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FORUM;NEVER FEAR, OH NEWSPAPERS;MICROSOFT CAN'T MATCH THE LOCAL INFORMATION INFRASTRUCTURES OF NEW SERVICES

By Published on .

I guess we are supposed to be running and screaming into the night. Microsoft is coming, Microsoft is coming.

We are the newspaper industry and, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the end is near. I mean, how could an industry as old as the printed word stand up to the mighty, rich and young Microsoft? Well, we probably will-after all, we survived the prediction at CNN's launch that newspapers are doomed.

I'm optimistic. OK, fairly optimistic.

There are more than 200 newspapers with online services. Most view local as a major Internet killer app (and, it's nice to see Microsoft, AT&T, AOL and even Yahoo! trying to get in on the act). Most of us are in our first year of business and we are trying out quite a few different business models.

Boston.com has linked together a few of the city's major media as partners. The New York Times views itself as a national and international news resource. New Jersey Online is using the reach of our three New Jersey partner papers to cover the entire state with more than 500 municipalities. Different models, but all have a few powerful things in common.

We live in our communities, we know and cover our neighbors, we have history and have built strong information infrastructures over decades. Microsoft, with all its might, can't match this.

Allow me to use New Jersey Online as an example of how newspapers will compete. Yes, we have interactive entertainment listings. Add to that access to 2,000 stringers in New Jersey sending daily information on local events.

We are affiliated with the Associated Press, partners with AccuWeather, work with News 12 New Jersey-a 24-hour TV news station. We even have ad relationships with hundreds of local advertisers. To this, add whatever technology it will take to keep our site interactive.

With all of this local firepower, how can New Jersey Online and other online newspapers fail? First, we'll fail if we think we're invincible. For many of our online customers, Microsoft is a stronger and sexier Internet brand than ours.

Second, Microsoft is rich and aggressive. We would be foolish to assume that our local relationships and talented colleagues can't be bought out from under us and that Microserfs are not working on proprietary technologies to dazzle our customers.

But, we won't be bought out by Microsoft. When push comes to shove, we know that our greatest asset is our brand and its power to provide trusted, compelling information and news, the power to link our Web services with our newspapers and broadcast properties. Finally, there's the power we have of linking up with other local newspaper sites to create broad networks, whether as part of the New Century Network or via syndicated content like Journal Square Interactive's Rain or Shine Weather, to deliver the most powerful Web advertising buy. This is the real bottom line.

There is a reason that newspapers continue to lead all other media in ad revenue. We deliver relevance from our home bases. Not from Redmond, Wash.M

Mr. Levitan is president of New Jersey Online and Journal Square Interactive.

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