David Strom

On Line News: Is it time?

by David Strom

Is it time to get your news from the information superhighway, or is the classic delivery

system with the morning newspaper and the evening TV networks still sufficient? Before you

take the plunge and cancel your subscription to the Daily Bugle and start watching something

else on TV, realize that there are a number of issues to consider before getting your news

on-line. Let's take a careful look around at the landscape.

1. Is on-line news a replacement for reading your local newspapers and watching CNN? Most

of our correspondents feel that on-line news complements, rather than replaces, the traditional

TV and newspaper sources. "On-line services give the latest news, while newspapers and

magazines provide competitive information, comparative strategies, and analysis," said Anne

Perlman, Vice President and general manager of multimedia for Tandem Computers,

Cupertino, Calif. (408 285 4520). Tandem's 9000 employees have access to a variety of

on-line news sources, and Perlman spends up to two hours per week reading on-line news and

another six hours per week on newspapers and trade magazines. 

"The information from on-line services is almost instantaneously available after a situation

has occurred. I have to wait until the next day or the next week with a newspaper or trade

magazine to find out any information. Following company mergers, such as Viacom and

Blockbuster, I can view changes as fast as they happen," Chris Thompson, who is director of

customer support for CyberGate, Inc., Deerfield Beach, Fl. (305 428 4283), an internet access

provider and consulting firm. CyberGate has over 2000 customers reading on-line news

provided by ClariNet Communications Corp. (San Jose, Calif. 408 296 0366)

Brad Templeton, CEO of ClariNet, agrees with this characterization of complementary

technologies: "In spite of the fact that we have 80,000 readers we hardly ever hear of people

cancelling their daily newspaper because of us. We provide a very different presentation and

access to things that aren't found in the daily newspaper. On the other hand, you can't put

your bowl of cereal on top of us."

"The main advantages of on-line news are speed, certainty, and simplicity for the things you

muist know about regularly. The disadvantages are that you must read other things on a

background basis to become aware of changing trends," says Peter Eddison, who is vice

president marketing, Fulcrum Technologies, Inc., Ottawa, Canada (613 238 1761) Fulcrum

develops full-text searching software and has three executives, five of his marketing staff, and

two R&D staffers that read on-line news. 

But getting news from on-line sources is more than just being one of the first informed about

an event. There are things you can do with on-line information easily that are difficult or

impossible to do with your morning newspaper: "On-line news has its advantages because you

can save the information in a much more accessible and manageable form, and also forward it

to colleagues in no time," says Brigitte Weeks, who is editor-in-chief, Guideposts Associates,

a religious book publisher in New York NY (212 251 8131) and self-confessed "news junkie"

who reads three daily papers, watches alot of CNN, and makes use of America Online's

on-line news services.

"Using on-line news is like listening to a party line telephone. You hear everything from the

trivial to the important about your neighbors. Traditional newspapers can only focus on the

important news, neglecting the rich stew of unimportant information that is often the key to

understanding what is really going on," says Edward Loss, who is vice president of global

marketing, Cyborg Systems, Inc., Chicago, Ill. (312 454 1865. Cyborg is a human resource

management software vendor and has 12 on-line news customers, including seven executives.

Loss spends an hour a week reading on-line news. 

Oftentimes it is this "stew" of information that can help readers of on-line news get a leg up

in their business dealings, particularly once readers understand the relationship between their

traditional news sources and electronic ones. All that is needed is a keen eye and attention to

the ingredients.

"For example, we'll receive a story about a publisher setting up a new multi-media division.

I'll then contact our local sales account manager and alert him or her to what is happening.

We can call on this client and possibly sell our computers. The selling cycle happens much

earlier than if we had waited to read about this event in a newspaper," said Tandem's


"Recently, a competitor announced a high-level executive appointment. In itself this was not a

big deal. But over the course of a short period of time, additional high-level staffing changes

were announced. If traditional media had covered these announcements (they didn't), coverage

would be minimal and there would be no way of connecting them. Having an on-line source

such as First gather all the details into one place helped me to decipher the big meaning

behind a series of small changes," says Loss.

And on-line sources can be helpful when it comes time to make business-critical decisions

such as mergers and acquisitions: "I was able to search through several Christian magazines

that are carried on America Online as part of a competitive review for my company. It helped

us find an underserved audience for the publication we were acquiring," says Weeks.

2. What kinds of content are provided on-line? Each service provides a different set of news

sources and presentation, and the best way to evaluate them is to first determine your own

reading patterns: are you more interested in headlines or in the details?

Some services offer only headlines, while others offer more complete articles. Some send you

the headlines and a one-sentence summary of the article, and then you either email, call, or

fax back a request for the stories that you are interested in. Others present their entire

database and provide search tools for you to zoom in on the relevant stories.

"In my world, there is just too much news, too often. The capacity for scanning large

amounts of information for most of us is greater in print than on the computer screen," says

Guidepost's Weeks. "When travelling with a notebook computer, scanning on-line articles can

be cumbersome on a small screen," said Perlman.

