Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Death by JOA? Sad End for a Struggling Web Site: A Web Editor Laments the Demise of Nashvillebanner.Com

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Death by JOA? Sad End for a Struggling Web Site: A Web Editor Laments the Demise of Nashvillebanner.Com

Article excerpt

When publisher Irby Simpkins announced the

close of the 122-year-old Nashville Banner

two weeks ago, it was also the end of the

paper's nashvillebanner.com Web site.

In many ways, according to Web editor Lyle Graves, it felt more like a case

of death by joint operating agreement than anything else. He said the Banner

had been working to establish a credible Web presence for a long time.

But Graves believes that the joint operating agreement (JOA) the paper had

with the Tennessean, Nashville's morning daily, created a conflict that proved

insurmountable and ultimately scuttled the Banners chances of creating a viable

online presence even as the print edition continued to decline. Graves said his

personal opinion was that the Tennessean has very little interest in the

Internet.

Joint operating agreements are last ditch legal pacts designed to allow

competing newspaper companies in the same market to operate in cooperative and

less expensive ways. The agreements impose many restrictions on how the

employees of the participating publications deal with advertising and news.

There are currently 15 JOAs in force around the country, and because they

predate the emergence of the Internet as a major news and advertising medium,

the agreements don't address the new and novel capabilities of online

information delivery technology. A number of Web site managers at other JOA

newspapers have recently complained that when the often-Draconian terms of JOA

agreements are applied to the management of news Web sites, illogical and

often-crippling restrictions result.

J0A impact on news Web sites

Graves said the situation at nashvillebanner.com was as good an example of

the problem as one is likely to find. "The Catch-22 there was that we couldn't

sell advertising because we'd be competing against the JOA," he said.

"So we launched an e-mail product that was free, and that's been pretty

successful. Then we enhanced our Web site last year so that it was a little bit

more legitimate looking, even though we couldn't sell advertising."

Publisher Simpkins had a markedly different view than Graves. "What Lyle saw

as interference was simply a matter of reaching an agreement [relevant to the

new online operations] where there was no agreement in place," he said.

Graves was adamant, however. "Every time we got ready to do something bold

and innovative, there stands the Tennessean with its buggy-whip mentality

saying,'No, you can't do that,"' he said.

Links to other news sites prohibited

Even nashvillebanner.com's links to other news sites were a source of

conflict. "We launched a free site, and as a service to people, we linked

to other newspapers in the state--the

Commercial Appeal, the Knoxville Sentinel, the

Chattanooga Times and Free Press," Graves

said. …

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