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Los Angeles Times
August 18, 2000
Online media attract millions of
'eyeballs,' but few sites have figured out how to turn a
By Charles Piller
Times Staff Writer
FRANCISCO- Online journalism, with its immediacy and low cost of
distribution, was by now supposed to be on the road to burying the print
dinosaurs and over-taking the TV broadcast titans.
.... Despite millions of viewer-readers, almost none of
the World Wide Web's roughly 32,000 news sites earn a profit. And there is
little prospect that will change in the foreseeable future.
Even prominent, journalistically
excellent news sites have seen their fortunes take a nose dive:
- In June, CBS laid off a quarter of its Internet staff.
NBC Internet followed suit last week with 170 layoffs.
- Salon.com, a popular and innovative Internet magazine,
fired 13 staffers in June -- including the founder and editor's wife -- to
slow its perilous "burn rate" of cash reserves. ....
- The Wall Street Journal's Internet site, which has
attracted an almost unheard of 461,000 paying subscribers, has lost money in
all but one month of its five years of operation.
- APBnews.com, an award-winning crime-reporting site,
raced through $33 million in cash in less than two years before it fired all
140 of its employees in June and filed for bankruptcy protection in
The American Society of Newspaper
Editors asked technology wizard Andrew Grove, chairman of microprocessor giant
Intel Corp., for advice. Speaking at the organization's 1999 annual convention,
Grove warned that unless they retooled to compete with the online explosion,
newspapers had three years before beginning an irreversible slide into
irrelevance. "Nothing sharpens the awareness of a situation like the sight of
the gallows," he warned.
Traditional media companies took the
point and have been posting news stories, radio reports and video streams on
their own Web sites. .... In 1996, Microsoft bankrolled Slate, one of the
earliest Web-only newsmagazines. The software giant installed top magazine
journalist Michael Kinsley at the helm.
After abortive efforts to sell
online subscriptions and even a printed version, Slate acquiesced to the plan of
nearly all other Web media: offer stories for free and hope to make up the cost
with Internet advertising. ....
Microsoft also joined with NBC to
create a major cable and Internet company. MSNBC.com attracts one of the largest
audiences of any Internet news site, but has been forced to delay plans to sell
its stock to the public, given the disastrous year for Internet
.... Competition for those Internet
ad dollars is intense. Today there are more than 1.4 billion Web pages of all
sorts, according to the Web navigation company Alexa Internet. Media sites fight
for every "eyeball" against major Internet service providers. ...
Buyers of advertising seem to have
thrown up their hands at this information overload. ...,
...The idea that anyone will make
money from selling news on the Web is laughable," said Barry Parr, an analyst
with International Data Corp.
.... (Among consumer publications, only Consumer
Reports and Playboy magazine have been able to sell a meaningful number of
.... According to a poll by the Pew Research Center for
the People and Press, less than a third of young adults read a daily paper --
yet half of them go online for news at least weekly. ....
* A revolution has taken
place in the news industry. Those once in total control of the media and news
are losing their grip on their long-held monopoly. They have suddenly become
aware that with all their staff and reporters, the small guy with a keyboard and
a mailing list is moving them into irrelevance. Every man is becoming a
"reporter," writing on stories the media heretofore would never touch, forcing
the media giants to attempt to be the first on stories they don't really
want to report. This has created a freeflow on real news benefiting
Also, since there is now such
news availability, "selling" news has become non-profitable. Those in the news
business for profit are indeed facing the gallows, while those who have a motive
based upon principle get the word out.
Journal's motivation is getting truth out with the focal point of
acquiring judicial accountability, and thus, freedom for our nation
--not profit. -Ron
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