Media: Hold the Web Page! from Interactive Interviews to Dating Services, Online Journalism Is Ca Tching Up with Technology. but Will Newspapers Get There in Time to Stop Themselves Becoming Extinct? by Naomi Marks
Marks, Naomi, The Independent (London, England)
Not so long ago, one respected Sunday Times journalist was insisting that the Internet was just like CB radio. "It'll never take off," he assured colleagues and whoever else would listen. This same journalist now has his e-mail address printed at the bottom of every story he produces.
This is a tale that self-styled Internet guru Greg Hadfield, a former Fleet Street investigative reporter, likes to relate - an illustration of the way in which the traditional print media has been forced to march to the tune of technology.
Former Today editor Martin Dunn also has a story to illustrate how things have moved on. When, two and a half years ago, he gave up editing The New York Daily News to head up the new media wing of Daily Mail publishers Associated Newspapers, his newspaper friends "thought I was completely and totally mad". No longer are publishers' new media divisions deemed suitable only for techies, skateboarders and work-experience kids. Albeit late in the day, they are now attracting some of the brightest of journalism's new recruits and a host of experienced talent that has crossed over the electronic divide. Later this week the UK's first awards ceremony to honour the best in online journalism will take place. The event, at the NetMedia conference at City University, is being touted as the "coming of age" of online journalism in the UK, and Kirsty Lang of Channel 4 News will be on hand to present the awards. But though the gongs will celebrate online work by individuals, broadcasters and Net-specific enterprises, it's pretty surprising that newspapers' online efforts have cropped up at all among the shortlisted candidates. When the Internet first started being discussed in the boardrooms of UK newspaper publishers, the response was trepidation. From an initial reluctance to get involved, to a panicky attitude that "We must have a presence, any presence," UK newspaper publishers have nearly all woken up to the fact that an online presence - and a good one - is necessary if they are to survive. Most newspapers in the UK have their own Internet sites, from the smallest provincial weeklies to the largest national dailies. Their online approaches differ, few are making money from it, but millions are being poured in. All are determined to capture the loyalties of the thousands of new people going online every month - not to mention the advertising, commerce and joint-venture revenues that follow. As Ellis Watson, general manager of The Sun's CurrantBun Internet Service Provider, admits, his project is all about "making Rupert future-proof". Richard Withey, new media director at The Independent, says: "We have plans to up our online presence. By the end of the year a new main site with peripheral sites is planned." Revenues of all newspapers are under threat as people acquire a taste for the 24-hour news, entertainment online, direct links to trading sites and instant interactivity that is the Net. Watson, in fact, claims to be running the only profitable newspaper new media venture. CurrantBun - where, as well as Sun stories, you can make a date at BunLove or view the Page 3 lovely of the day from a variety of angles - has attracted, he says, over 250,000 active users since it went live 10 weeks ago, and has a turn-over of pounds 15m to pounds 20m. Earlier in the year The Guar-dian revamped its online output and has now quickly established the Guardian Unlimited Internet brand. Its head of new media, Justin Walters, is a little shy of talking about the possibility of making a profit one day, but he makes the point that, for most people, this is about the long game. "This is a fabulous opportunity," he says. "First, commercially, but also as a publisher to ensure that in 20 years' time there is something which represents what The Guardian newspaper is. There's certainly a threat to the newspaper business and we're trying to respond to that by being as strong in electronic media as we are in print. …