San Diego newspapers are forging ahead in the Internet frontier, fearlessly going online with their stories and advertisements.
In keeping up with the expanding news territory, the San Diego Business Journal has added a new category to The List of Largest Newspapers. The category of online features now shows which papers offer daily news, limited daily news, archives and classifieds on the Web.
Seven newspapers on The List provide online access to one or more their sections. Currently, The San Diego Union-Tribune (uniontrib.com), No. 1 on The List, and the San Diego Daily Transcript (www.transcript.com), No. 8, are the only newspapers that have its full daily news, classifieds and archives online.
The North County Times (www.nctimes.com), ranked No. 2, is in the process of adding news content to its Web site. Keith Rice, Internet services manager at the North County Times, said the paper expects to have at least local news available online within the next month.
The uncharted Internet terrain poses a different set of opportunities and challenges for newspapers.
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Going online is one way that newspapers can stay competitive against other sources of information disseminated by TV, radio and the Internet, according to Tim Wulfemeyer, professor of communications and coordinator of the journalism degree program at SDSU.
Papers not only increase their exposure with an electronic newspaper, but they also gain another outlet for varying the content and layout, Wulfemeyer said.
Each version can complement and assist the other, and newspapers companies get two ways of attracting people and advertisers, he said.
“Publishing information on the Internet is one of the things that newspapers are going to have to deal with,” said Eric Pierson, USD professor of communication studies.
“They can’t ignore that the Internet is a source of information and that some people will bypass a newspaper and go to the ‘Net to get information.”
Currently, the top two locally produced sites that adults visit are (sandiegoinsider.com) run by Cox Interactive Media and (uniontrib.com), according to the January 1999 online/Internet San Diego Market survey conducted by The Media Audit.
Cox has seen a growing user base for its Web site, which is aimed at helping San Diegans “manage their lives” by offering them local content, including news, content search entertainment information, online shopping and a local interactive community, said Mark Forster, Cox Interactive general manager.
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Although there may be some competition, many industry insiders don’t think the ‘Net or other mediums are going to take over. “Newspapers have to be able to perform as a medium unto themselves and perhaps do away with the possibility that they will ever be able to compete,” Pierson said. “The trick is to be a good newspaper.”
“The Internet is going to have a tremendous effect on how information is disseminated, but we are still going to be the king of detail,” said Tom Morrow, North County Times columnist and San Diego Press Club board member.
Others who share Morrow’s views think the key to newspapers connecting with the public is the local news content.
“It just seems to me that people are reading less and less newspapers in the younger generation and those who do, seem to read for local news,” he said. “It only makes sense that they want to know what’s happening in their neighborhoods.
“Dailies have a constant battle of determining what their market is and what the market wants,” Morrow said.
Newspapers are also struggling to fight declining readership, especially for younger people.
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“I think newspapers need to do a lot of soul searching,” Wulfemeyer said, adding that each paper will have to reevaluate their content and how it is presented and will have to do a better job of covering the local scene.
The Union-Tribune is doing just that as part of their “400/500” initiative, according to Mike Proebstle, Union-Tribune circulation director. The paper’s goal is to increase readership within the next three years from its current 380,000 daily and 450,000 Sunday readers, to 400,000 daily and 500,000 Sunday readers.
“The whole thing about product is connecting with readers,” Proebstle said. “That connection is on many different levels. That is the challenge to newspapers.”