There are two basic types of content providers: one kind comes from companies that don't

have any newspaper properties and gather news from wire services and other sources,

including regional newspapers and trade papers. This type provides electronic information

exclusively and includes vendors such as Individual, Inc. (Cambridge, Mass. 617 354 2230)

and ClariNet. 

Users recommend this source of on-line news for depth and coverage beyond their daily

newspapers and weekly trade magazines.

The other kind of provider runs as an adjunct to a press wire service or daily newspapers, and

can contain either digests of the articles printed in the newspaper or augment the printed

stories with non-published information. Two examples of this latter kind of provider include

the San Jose Mercury News, with its Mercury Center, and the New York Times, with its

@Times, both available on America OnLine along with several dozen other magazines and


This type of source makes more sense if you are a regular reader of these newspapers and

want more information than what is printed each day, or if you have a favorite reporter or

columnist that you want to follow.

Each service uses different sources of information for their stories, and you'll want to examine

the kind and quality of these sources before subscribing. This can get complicated, because

some vendors have different products that cover different source collections. ClariNet has a

basic product that has about 150 articles daily arranged in 80 different topic areas. This basic

offering includes the Associated Press' bulletins. They have other products that include

Reuters' news feeds and another that spans about 750 articles daily and covers over 250 topics

including both the AP and Reuters' news wires.

Individual has their own menu of products, ranging from a budget service that delivers 20

headlines daily to more full-featured offerings that deliver 14 stories a day from over 750

topics and 300 different sources. This premium product includes the business sections of over

60 daily newspapers around the country and 30 different news wires including AP and


Compuserve's Executive News Service covers 20 different wire services, Desktop Data's News

Edge product carries over 250 sources for its service, Mainstream carries 18 different wire

services, and DowVision covers 11 wire services plus articles from the New York Times and

the Wall Street Journal.

The critical questions to ask are:

-- how many articles are posted each day,

-- how many times a day is new information added to the service, and

-- how many different topic areas are available?

3. How do you find the articles that you are interested in? Each service has a slightly

different method to filter or focus its entire database of articles so you don't have to manually

plow through the entire set. Perhaps the most customizable is Individual's First service.

First allows you to fine-tune the stories that are transmitted to your desktop via a series of

keywords and feedback forms that you fill out reacting to the relevance of previously read

stories. The result of this feedback is that you just see articles on the topics of interest. "In

reading a newspaper, it is often hit or miss in picking up current developments. With a

finely-tuned customized news profile, you can feel more confident that you are reading all

you need to know. You have a better chance of seeing what you need than if you just

casually scan a newspaper," says Paul Kennedy, who is senior director, marketing

intelligence, Avon Products, Inc., New York, NY (212 546 6379) (the personal beauty

products company). Kennedy reads two daily newspapers, and spends an hour a day on trade

magazines, in addition to using on-line news from First. "First fills a void by providing

regular news updates, specifically tailored to individuals or small groups on an everyday

basis," he says.

This filtering mechanism means that you can use on-line news as a way to obtain more depth

of information on a set series of topics. "I rely completely on on-line serives to tell me about

things I need to know. I rely on reading printed papers and journals to bring to my attention

things which are interesting and that I should start to track more closely -- and then I add

them to my on-line profile. Printed materials are much better at providing this 'serendipity' of

stumbling upon things that turn out to be interesting," says Eddison.

"The ability to customize First for a specific target audience is important, as different groups

are interested in different subjects. Senior executives, for example, may want information on

the economy or competitive performance indicators, while line managers often are more

interested in news relevant to their specific area of responsibility, such as developments in the

skin care treatment industry," says Avon's Kennedy.

Just as important as these interest profiles are the mechanisms that each service uses to

catalog information and allow you to search through it. Because ClariNet is based on Usenet

newsgroups, it works with any of a variety of graphical newsreaders such as NewsWatcher or

NetScape Communications'  Web browser. The service collects articles into hundreds of topic

groupings, with one topic per newsgroup. This means you only need to just examine a few

topics that interest you and can ignore the remainder. CompuServe's Executive News Service

allows you to filter articles by date, keywords, and other criteria to build your own personal

profile. And there are two newspaper-like products called Journalist for Windows and

Relevant for the Macintosh. Each actually assembles a "front-page" of articles on your

desktop computer based on your keywords, display fonts, and layouts. In effect, you are your

own managing editor, reporter, and production chief all rolled into one, which could be more

effort than one wants to read on-line news. Journalist works with either Compuserve or

Prodigy's news sources, whie Relevant works with DowVision.

One thing lacking from most on-line news summaries are indications of reporter's bylines.

"The average on-line newsfeed gives a short headline and no byline. This cannot capture any

flavor of the story. I don't want to waste my time calling up stories only to find they are by

someone I am not interested in reading," says Weeks.

4. How do you want news delivered to your desktop? Getting an on-line news subscription

takes patience and perseverance: you need to do your research and determine the match

between your company's news needs and existing subscriptions to on-line services and

telecommunications infrastructure. 

