East Is East, West Is West; Media Groups Are Partnering to Create Travel Web Sites

Article excerpt

GROUCHO MARX MAY have not been making any sense in his famous quotation from the movie Animal Crackers, but it's true nevertheless -- east is east and west and west.

Except now, the two coasts have narrowed the vast amounts of land between them by becoming part of the information superhighway.

Some of the industry's most prominent, media groups have become equal partners in two very different travel sites. However, all believe newspapers are a perfect vehicle to partner and create these types of sites.

Go West (http://www.gowest.com) is Cox Interactive Media and Scripps Howard's Web site "connecting visitors to camping, hiking and biking throughout the American West."

Destination Florida (http://www.goflorida.com) is Knight-Ridder/Tribune Media companies, Scripps Howard and GeoSystems/MapQuest's "interactive travel magazine for Florida-bound travelers."

Both sites are very different, but the goals are basically the same -- leveraging the newspaper groups' strengths in a particular market.

"We thought we had a lot of information that would be of interest to people that would be traveling to this area before they got here." said Jane Wooldridge, executive editor/producer of Destination Florida. "It makes perfect sense because you already have the content"

Peter Winter, president and CEO of Cox Interactive Media, the creator of the Go West Web site, said Cox saw a space on the Internet that was unclaimed and in the true fashion of how the West was won -- they staked their claim.

"Obviously the product leverages the media properties involved," he said.

Unlike Destination Florida, John Triplett, director of the Cox Interactive Media Studio, said only about one-third of the existing newspaper content is being used on the site.

"We use a good deal of freelance material. In some cases, it's freelancers who work for the newspapers." he said. "Then another good portion comes from people on the Web who like to write, in other words they are already on the Web doing other things and may not be writing for a print publication at all."

Destination Florida has an added challenge that Go West does not -- an international audience.

Miami International Airport, according to Wooldridge, is the number one international airport, so catering to a global audience is important. And with over 40 million visitors to Florida each year, it's also important for the site to give "insider" information.

"We are the people who live here so we have a pretty good sense of what things are like," she said. "We want Destination Florida to be your next door neighbor."

Content is repurposed to make it understandable to the global audience. For instance, Wooldridge said they take out inside jokes and certain information, that if you don't live in Florida, may be confusing.

Wooldridge was the former style editor and assistant travel editor at the Miami Herald, so she knows how important travel stories are to the public.

"Travel sections are forever getting calls for reprints of stories," she said."There is a tremendous advantage on the Web over new-spaper archives because. For example, a prominent restaurant burned down a few weeks ago; we removed that item our of our site that day."

Unlike Destination Flordia, Go West is not really a travel site, according to Triplett. And he sees content posting as a challenge, as well.

"It's a challenge, but we get immediate feedback, so if we put something up and no one is looking at it, we take it down," he said."We get daily statistics, so we know what's being accessed."

Destination Florida also appears on America Online in a format appropriate for that platform, which means there are minor differences -- chats, trivia games and promotions.

However, Wooldridge and her team have learned that there is a need for interactivity online and that you need to keep a constant look at your information. …