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IFRA, NAA leaders disagree over the value of cyberspace.

WHEN THE NEWSPAPER Association of America (NAA) and the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers Research Association (IFRA) scheduled their chairmen to speak about the big issues facing newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic, the idea was that they would agree.

"It's a Small World After All," was the Disney-appropriate billing the NAA and IFRA gave to the opening session of the first annual international newspaper operations conference in Orlando.

"Discover the surprising similarities of issues - and solutions - facing newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic," the conference program promised.

More surprising than the similarities, however, was the sharp disagreement over the value of newspapers going online.

Representing North America was one of the most vocal industry proponents of interactive newspapering, Charles Brumback, Tribune Co. chairman and CEO, and the current NAA chairman.

Representing Europe was IFRA president Michael Ringier, chairman of Ringier AG, the Zurich-based publisher of numerous periodicals, including Switzerland's largest-circulation paper, Blick.

NAA's Brumback gave the argument he has made repeatedly to U.S. publishers: As newspaper penetration falls, competitors cut into newspaper ad share, and the culture itself moves from "textual literacy . . . to visual literacy," newspapers must seize the initiative with online services that will not only provide information but permit sales transactions.

Then, Brumback sat back, looking dumbfounded as IFRA's Ringier repeatedly minimized the potential of online services for newspapers.

"I don't yet see where a newspaper can really make money," Ringier said. "The problem for the newspaper publisher is, you only have costs - there are no earnings."

Among the big problems Ringier said he sees with interactive newspapers is the fact that new media is so cheap to enter, many electronic competitors will emerge and margins are almost guaranteed to remain low.

Ringier also professed not to see the value of newspaper content in cyberspace: "This will be recycled information, and I don't see how you can make money with recycled information."

He even challenged perhaps the most cherished shibboleth of U.S. newspaper industry thinking.

"We often hear the comment, `We are not in the newspaper business, we are in the information business.' I cannot agree with this," Ringier said. "How information is delivered is essential - change it, and you've changed the whole business."

"In newspapers, people accept that the package [offered] is identical. In the electronic business, that will not be acceptable. Readers will want a personalized product," he said.

Further, readers are comfortable with getting a newspaper once a day, Ringier said - but they will demand real-time information from new media.

"This is not possible, or it will be unacceptably expensive," Ringier said.

The still undefined formats of new media mean that newspapers have plenty of time before they need worry about online competition, Ringier suggested.

"Even the VCR took 20 years for it to become ubiquitous - and still there is no simple way to work a VCR," he said.

Brumback - who occasionally looked during Ringier's comments as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing - said time is a luxury newspapers do not have. He offered his own experience online as one reason why.

"If you look at the Internet . . . there are common communities that come together nightly or weekly or however often someone wants to, and it's only a matter of time before an entrepreneur figures out how to use that - not only for the community to come together but also to make transactions," Brumback said.

"If we don't create a service like that, whether we know it or not, it is being produced by other people," he added.

Newspapers, Brumback said, must "brand" cyberspace as their own.

"Newspapers must understand how to maintain seriousness while connecting with a culture that has a shorter attention span and less time and often less inclination to read," he added.

Trib's up & comers

TRIBUNE CO. HAS created a new unit to develop and run its new media investments.

Called Tribune Ventures, it is charged with identifying, analyzing and structuring investments in emerging information and entertainment companies.

Donn M. Davis, a senior counsel, was named president. He reports to David D. Hiller, senior vice president/development.

The unit takes responsibility for Tribune investments over the past few years in American Online, the video TV-listing service StarSight Telecast, the Peapod electronic shopping service, and the electronic bill-payment service CheckFree.

Journal acquires

audiotex firms

JOURNAL COMMUNICATIONS, parent company of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, said its Add Inc. printing and publishing subsidiary has bought two audiotex businesses, Car Mate and Auto Quest, and merged them into the Quest Network, an Appleton, Wis., vendor of audiotex classified systems for newspapers.

Reuters' NBC sale

REUTERS AND NBC have signed a 10-year deal for NBC to buy worldwide use of Reuters' news wires and financial data services. The cost was not disclosed. NBC, already a Reuters client, acquired the news and financial information it needs to expand its business news cable channel, CNBC.

Golf online

USERS OF TAMPA Tribune's Tampa Bay Online (TBO) received online coverage of Senior PGA Tour's GTE Suncoast Classic.

Coverage included updates from the leader board and photos of each hole during the tournament's three-day run, Feb. 17-19.

In addition, stories from Tribune and Doppler radar views of the local area were provided online to TBO users.

The promotion generated 237 new subscribers for TBO, which estimated it has 5,700 subscribers nationwide.

More golf online

FOR MORE GOLF coverage online, try^masters. That's the address for the Augusta Chronicle's World Wide Web site, currently under construction, which will feature continuously updated scores from the 1995 Masters Tournament as well as analysis and feature articles from Chronicle reporters.

The site will be available from March 26 through April 23.
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Title Annotation:International Federation of Newspaper Publishers Research Association, Newspaper Association of America
Author:Fitzgerald, Mark
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Date:Mar 25, 1995
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