Mungo Park will recruit best-selling authors to serve as real-time contributors from exotic locales around the world.
The online magazine-named for Scottish explorer Dr. Mungo Park, who disappeared mysteriously after exploring and charting the Niger River in 1796-will be offered free on the World Wide Web, supported by advertising and sponsorships. Long term, Microsoft also hopes to make money via online transactions.
Mungo Park will follow Microsoft's first, widely anticipated Webzine, Slate, edited by former New Republic Editor Michael Kinsley and slated for a June launch.
KICKING OFF IN SEPTEMBER
Mungo Park debuts in September with a trek to the Takaze River in Ethiopia. Microsoft is in talks with NASA to get a space shuttle astronaut to contribute another piece. The Webzine will feature about 15 trips a year.
"It's real-time journalism," said Erik Blachford, business manager at Microsoft's Travel Products Group, who is huddling with a number of potential sponsors and advertisers.
Microsoft's Interactive Media Division, which sells ads for Slate and Microsoft Network's Web site, will do the same for Mungo Park. Steve Goldberg, MSN manager of advertising development and strategy, said rates for the travel title aren't set.
CAMERAS AND SPORT-UTES
"We've just started the process of going out and talking to people" about ads and sponsorship deals, said Mr. Blachford, who is targeting travel companies, gear manufacturers, camera and film makers, and automobile companies that make sport-utility vehicles.
The Mungo Park site is being modeled after TerraQuest (http://www.terraquest.com), a Web site sponsored by NBC Interactive Media, Eastman Kodak Co., IBM Corp. and Adobe Systems.
TerraQuest was designed by Richard Bangs, author of 11 books on adventure travel, including "Riding the Dragon's Back" and "Island Gods." Mr. Bangs also is founder of Mountain Travel-Sobek, which has arranged pricey trips such as a journey to the North Pole aboard a nuclear-power Russian icebreaker that cost $40,000 per person.
Earlier this year, Melinda French, wife of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and a former Microsoft consumer products manager, recruited Mr. Bangs to Microsoft as managing editor of the travel Webzine.
Mr. Blachford said the venture is one of several online travel projects under development at Microsoft.
As for Mungo Park's writers, Mr. Bangs said he has already talked to several. Three heavyweights have so far expressed interest: former Newsweek editor and developer of "China Beach" Bill Broyles, who has volunteered to do a piece on Kilimanjaro; Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley; and National Book Award winner Charles Johnson.
Kimberly Brown, a senior editor at Travel & Leisure, is slated to jump to the project next month and will be in charge of signing authors to be contributors on all-expenses-paid trips.
There also are plans to tie Mungo Park into prime-time TV shows. Microsoft is negotiating with Turner Broadcasting System about an hourlong special on the Takeze journey and about developing a prime-time cable show on wildlife.
The venture is part of Microsoft's burgeoning-and sometimes controversial-move into content. The projects include Web magazines, the Microsoft Network and MSNBC, a Web and TV venture with NBC (http://www.msnbc.com).
Microsoft also is developing an ad-supported Web product under the working title Cityscape, focusing on entertainment and offering local information in major cities including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
"We're creating content for many demographics, many interests, many segments of society and, as a consequence of that, for many, many advertisers," Mr. Goldberg said. He referred to projects like Mungo Park as "shows" and said Microsoft wants to build a diverse "network."
"We have to create quality programming that meets a lot of needs in order to be a great network," he said.