U.S. News Media Continue March onto Web

By: Steve Outing

It's been a while since we've taken a look at the numbers of traditional media organizations that have created services on the World Wide Web. So this week I checked in with Eric Meyer, managing partner of Newslink Associates, who tracks all forms of media Web sites as part of his consulting and research business.

Meyer estimates that worldwide there are about 1,600 newspapers online today, with about 50 new ones coming online each month -- a growth rate that has been steady for many months. (His numbers match those compiled by Editor & Publisher Interactive, which tracks newspaper online services.)

Most of the major metros are on the World Wide Web today already, so growth is now coming from smaller newspapers setting up Web sites. A spurt of medium sized papers went online earlier this year, Meyer says, and now we're seeing smaller dailies and especially weeklies go online. Particularly prevalent, he says, are small town newspapers in the 2,000-3,000 circulation range "in the middle of nowhere" that are setting themselves up as Internet access providers for their tiny communities. Since many small town residents have to dial long-distance to reach the dial-up for an Internet access provider, the small papers are "bringing the Internet" to these communities.

The digital magazine

The magazine business has embraced the Web nearly as strongly as newspapers, Meyer says. He tracks about 1,200-1,300 online magazine titles worldwide, though this figure also includes a number of online "magazines" -- like Web Review or Microsoft's Slate -- that have no print component. If you expand the definition of what is an "online magazine," he says, the number rises to about 4,500 Web sites. This would include a large number of "magazines" online that are produced by companies for their clients (a travel agency, for instance), online "magazines" produced by regional Internet service providers for their subscribers, etc.

In the last two months, Meyer has added nearly 100 new magazines titles to his list of Web sites.

Broadcasters continue to run a bit behind their print cousins, with about 800 television and radio Web sites in operation worldwide today. Those are the more serious sites, since Meyer doesn't count the many broadcast outlet Web pages that are nothing more than pure promotion for the TV or radio stations. While overall lagging behind the print media in embracing the Internet, Meyer says he is seeing better online work from the broadcast industry. He cites TV stations in Tulsa and San Diego as examples of those "doing amazingly decent stuff." The San Diego ABC affiliate, for example, produces a news "Story of the Day" for television, then creates on its Web site a page of complementary links so that TV viewers can go to the Web and learn more about the topic.

Meyer has catalogued rapid growth in broadcasters' Web sites throughout 1996, though the industry was much slower than newspapers or magazines in understanding that it could carve a place for itself online. He says that he noticed an increase in broadcasters' sites after CNN launched its news Web site.

He also tracks some 400 news services operating on the Internet worldwide, though only some of those are Internet components of traditional wire or news services. These are difficult to track, Meyer says, because nearly every country has some sort of "news service" that brings news online to ex-patriates around the world. While many of these are legitimate news services, many others are propaganda services espousing a particular group's agenda in the guise of "news." The 400 figure is a fairly accurate representation of legitimate news services operating on the Web.

Staying the course?

Thus far in the fledgling history of interactive publishing, most publishers are sticking with their Web ventures despite the lack of profitability in the industry as a whole. Meyer says he hasn't seen publishers killing off Web sites yet, although a handful of the early entrants in Web publishing did kill off their sites, only to retool and resurrect them later. Often what happened in those cases -- typically involving smaller publishers -- was that a single individual who was enthusiastic about the Internet got a publication online, then left the company; the online site thus died. When these sites were resurrected by the publishers, the ventures became "more institutionalized," Meyer says. No large newspapers have yet killed their Web sites.

Meyer says that 1997 is likely to see some publication Web sites die at the hands of management. Many of these ventures started with 1- or 2-year profit expectations, and as 1997 budgets are written some as yet not profitable newspaper and magazine Web sites are likely to hit the chopping block. "This is one of those really interesting times" in the interactive publishing business, he says. It will be interesting to see if publishers in such situations are able to look beyond the short term and stay the course to succeed in the online publishing environment.

There's not a lot of innovation being seen on media Web sites, Meyer believes, because there is such a "pack" mentality prevalent, with news sites copying each others' innovations. The real innovative period occurred many months ago, and he'd like to see Web publishers try some new things. For example, "Maybe now is a time to at least try to see what an Acrobat (online) newspaper would do."

Web innovation in the publishing business is likely to come from younger people entering the field, he says. (Meyer also teaches journalism and interactive publishing at the University of Illinois.) A significant indicator comes out of Northwestern University's journalism school, which this year saw 23% of its graduates find work in the new media/online field. Meyer believes that this wave of young talent will provide much of the innovation in new media.

Contact: Eric Meyer, meyer@newslink.org

Local political ads in Maine

In my column on the lack of political advertising on news Web sites, I overlooked several ads from local politicians in Maine, on the Web site of the Portland Press Herald. Joe Michaud, online editor for Guy Gannett Communications, reports that four of six ads on the paper's Web home page were taken by candidates for the Maine seats in the U.S. House and Senate. "Tom Allen was first, before the June primary. The others came soon afterward. ... Local content is the focus of a lot of attention in online media these days, and this reaffirms the lesson. Local content is how local politicans reach voters," he says.

Portland's experience points to a good lesson about Web political advertising: Once you are able to get the first candidate to sign up, the others may feel compelled to follow.

(Note: By the time you read this column item, the Maine political ads are likely to have been removed.)

Contact: Joe Michaud, joem@portland.com


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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 steve@planetarynews.com

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company.


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