapers in their region. Taking an active role in actually getting publishers on-line is the obvious next step. While on-line/Web publishing is inexpensive and not particularly difficult, it remains a daunting prospect for some small publishers. Press associations can and should be leading the way to helping publishers make sense of cyberspace opportunities.

IRA forces Guardian into its first Web news edition

Here's another example of where having an on-line service has come in handy for a newspaper. The London print presses of The Guardian were knocked out of service by the Irish Republican Army's bomb blast last Friday, so the Guardian used its existing Web service to publish its reporters' coverage of the event. With only a limited paper edition (printed in Manchester), many readers were forced to buy competing papers or they could visit the Guardian's bombing coverage site, which was executed by the Guardian New Media Lab staff at the last minute.

The bombing Web site included some fine reporting and photography of the event, and provided world readers an excellent opportunity to read in-depth coverage from the scene. Even if the Guardian's presses hadn't been knocked out, it would have been to the paper's advantage to create this temporary site. Web users are now no longer using just their local media for information about major news events, since when a big news story breaks in England it's a simple matter to tap into British newspapers' Web services. The Guardian recognized this and set up two mirror sites for the bomb blast coverage.

The Guardian's Web site, by the way, is not meant to be an "on-line newspaper" and does not publish a regular daily on-line edition. When the presses went down, the New Media Labstaff was called into action to save the day. Stories were pulled from the ATEX system in London and woven into Web pages by a team working in Cambridge, according to The Guardian's Bill Thompson, "taking advantage of the Internet to get the paper published."

"What we put up on was done overnight by a couple of guys," reports Azeem Azhar of the Guardian. "We took quite a lot of hits as a result; I think we're looking at between 3,000 and 6,000 unique hosts in 36 hours of limited publicity too (three newsgroups)."

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