The Online Adventures of Ken & Glenn

By: Steve Outing

Publishers have good reason to be worried that younger people are not reading newspapers in the numbers that previous generations did. What to do about it? Ken and Glenn may have the answer.

Ken and Glenn are Ken Baker and Glenn Gaflin, 20-something reporters for the Daily News in Newport News, Virginia. Since April 1995 they've been writing an irreverant column for the newspaper called "The Adventures of Ken & Glenn." As Ken describes it, "The column is a chronicle of two young guys exploring the cultural underbelly of the mid-Atlantic U.S. In other words, we go out, do stuff and write about it. Simple." The column has attracted a large following, especially among the college crowd, and Ken and Glenn have become local celebrities.

In August, the column also became The Online Adventures of Ken & Glenn when the duo launched a complementary Web site. "We launched the online version because it seemed like the perfect environment for our content," says Ken. "We were right." (Ken & Glenn Online resides, temporarily, on a server in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, owned by the Tribune Co., which owns the Daily News. The Daily News is working on its own online service, to debut in the coming months.)

The online component of the column allows the columnists an unbounded creative outlet, minus the space constraints of their print column. (Well, they still have to pass muster with their editors.) Some of the features of Ken & Glenn Online have included:

* "The teXt Files," text found in odd documents the reporters stumble upon, such as a 7-11 (convenience store) employment application.

* The PadCam, a spoof of the live-action camera fad on TV and the Web, which presents photos of Ken or Glenn in their apartments, Ken taking a shower, etc. Or the RoadCam, featuring photos of Glenn water-skiing, or Glenn standing in Bob Dole's front yard in Kansas. Or the DoodleCam, featuring doodles drawn by Glenn during a recent newspaper staff meeting.

* An archive of past "Adventures" columns, including photos. To give you an idea of what the guys cover, consider these recent topics: "We switch jobs with two minimum wage-weary teens for a day. They go out reporting, and we wait on tables." "The Freak Show Adventure. See a man lift stuff with his nipples! Behold tattoos in the darkest of places! Witness the Jim Rose Circus!"

* Coming soon will be the "New Hampshire Bureau," satirical reports from a lawyer friend who has agreed to send in stories about the activities of "those wacky Republicans."

This is not your typical staid newspaper column, but younger readers are eating it up, say Ken and Glenn. While the print column has given them local notoriety ("We can't go to a restaurant without being recognized," says Ken), the Web site has begun to attract a following around the U.S. Glenn says that his user logs show accesses from many university networks -- and computer users from a local NASA facility are heavy readers. On a good day, the column gets several hundred hits, he says.

"We feel like our column is a good model for other newspapers looking to attract younger readers -- especially online," says Ken. Management at the Daily Press recognized the need to court younger readers and strongly supports Ken and Glenn's efforts. Editor Will Corbin was instrumental in getting the column off the ground. The reporters didn't expect management to let them do the column when they first proposed it a year ago, but "they were really hungry" for something that would appeal to young people.

The Web edition of the column is an inexpensive endeavor and it takes little of Ken or Glenn's time. Glenn serves as the webmaster, coding HTML and creating artwork for the site with Photoshop. (Their opening screen shows a photo of the two columnists each with a third eye implanted on their foreheads.) Glenn says he likes to spend about half the day each friday working on the new update for the week, but if under time constraints can do it in less than an hour. The Web site has virtually no budget, since it resides on borrowed server space.

Ken and Glenn offer a great example of how a little creativity and not much money can go a long way in the Internet environment. And most importantly, they demonstrate how the Internet can be utilized by newspapers to capture the attention of young people.

Mercury Center profit in '96?

Knight-Ridder Inc. expects its Mercury Center online operation to be profitable in 1996, according to a report this week in the NewsInc. newsletter. Knight-Ridder officials told an analysts meeting in New York this month that operating losses from the company's new media efforts in 1995 will be less than $10 million. That figure also includes costs from the now defunct Information Design Lab in Boulder, Colorado, but does not include equity investments made by the company in Netscape and access provider InfiNet, according to the newsletter.

Bill Gates on Web site competition

Bill Gates, as quoted in a Bloomberg report on a speech by the Microsoft chairman this week:

"Companies going after this thing (the World Wide Web) will resemble a situation where hundreds of people are building shopping stores in an area that can only sustain 5 or 10."

Correction: New AP online service

In a column on November 22 about The Associated Press' new multimedia online package, I made a misstatement. If you are an AP member who does not subscribe to the AP Online package or the new multimedia package, you can publish on your online service any AP content (that you are entitled to receive), without charge, through May 1997. You are not restricted to only AP materials that were published in your print edition, as I incorrectly stated.

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