Newspapers aren't just putting up their own Web sites anymore. Increasingly, news organizations are building sites that resemble specialty magazines with niche content.
Some, like Cox Enterprises' Yall.com in Atlanta, showcase local culture.
Others, like Calkins Newspapers' Jamesmichener.com in Doylestown, Pa., outside Philadelphia, honor local heroes.
Perhaps no chain has been so aggressive in building specialty sites as Knight-Ridder New Media in San Jose, Calif.
Knight-Ridder has built Justgo.com sites at 12 of its papers, using local editorial linked to Ticketmaster.com for buying tickets.
Its Realbooks.com sites do the same for book readers, with links to Barnesandnoble.com. There are 13 specialty sites in all, syndicated across its Realcities.com network.
Steve Gray, director of sales development for Knight-Ridder New Media, said he's always looking for ideas. "My job is to recognize sales opportunities and develop revenue programs that provide target marketing to clients," he said.
AN IDEA IN A BEANIE
One of Knight-Ridder's biggest successes so far was developed by Alice Sky, Web editor at The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, after someone gave her a Beanie Baby doll in 1996.
"We thought they were cute," she said, until she read of a suburban housewife outside Washington who was getting 1 million hits a week on a site called Beaniemom.com.
"I asked someone if this was too cheesy for Wichita Online and was told nothing was too cheesy," Ms. Sky. said.
The site took off, collecting wire stories, building a message board where people could post "Beanie sightings" when the toys arrived in local stores, and adding local perspective and humor.
In May 1997, when she posted her first Beanie Baby story on The Eagle's home page, under the heading "breaking news," nearly all her Web readers clicked to it.
Ms. Sky puts anywhere from three to 10 hours a week into the site, adding the efforts of other editors who rotate through her Web news shop at three-month intervals. Last December reporter Julie Mah joined her.
`BEANIE RUMORS' COLUMN
Ms. Mah began visiting other Beanie sites, collecting rumors and answering questions. Ms. Sky suggested she do a regular column of "Beanie Rumors."
"Now we go to a Beanie show and people recognize her," she said.
By this spring, the Beanie site was getting as much traffic as The Eagle itself. Sherry Dill, the paper's marketing director, brought the site to Mr. Gray's attention.
In May he decided to syndicate it, under the name Realbeanies.com, a takeoff on the main Realcities.com site name.
The site is an example of the "syndication strategy" Mr. Gray is promoting for the company. Sites like Auto.com, which originated in Detroit, and Thatsracin.com, which started in Charlotte, N.C., are now linked to other Knight-Ridder papers through Realcities' home page.
Each local paper links to these sites and local editors can add content to the sites.
Realbeanies.com charges $30 per thousand impressions, although it has yet to sign any major advertisers, and it's exploring e-commerce opportunities, said Mr. Gray.
As an example, "We just added a new feature at Realbeanies for people to send photos of their Beanies. There's a picture of a baby with a Beanie," Mr. Gray said.
"This lets us go to the photography industry, sellers of cameras and the like, and do cross-promotions."
As for Ms. Sky, she's becoming the queen of all Beanie media, having recently added an extension to the paper's Cityline text service where, for $65 a month, local stores can announce deliveries of new Beanies to Wichita consumers.
"The change in the mindset is that while this is not journalism, it is a community, and that's the heart of journalism," Ms. Sky said."
Copyright July 1998, Crain Communications Inc.