Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Connections Adapts with Changing Industry

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Connections Adapts with Changing Industry

Article excerpt

New attitude about online publishing pervades newspaper newsrooms and executive suites: The Net is no longer just a curiosity

THE CONNECTIONS CONFERENCE, much like the online newspaper industry it supports, has experienced dramatic changes during the last 12 months, according to Randy Bennett of the Newspaper Association of America.

Bennett, the organization's vice president for electronic media and ringmaster of the four-day online newspaper technology conference held last week in Orlando, Fla., said a major attitude shift among attendees -- as well as throughout the broad newspaper industry -- occurred since Connections '97.

"The days of evangelism, hand-wringing and talk of experimentation are really over," Bennett said while surveying the exhibit floor on the third day of the show. "Online newspaper publishing is now an established business and people aren't looking to be convinced anymore. They came here this year for hard, detailed information about the logistics of online publishing. They want to know how to do it and how to do it better in their market.

"That was clear to us earlier this year and we adjusted the Connections program to reflect that. We made a conscious decision to focus on the success stories of online newspapers," he said.

DEMANDING DETAILS

"Yesterday we made the afternoon sessions open -- meaning people could ask anything they wanted. They asked the speakers some really probing questions about the business mechanics. They were demanding details: 'How does this work for you? Exactly how do you do this or that? Why did this work better than that?'"

"That's the big change," he said. "Newspaper people at all levels of the industry are now fully immersed in this cyber stuff There is also a new sense of confidence that's coming through from the crowd. They're still trying to figure out how to make money at this thing, but they have a more sophisticated view of how ifs all evolving. They're much more focused on getting Web services set up right in their area -- knowing that the market for the service will emerge and the dollars will start to come.

"There is a new recognition that this will be a good business for newspapers and that it is a natural extension of the industry's traditional role."

LOCAL CHANGES

"What we're hearing from newspapers is that they see the beginning of change at the local level in terms of the number of people who access the Internet and the number of local advertisers who are loosening up and coming to understand what the Internet is all about. There may not be significantly more dollars flowing for local online ads than a year ago, but there is definitely a change in attitude at the street level."

DIRECTORIES, CLASSIFIEDS, COMMUNITIES

What products and services were Connections attendees most interested in?

"Directories, community publishing systems and online classifieds," said Bennett.

"A year ago, newspapers generally viewed online directories as somewhat exotic or very specialized things. They weren't sure if the directory concept fit in as part of the core mission of newspapers. This year, that has changed. Publishers recognize that online directories are part of the Internet business mix that makes sense for newspapers.

"Suddenly," he continued, "they're seeing that directories are attracting large numbers of advertisers who are not newspaper advertisers, so It's a way to plug into a new base of local advertisers. Newspaper executives now see there are some real revenue opportunities for newspapers that move into the online directory space quickly and effectively in their own markets. …

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