Content sharing

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When time travels the Mississippi River this spring to gather material for a feature on Americana to run the week of July 4, CNN will be on board, filming the same stories for that week's edition of its "CNN & Time" cable show.

When MSNBC covers November's presidential election, Newsweek correspondents will be on hand, offering insights and commentary.

MEDIA LINKS

Cable news operations are joining forces with other media in content-sharing deals that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. The objective: to be on a winning team capable of holding onto an increasingly peripatetic news audience as it bounces among TV, print and online media.

Just as retailers have wooed customers with newly integrated offerings of in-store, catalog and online shopping, news organizations are seeking to retain and build audience by serving up news whenever and however consumers want it.

"The key here, with different media channels in operation, is to own an audience across each of those channels, watch how they move among them and provide appropriate content across those different channels," says David Card, senior media analyst at Jupiter Communications.

Content sharing can potentially benefit all sides. Cable news organizations get access to the content and personalities of high-profile print operations. Print magazines get cross-promotion and new platforms on which to extend their empires, including more chances to break news in cable's 24-hour/7-day format.

The content-sharing deal announced by MSNBC, Newsweek and The Washington Post in November already has resulted in more than 100 appearances by Newsweek correspondents on MSNBC cable news programs.

Newsweek's Washington-based investigative reporter, Michael Isikoff, appeared on Andrea Mitchell's "Decision 2000" program to discuss the George W. Bush fund-raising campaign. Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Jon Meachum showed up on MSNBC's "Feedback" program to talk about the South Carolina Confederate flag flap. Their appearances on the cable shows mirrored corresponding print stories in the magazine.

SELF-SCOOPED

Newsweek has even scooped itself to break news on MSNBC when stories popped too late for magazine deadlines. (The January appearance of Newsweek correspondent Johnnie Roberts on the nightly "The News With Brian Williams," breaking the story of rapster Sean "Puffy" Combs' pending indictment on felony weapons charges, is one example.)

This cross-fertilization of cable and print is a sign of what's expected to be an increasingly tight collaboration of TV and online outlets as deals evolve.

"In an age of multiple platforms, we'll all work together to strengthen our journalism on whatever platform makes the most sense. There's still a lot of technical and legal work we need to go through before we realize the full potential of this content-sharing arrangement, but we'll see its impact in a number of ways," says Richard Smith, editor in chief of Newsweek.

Among changes wrought by the new collaboration: MSNBC cable producers are in constant contact with Newsweek editors as stories develop through the week. If cable producers want to pursue any of them, Newsweek makes its resources and people available.

JOINT EFFORTS

It's much the same at CNN, which shares content with Time Inc. magazines.

"I have a producer in Time's story meetings, and we make selections as to what subjects, profiles and investigations merit a joint effort," says Civia Tamarkin, executive producer of the weekly "CNN & Time." "When [John F. Kennedy Jr.'s] plane went down, I was on the phone [with Time Deputy Managing Editor] Jim Kelly pooling resources, so my producers and the Time correspondents were sharing sources, information and background as everyone raced against a deadline.

"The Columbine [Colorado high school] shooting story was another perfect example of synergy. Time correspondent Tim Roche had access to the Columbine tapes, he gave us the story, and we led with it in our `Dispatches' segment that Sunday night."

But there are problems. "CNN NewsStand," another early collaboration between CNN and several Time Inc. titles, including Fortune, People, Entertainment Weekly and Time, was revamped in September following a yearlong struggle to find its audience and the right format.

Last fall, the show was moved to a later daily time slot and its format altered to better accommodate breaking news when needed.

The MSNBC/Newsweek/Post agreement will attempt to break some new ground of its own.

While further details of how the media outlets will work together still are being ironed out, it's already clear that the Internet has a starring role in the initial activities of the alliance.

A co-branded Web site, newsweek.msnbc.com, is expected to debut in expanded form this spring with a new look.

While ABC, CBS and CNN also have heavily trafficked sites, the co-branded effort hopes to take the lead by serving up cross-platform news resources to the estimated 1.5 million daily visitors to the existing site, MSNBC.com.

MULTIMEDIA TOOLS

To build its news-breaking muscle, Newsweek's interactive group is coordinating more closely with its print editorial team. "We're looking forward to using the multimedia tools that MSNBC.com offers us to really develop the personality of Newsweek online," says Michael Rogers, editor and general manager of Newsweek.com.

For example, Newsweek reporters might not only show up on MSNBC cable programs, but also appear as video "talking heads" accompanying their stories as they appear on the co-branded site.

Digital bells and whistles aside, however, the Internet's interactive capabilities will be used to increase audience participation and build a community around the multichannel news operation.

Mr. Smith envisions a day when Web site users could respond to features such as the magazine's "My Turn" column, engaging in an online dialogue with the writers.

Ad sales, of course, is the other element in cross-platform media alliances (see related story on Page S-6).

ADVERTISERS APPROVE

So far, evidence suggests advertisers like the cross-channel concept.

"Visions 21: Questions for the Next Century," a yearlong, five-part series on "CNN & Time" that tackles key issues for the future, sold out almost immediately to sponsors, including DaimlerChrysler, Lincoln Financial and Agilent Technologies. The next proposed joint series is "Innovators."

Cable stations already pull in major advertisers, but multichannel content sharing could support cross-platform sales and, presumably, more complex ad buys. And though much of the current buzz around editorial content sharing speculates on the possibilities of the Internet, it's likely cable TV and print sales still will account for most of the revenues in package deals.

"There's tons more revenues in cable advertising than there is in Internet advertising right now," says Mr. Card.

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