'Zine Attracts College Audience by Downplaying Newspaper Heritage

By: Steve Outing

Students at the University of Florida in Gainesville are not known as avid readers of the Gainesville Sun, the New York Times Co.-owned community daily. So Jeff Moriarty, the paper's cultural editor, is trying to do something about that. He's editing a "digizine," or World Wide Web electronic magazine, that's aimed at the college crowd.

The service is called eclipse and is aimed at getting the Gainesville Sun in the faces of of younger people. "We figure that if we don't start getting this generation of potential readers accustomed to getting their information from the newspaper -- online or not -- that we could really be in trouble in 20 years," says Moriarty.

But, he says, the site downplays its newspaper roots in order to attract young people. "We're sort of in an odd position because even though eclipse is produced by The Sun, we don't want that to be immediately known because we're afraid that might turn off some of our target audience. We'd rather they figure it out AFTER they've seen that we're doing something interesting."

It's an interesting approach, but not necessarily an easy one. eclipse is not promoted heavily with "house ads" in the newspaper -- the most obvious and inexpensive way to publicize an online service -- but rather through ads placed in local radio and alternative newspapers.

The Web site is more in the style of independent 'zines, rather than the more staid (by comparison) newspaper-sponsored sites. There are lots of flashy graphics, audio files, etc., and much original reporting from a young staff and stable of contributing writers and artists -- the latter mostly journalism and English students from the University of Florida. (Moriarty is 25, and his staff are mostly in their 20s.)

Says Moriarty, "Instead of focusing on getting the movie times or band listings online, we're focusing our efforts on creating original content written in a more personal style than we can in the newspaper. There's more first-person writing, but also a perspective where the writer becomes more than a part of the story than just an observer."

Lead features of the site, which has been operational for a few weeks, have included "Skinhead," an inside look at the skinhead culture in Gainesville; "Cybersex: A Virgin Account"; and "The Dangers of Discowear," a look at the hazards of dressing in potentially flammable fabrics while teetering on platform shoes. Then there's "Kill My Landlord," a regular column dealing with young renters' uneasy relationships with the people they pay to have a roof over their heads.

Moriarty says he tells his contributors to approach writing for eclipse "as a new medium instead of a place to shovel what we're already doing. ... I asked them to approach the stories as though they will never appear in print, taking advantage of hypertext, graphics and sounds in telling the stories."

The site clearly has a young audience. Traffic for the site is still modest -- at 1,000 visitors per week -- but when spring break for the university hit, eclipse saw a dramatic drop-off in usage. Moriarty says he thinks college-age people are more comfortable getting information online, "but in my view they're looking for something more than their newspaper can offer."

The Sun has been operating in cyberspace since February of 1995, when it launched the Sun.ONE BBS in cooperation with the Interactive Media Lab at the University of Florida. Last fall, Sun editors decided that Sun.ONE should become a product aimed more directly at the 50,000 college students in and around Gainesville; out of those discussions the idea of adding a Web site targeting that age group was approved. The BBS continues to operate, and The Sun is considering putting a version of eclipse on the BBS in addition to the Web site.

Contact: Jeff Moriarty, eclipse1@gate.net

Newspapers looking for those with HTML skills

Paul Fresty, graphics editor of the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Louisiana, a key player in setting up that newspaper's Web site, responded to my column last week about what editors look for in job candidates these days:

"It isn't just keeping up with what new version of PhotoShop is out, or mastering Quark, it is understanding whole new areas of information technology. I agree with your column: new journalists should place their bets on the newest of communication technologies (at least to us newspaper types) -- the Web. ... As a graphics editor, I will be looking for potential employees that have these new areas of experience. It is not yet to the point of a requirement, but is moving closer and closer in that direction daily. I would say that knowing HTML will be a sure way to up ANYONE'S value to a newspaper."

Contact: Paul Fresty tpgraphx@communique.net

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