Smallest Newspapers Find Home on the Web

By: Steve Outing

Our-Hometown lays claim to hosting the smallest daily newspaper with a presence on the World Wide Web. It's the Medina Journal-Register in western New York state, with a printed circulation of 5,100. The paper provides news to Our-Hometown, a regional community news and information Web service that partners with small publishers, giving them a Web presence for free. In exchange for the papers supplying news and events, Our-Hometown shares online advertising revenues with partner publishers.

Software developer Stephen Larson, the founder and president of Our-Hometown, has established relationships with four small newspaper companies in the rural region near Rochester, New York. The papers do not have their own Web sites, but are content to work with Larson and earn some online revenue.

The core concept is to provide the smallest towns -- with populations as low as 100 -- a community Web page with local news, photos, weather, community links, homes for sales, etc. The Our-Hometown site includes pages for nearly 100 towns and villages in six New York counties. Larson seeded the pages by writing up descriptions of the towns and taking hundreds of photographs which are posted on the town sites.

News comes primarily from the small newspapers serving the area. The papers post at least one story and one photo each day, and sometimes more, plus events listings. Our-Hometown also links to other local news sources on the Web, such as radio or TV stations with Web sites.

Other features of the site include links to stocks of interest locally (configured to pull data from a free stock service on the Web), regional weather reports (pulled from a government Web weather site), and homes for sale (via the local Realtors' Multiple Listing Service, which is online).

A dollar a day

The key to making the concept work is to get local advertisers on board. So far, the site has 81 local advertisers who pay $1 per day for their ads to run. Larson also gives away ad space to non-profits like churches and local fire departments. Ads are found in a directory for each town and a central ad directory page.

Larson says that even at the low introductory rate, he gets resistance to the concept of Web advertising. Local businesses aren't yet convinced of the value of advertising on a local Web site. While "9 out of 10 publishers" he approaches about doing a deal are willing to talk, "when I go out to visit the auto dealers and other local businesses, only 1 out of 10 will talk to me."

Nevertheless, he's ecstatic that he's found so many advertisers. Businesses can create their own ads by filling out a Web form, which includes instructions for adding images from a 2,000-piece collection of clip art to an ad. The program to create the ads, which Larson wrote himself (and will license to others), uses CGI scripts and is simple for an advertiser to use. The ads are based on table formatting and cannot be particularly sophisticated in design, but they do the job for local businesses that don't have their own Web sites. The ability to have ads created by the advertisers without any help from Our-Hometown or the newspaper partners is what makes the concept commercially viable.

Ads are sold by both Our-Hometown and the affiliated publishers, with some of the revenue going to the newspapers. Larson says that his partners are either making a modest amount of money now or, at the worst, not losing much. Typically, one newspaper staffer maintains the town news pages. At the Courier Gazette in Newark, the publisher has been the person maintaining that newspaper's news Web pages.

Rural netizens

Our-Hometown last week had just over 2,000 visitors, who called up an average of 4 pages each. Larson says that about 1,400 people have signed in to an electronic "guest book." (Those people make up an electronic mailing list and receive regular news from the site via e-mail.) Overall, consumer reaction has been good, he says, though he is having to work hard to promote the existence of the service by doing things like giving out t-shirts.

Larson estimates that the region of western New York served by his Web site has about 25,000 Internet users, plus an unknown number of people accessing the Internet using America Online. One strategy that shows promise for promoting the service is to work with local Internet service providers (ISPs), trading an ISP ad on the Our-Hometown site for the ISP to code its start-up disks sent to consumers with the local Our-Hometown page as the default browser home page. Since the majority of users -- especially Internet novices -- do not change the default page on their Web browsers, this tactic will drive traffic to Our-Hometown.

Larson hopes to demonstrate the concept of local online community news pages in his hometown area, then expand to other parts of the state -- and possibly, if things go right, elsewhere in the U.S. He has raised a small amount of money from a venture capital company, enough to make a go of it at least for a year without much revenue rolling in.

Our-Hometown shares some similarities with the big-name online city guide ventures like CitySearch, CityWeb, Digital City and others. Our-Hometown is not nearly as sophisticated, but it serves a rural part of the U.S. that is not likely to be reached by those better-funded community online guides. There remains an opportunity in cyberspace to serve rural populations, who are following their urban cousins onto the Internet in growing numbers.

Contact: Stephen Larson,

Online category added to SPJ contest

The board of the Society of Professional Journalists has voted to establish an online category for its Sigma Delta Chi Awards for Excellence in Journalism competition. The first online award will be for public service, and others are under consideration. The new category will be included in the 1997 awards, which will be judged and announced early in 1998.

In other SPJ news, the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation has made a $5,000 grant to the SPJ Task Force on Online Journalism. The money will be used by the group to support roundtables, seminars and workshops on issues involving online journalism. For more information about the task force, contact chair Staci Kramer at

StarText kudos

The Texas Associated Press managing editors have chosen the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's StarText Web site as the best newspaper online service among Texas newspapers with circulations about 125,000. StarText has been on the Web since 1995, but the service began in 1982 as a BBS; it is the oldest newspaper online service still in operation.

Movin' On

Bernard Zovistoski is the new managing editor for the TV Listings division of Tribune Media Services, which is based in Glens Falls, New York. Zovistoski is a 30-year veteran of the newspaper industry, and most recently was editor at Stars & Stripes in Darmstadt, Germany. He will be responsible for overseeing the editorial content for print and electronic TV listings products and new product development.

Duich Mackay has left AdOne Classified Network, where he was design director, to joint the Rosetta Stone Consultancy of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Rosetta Stone provides custom solutions for converting classifieds and display ads for the World Wide Web, with newspaper clients in Europe and North America. The company was founded in 1995 by former managers of Loot, the British free-ad papers.


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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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