At A Fork In The Web, Newsweek, Time Choose Their Paths.
The October launch of a site by Newsweek, the last of the major print newsweeklies to embrace the Web, and the almost simultaneous de-emphasizing by Time Inc. New Media of The Netly News, an early Web news brand devoted to technology, may seem to make different statements about the major newsweeklies’ attitude toward the Web–one that its audience was finally ready for the Web, and the other that its online audience wasn’t ready for too much technology talk.
In fact, the two events meet on common ground. Both underscore that the Internet has moved well beyond the early adopter era and into the age of significant overlap between the print and online audiences. But to understand why requires a brief history of both publications’ Web ventures.
Web watchers may have been surprised to learn that the Oct. 4 launch of newsweek.com wasn’t a redesign; it was the first go-round by Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, the electronic publishing subsidiary of Newsweek owner The Washington Post Company. While the site waited for its official unveiling, Newsweek may have missed a great online news opportunity–all the while Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff was drawing attention to l’affaire Lewinsky in Washington and driving Web traffic to a placeholder site that couldn’t benefit from the attention. What was management thinking?
Slow and steady wins the race. “At the Washington Post Company the thinking is strategic,” says Michael Rogers, editor and general manager of the Newsweek Interactive division. “It’s a 5- to 10-year vision of new media, with no sense that you have to jump into things.”
Nonetheless, Newsweek and Rogers have been digital pioneers; in 1989 he headed Newsweek’s first attempt at interactivity, a combination of videodisk and Macintosh hypertext software and he was responsible for its trail-blazing CD-ROM special editions, which launched in 1992.
When the Web emerged, the firm’s limited new media resources first went to building a first-rate site for washingtonpost.com, because company brass saw the newspaper as being most at risk from other news brands on the Net; only recently did management find the Newsweek audience to be equally comfortable with print and with the Web.
Hence newsweek.com posts 100 percent of the content of Newsweek’s domestic and international print editions, plus it has Web-only features, including hyper-annotation of names and concepts in each week’s cover story–linked to articles from the Encyclopedia Britannica Online, a gallery of photos with narration, and a personalized business news portfolio to reflect a reader’s
Its initial advertisers are telling as well, including such print sponsors as Compaq and Lockheed Martin. The appearance of such advertisers in both media reinforce the perception that the newsweekly’s print readership, largely upper management types, now routinely surfs the Web.
Time Inc. New Media came to a similar realization in its apparent decision to fade out of The Netly News in favor of launching its Time Digital Online site (www. timedigital.com) on Oct. 7. Time Digital is a Web extension of the semi-regular print consumer-oriented supplement on personal technology that goes primarily to selected Time subscribers. “Time Digital Online is the technology site I’ve wanted to start for two years, but the Web audience was not quite there yet for Time readers,” explains Janice Castro, assistant managing editor at Time Inc. New Media and editor of Time’s Web sites. “Now a substantial part of our readership is interested.”
While offering up daily doses of technology news, Time Digital Online is not aimed at industry insiders, a departure from the “Web-ier” than thou attitude of its predecessor, The Netly News. To online mavens, the big news at launch was the apparent putting out to pasture of Netly. Though no one at Time Inc. will say exactly what the fate of the section is, it is now a mere mention on the Time Digital Online homepage. At consumer media monolith Time Warner, there may have been an inherent contradiction in a publication that chronicled the startup environment of the Web from the inside. “With the Time Digital name we rein in a wider audience,” explains Castro.
Now, the industry developments previously reported by Time technology columnist Joshua Quittner in The Netly News are supplemented by such offerings as a consumer- oriented Deal of the Day. The site also boasts such Web-only features as interactive polling and live coverage of technology events.
If the launch of the new online ventures from Time and Newsweek represent a coming of age for the Web, there may be no greater indication of the maturation of the online audience than both publications’ flirtation with 13.5-million member behemoth America Online. Coincidentally with the unveiling of their new Web sites, Time and Newsweek’s online divisions played another round of digital chairs with the online service king, and in this round, Time emerged as the newsweekly with a presence on AOL.
Time was one of AOL’s early mainstays, in 1993 providing an exclusive on the newsweekly’s full content to the proprietary network, which then had only 300,000 subscribers. Two years ago when the Time deal lapsed, AOL was up to 5 million subscribers. “There’s no doubt that Time had an early role in AOL’s success. They were getting a bounty for each new user Time brought in,” recalls Peter Krasilovsky, vice president of Bethesda, Md.-based new media consultancy Arlen Communications.
After the bounty disappeared, Newsweek tied the knot with AOL in an exclusive for its content online, but that partnership ended three weeks after the newsweek.com launch. Time quickly stepped in to fill the breach, signing a new deal with AOL for the imminent return of the newsweekly as an anchor tenant in an arrangement that also includes the transfer of virtually all of People’s contents off the Web and onto AOL. “Their experience with AOL has gotten Newsweek and Time to rethink their role online,” says Krasilovsky. “Their new Web sites are reconceived to take advantage of the values of the Internet.”
That looks as though it will include a time when newsweeklies will no longer be newsweeklies. At newsweek.com, one of Michael Rogers’ key notions is of a Web site’s “frequencies,” the different periods over which repeat visitors tend to space their return. A closer examination of the site reveals features for real-time fans (breaking news), daily visitors (Today’s Newsweek), weekly aficionados (Newsweek’s print content), and even once-every-three-weeks special-interest types (fresh Web-only features on health, money and technology). “When Dan Rather was roughed up on Park Avenue and asked, ‘What’s the frequency?’ it was actually a very profound question about new media,” Rogers concludes, only half-joking.
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