icon_newspaper.gifBrian Brus, The Daily Oklahoman
August 26, 2001

While many dot-com business ventures have failed, the online news business continues to grow stronger, said Kelly Dyer of NewsOK.com. Nowhere is that more apparent than in a new joint venture in Oklahoma where NewsOK.com was unveiled a week ago. It is an Internet business merger between The Oklahoman’s Oklahoman.com and KWTV NEWS9’s 9online.com.

“You can’t lump newspapers and television stations in with generic dot-coms,” Dyer said. “We are a different animal.”

Businesses and consumers have only recently begun to realize that simply being on the Internet doesn’t provide enough of a benefit by itself. Many dot-com companies crashed for lack of attractive content and consistent advertising sponsorship.

But companies still invest in e-strategies and technology, recognizing the Internet’s power to strengthen customer relationships and streamline operations costs – two aspects in which NewsOK.com benefits.

“There’s a misconception that all dot-coms are going away. And yet our numbers continue to climb and climb and climb,” Dyer said. Oklahoman.com’s site visits, or “hits,” have more than doubled since the two media outlets launched their news coverage convergence in January. Now, the joint Web site is predicted to top 10 million page views each month.

A person might go to the Internet to research a topic once, or to buy a particular product, Dyer said. “But news is constantly renewed. So it gives them a reason to keep coming back to that Web site over and over again. That’s an advantage a news Web site has over a regular dot-com venture.”

The Oklahoman and KWTV NEWS9 joined forces to cover the University of Oklahoma Sooners’ national championship in January. Since then, the newspaper and the TV station have worked together on several projects, including the rise of natural gas prices in a series called “Turning Up the Heat,” the execution of the Murrah federal building bomber and a series of stories on methamphetamine drug use called “Meth: Shattered Lives.”

The next step in convergence combines the two organizations’ resources to provide even more comprehensive news coverage.

For example, Internet users can read an online version of a story in The Oklahoman and view accompanying video from NEWS9. NewsOK.com also offers databases including CrimeTracker and Diner’s Digest, as well as popular columnists.

Dyer called it “an online information powerhouse,” with news updates all day, seven days a week. Consumers benefit from a larger pool of news reporters, columnists, video clips, current weather forecasts, extensive news stories and photos, and other community service information.

The public still can log onto either news organization’s Web site, Oklahoman.com or 9online.com, and be taken directly to NewsOK.com.

The Web site is owned and operated by NewsOK L.L.C., a separate company created by Griffin Communications and The Oklahoma Publishing Co.

Steve Foerster, Griffin Communications vice president of corporate development, said, “It’s provided an economy of scale for our resources…. The Internet in most cases is a break-even business for newspapers and television stations across the country. The merger allows us to do a lot more for the ‘viewsers’ – the combination of viewers and users – and to bring them more content.”

The success of the joint Web site has been tremendous, Foerster said. The online traffic to NewsOK.com has increased 20 percent over the simple sum of the separate Web sites, he said.

“The objective at this station is to be the personal, local provider of news, weather, sports and information to the citizens of the state of Oklahoma,” Foerster said.

News media convergence is becoming more common nationwide. One of the most recent examples of such a convergence is taking place in Chicago, where WMAQ-Channel 5 television news is being found in the pages of the suburban Daily Herald newspaper, while print stories are being promoted on the air.

Managing Editor Colin O’Donnell said in his own newspaper that, “Budgets are tight and staffing can only go so far, and I think this benefits both the TV station and the newspaper.”

The Daily Herald-WMAQ venture follows the long-standing on-air and in-print partnerships in that market between the Chicago Tribune and both WGN-Channel 9 and cable’s CLTV.

The difference is that the Chicago news outlets have only limited Internet convergence.

Such Internet sharing will also become commonplace, Dyer predicted: “You’ll see it all over the country. We’re pretty early in the game. It’s a good fit, because the Internet is a meeting ground where both forms of media can be utilized.”

For example, in San Antonio, Texas, the contents of the Express-News Web site (expressnews.com) and the KENS-5 TV Web site (kens-tv.com) have folded into the new MySanAntonio.com. The newsrooms post stories daily in text and video formats.

And in March, The Arizona Republic newspaper’s own AZCentral.com Web site joined with KPNX-TV Channel 12 in a Web convergence at AZcentral.com.

Arizona Republic Executive Vice President Leon Levitt said the biggest difficulty to overcome in a news media convergence was the difference in news-gathering cultures: on-air reporters versus writers.

“Probably the cultural issues of broadcast and newspapers have presented the most difficult hurdle,” he said recently. “In the TV world, share points and ratings are very important…. This has proven the Internet can actually enhance their brand and drive viewers to their newscasts versus cannibalizing it…. Clearly, it doesn’t erode their coverage.”

Levitt said the newspaper ran a “successful, profitable Internet site for a number of years.” KPNX’s convergence “allowed us to tie into some of the promotional elements that TV brings and some of the personalities TV brings.

“Essentially this was a way to extend the brand by using video that TV can offer and then gaining the promotional elements…. It has been successful,” he said.

At MySanAntonio.com, Chief Executive David Barnett said, “The most significant change has been the increase in dominating the market. We’ve gone from about 4 million page views to between 8 million and 9 million a month since the merger. So it has significantly increased our standing in the marketplace.”

Barnett said news consumers “want their news as it happens, but they also want more of the research, investigative probing…. So from the user’s experience, it has been very profitable because you combine the two different mediums.”

As for the fiscal perspective, however, “We’re not profitable at this point. It doesn’t help to be in a soft market right now, and all of our banner advertising is all gone…. But I think we stand very optimistic that it’s maturing and developing,” Barnett said.

Dyer said, “If you’re sharing costs… then you’re both in a better position to reach profitability more quickly. Because your investment isn’t as much if you’re both sharing it.”

A shared online venture also holds some appeal to advertisers, or sponsors, she said.

“We have some shared sponsorships that are available, for example, where advertisers get on the Web site, on air and in print. Someone can actually cover all three entities… with one buy, they get exposure on all three levels,” she said.

Newspaper advertising among U.S. newspapers totaled $11.1 billion in the second quarter, down 8.4 percent versus a record high a year ago, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Retail advertising was down 2 percent, national advertising down 8.5 percent, and classified advertising down 15.5 percent – led by a 33.4 percent slide in recruitment classifieds, the group reported.

“In the early days of the Internet, we did people a disservice by promising them the moon, sun and stars just by coming online,” Dyer said. “And everyone believed that if you put a banner ad online, people would click on it, go to that site and buy something. It was almost a fantasy world approach.

“What we were overlooking was the branding power of the Internet and simply making your presence known. We were overlooking the obvious: Just getting your name in front of online readers is important,” she said.

Web sites are now seen as a delivery point for ad messages, she said.

“Don’t look at the click-throughs of banner ads; look at the number of people who saw your name on that page.

“You can’t click on a newspaper ad, or a billboard, or a TV ad – does that mean they don’t have value? No. It’s just another mode for delivering an advertising message.”