Each news provider has relationships with usually only one electronic service. ClariNet makes

extensive use of Internet connections and newsgroups; the Executive News Service is

exclusive to CompuServe; America OnLine carries several electronic versions of newspapers

including the New York Times and the San Jose Mercury; Prodigy offers a customized

version of the Atlanta Constitution called Access Atlanta; Dow Vision works with a direct

telephone connection from their network to yours; and various other newspapers and other

sources are popping up almost daily on the Internet making use of World Wide Web servers.

Individual, Inc. provides the widest array of delivery options. news via various e-mail

connections such as Lotus' Notes and cc:Mail products, MCI Mail; Internet Web servers; and


Given these relationships, you'll need to investigate whether your company has the necessary

communications infrastructure and on-line accounts already setup to work with the news

service providers that you desire. For example, you'll need a full Internet connection or access

to a third-party Internet provider that is a subscriber (such as Pipeline (New York), Netcom

(San Jose), or World (Boston)) to be able to obtain ClariNet's products, with DowVision

you'll need an X.25 line to their computers or an Internet connection [CHECK], to obtain

CompuServe's Executive News feeds you'll need a Windows or Macintosh computer with a

modem along with an account on CompuServe, and the easiest way to get Individual's news is

via nothing more than a fax machine.

And if you don't have any relationships or telecommunications infrastructure, you might want

to look into Mainstream Data Inc., which uses satelite transmissions to beam news directly to

your company via radio waves.

5. What are the typical costs? Many of the Internet-based products are free, once you pay for

your connection to the Internet and can locate the Web server with your browser. The

exception to this is ClariNet, which is paid for by either your corporation or by the Internet

provider such as World or Pipeline. ClariNet has a complex set of pricing that depends on

what kind of Internet access your company has and the type of institution: educational sites

get a high discount from the corporate rates, for example. However, in general prices range

from $40 per month for two users of the basic service to $300 a month for 20 users for the

full service.

CompuServe's Executive News Service is an extra-cost option that charges $15 an hour in

addition to the standard CompuServe connect time charges.

First can cost as little as $15 a month for the headline service (and an extra $5 per each

full-text article selected) to $1000 a month for ten users of the full-featured service. 

DowVision costs $1000 a month for ten people, and other pricing plans are also available.

And Desktop Data costs $4500 a month for 100 users.

Obviously, getting a final cost figure is not easy, given all these variables. Nevertheless,

corporate users have found that subscriptions to their on-line news vendors were relatively

easy sells to management."My decision to subscribe to First was based on a Avon's operating

culture and the extent to which we are interested and use outside news," says Avon's


One suggestion is to first try one of the services as a pilot with a highly-placed executive:

"We sold First as a pilot and gave anecdotal evidence of its usefulness," said Tandem's

Perlman, who has a company-wide site license for all of its 9000 employees to receive news

directly via email. 

Whatever you do, involve top-level management in your decision. "First replaced a manual,

ad hoc market intelligence system. The improvement in information access sold itself to

senior management," says Loss. "Our operations are worldwide, so it is vital that managing

directors around the world have immediate access to US-based news and First provides a

painless way to do this." 

And another method is to examine a scenario when your executives aren't the first to be

informed about changing market and world events:"The way to justify the cost is to ask

executives to consider the cost to them of not knowing about some public news that others

knew about -- what is the cost of getting a phone call from a customer and not being on top

of the news?  Imagine when Microsoft announced that Windows 95 would be late, then one

of my key resellers calls and asks me what this does to our products' scheduled release?

Imagine the cost to me if I hadn't heard that news? In today's fast world, it is simply essential

that executives and manages stay on top of the news -- and the only way to do that is

on-line," says Fulcrum's Eddison.

"If getting electronic news delivery can help your business, then we are very cost-effective.

What we publish today is going to be in tomorrow morning's newspapers. We also provide

more depth, particularly in international and specific industry coverage, where the traditional

media simply don't have room to run the more obscure stories. Our service is entertaining as

well and makes the company network a more interesting place," said ClariNet's Templeton.

Products mentioned:

Individual, Inc. (Cambridge, Mass. 617 354 2230)

ClariNet Communications Corp. (San Jose, Calif. 408 296 0366)

Prodigy Services Co. (White Plains, NY 914 448 8000

Compuserve Information Services (Columbus, OH 614 457 8600)

America Online, (Vienna, VA (703) 448-8700)

Dow Jones Information Services  (DowVision) (Princeton, NJ 609 520 4677)

Desktop Data (News Edge) (617 890 0042) 

Mainstream (wireless) Data Inc. (Salt Lake City, UT 801 584 2800)

Ped Software Corp. (Journalist) (San Jose, 408 253 0894)

Ensemble Information Systems (Relevant) (Menlo Park, CA 415 617 9730)


David Strom has written extensively for Forbes and has his own consulting firm in Port

Washington, NY. He can be reached via the Internet at david@strom.com

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David Strom David Strom Port Washington, NY 11050 USA US TEL: 1 (516) 944-3407