Sidewalk Loses a Print Partner; Italian Site Takes a Holiday

By: Steve Outing

Minneapolis alternative newsweekly City Pages and Microsoft's Twin Cities Sidewalk have parted ways, only a few weeks after Sidwalk debuted its online entertainment guide in Minnesota's largest city. City Pages, a 115,000-circulation free newspaper which is part of the Stern Publishing chain (which includes the Village Voice and several other U.S. alternative papers), initially entered into a deal where it sold entertainment listings to Twin Cities Sidewalk, which started out with no listings.

City Pages Web director Tom Bartel says that the two companies parted amiacably. Microsoft wanted more listings than City Pages could provide without ramping up its staff, so Sidewalk decided to create its own listings. As Bartel describes it, City Pages' restaurant listings and capsule reviews, for example, cover about 400 Minneapolis-St. Paul eateries -- but Sidewalk wanted to cover the some 1,500 restaurants throughout the metro area. That would include covering all the chain restaurants, which City Pages prefers not to do. Likewise, City Pages covers mostly the alternative, rock, pop and jazz music scene, giving less coverage to classical music. Sidewalk wanted to cover the broader base, which is out of character with what City Pages is about, says Bartel.

"I see them as much like the Star Tribune" (the Twin Cities' largest daily paper), he says. "They want to be all things to all people." City Pages is an "alternative" paper in every respect of that word -- a paper with an "edge," says Bartel. It wasn't a good fit.

Despite ending the listings relationship, Bartel says he remains on good terms with the local Sidewalk unit, which continues to purchases ads in the newsweekly's print edition. "They want to reach our audience," he says. Likewise, City Pages is considering purchasing ad space on Twin Cities Sidewalk to promote its own Web site.

City Pages remains open to partnerships with other companies, Bartel says. "It's not like we're against partnerships. Nothing bad happened with Microsoft. They went their way and we went our way."

He professes not to be overly concerned with Microsoft's presence. "It's not like I can stop them," he quips. But just as in the print world the presence of the Star Tribune still allows for the success of a smaller print alternative like City Pages, online the presence of Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Star Tribune Online, Pioneer Planet (the Web site of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press) and other local sites still leaves room for an alternative online site. "There will always be little companies that get some of Microsoft's business," Bartel says by way of analogy.

The City Pages Web site is one of the best among alternative newsweeklies. Recently, it won the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies' top award for best Web site of 1997.

Contact: Tom Bartel,

We're at the beach

The Internet never sleeps. But some Web sites go on vacation.

In what may seem a positively "foreign" concept to many Web publishers, La Repubblica, the Rome-based, second largest daily newspaper in Italy, has shut off its Web site for two weeks "for the summer holidays." It is scheduled to return with live content again on August 18.

Particularly to American publishers, such a concept may seem downright bizarre. After all, the Internet is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year medium -- and is fast becoming the default place that consumers look when major breaking news occurs. Imagine if a major disaster occurred and or the New York Times on the Web were "on vacation."

European journalist Bruno Giussani, who writes a column on European electronic publishing develoments for the New York Times, spotted the Repubblica announcement. He reports that elsewhere in Europe he has spotted the same thing with other Web news sites. "Several European countries are virtually shut down for two to four weeks during the summer," Giussani writes. "A couple of French news sites were also 'closed' in July. Of course, they have smaller crews than CNN's, and the audience is probably also burning on the Mediterranean beaches. Still, they could probably offer a minimum news service."

NFL makes a bonehead play in Jacksonville

Reminiscent of the National Collegiate Athletic Association banning online reporters from the Final Four basketball tournament a few months ago, the National Football League has made its own stupid online play. NFL officials are objecting to the Florida Times-Union's Jaguars Web page, which covers Jacksonville's professional football team. The team and the league have told the newspaper to make changes to the Web site, because the Web site is "confusing." An NFL attorney says of the T-U site, "It looks like a team site and not a newspaper site."

This is a fairly obvious attempt by professional football to control what gets put on the Internet without its permission. (The NFL and its teams operate their own sites on the Web, so a news organization's site devoted to a team is directly competitive.) Professional sports leagues successfully control broadcast rights to their games, but the print medium has always been exempt. Now, the NFL appears to want control over the Internet as well.

For last weekend's game against the Carolina Panthers, T-U photographers were forced by team officials to sign an agreement that they would not post photographs taken during the game on the T-U Web site, otherwise they would not have received credentials to photograph the game. Photos weren't put on the T-U site until the day after the game as a result of the dispute. Charlotte Observer photographers also were forced to sign the Web site photo restriction agreement.

The NFL's stance is curious. While understandable when looking at it from the perspective of the league's self-interest in wanting to keep competing Web sites at bay, the NFL also is in effect rejecting the publicity that newspapers like the T-U give to its teams. The Jaguars would lose in the end if they succeeded in restricting or eliminating the T-U's coverage of the team online.

It's clear that the growth of the Web as a mass news medium will result in more nasty conflicts between sports teams and leagues and the media that cover them. Media attorneys need to get into the act quickly and halt these attempts by sports teams to restrict access. First Amendment grounds should prevail in protecting the rights of online news media to conduct basic news-gathering, reporting and photography activities at public sports events.

As an industry, news organizations will need to move quickly to nip this unseemly power grab by the professional sports leagues in the bud.


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