As network television viewership and newspaper circulation fade in the shadow of the World Wide Web, traditional news producers are turning to emerging technology to regain their audience, in the process drawing some IT companies into the media business.
"There's been a steady erosion in newspaper circulation around the country, and we've experienced part of that," said Joel Rawson, executive editor of the Providence Journal. "(With digital publishing,) now we can be competitive with other electronic media which weren't bound by production and distribution cycles. People say, 'Isn't this a threat?' but I think this is the greatest opportunity we've ever had. It's a wide open world."
Hewlett-Packard has took the wraps off some new-media services aimed at publishers which will enable them to convert news files into a format appropriate for cell phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and other Internet appliances.
News producers can send their stories and photographs by secure Internet connections to HP, which will convert the text files or JPEG images into a form suitable for reading on a digital pager or a PDA, said Jim Byers, manager of business development for HP's digital publishing solutions unit.
The process is analogous to sending material to a Web developer to be converted into HTML files and posted online, Byers said in a phone interview Friday. A publication doesn't even need to have a Web site to use the HP services, he added.
HP is demonstrating the new-media services at NEXPO 2000, a newspaper technology conference taking place in San Francisco Saturday through Tuesday.
The services will distribute news for consumers from subscribing publications, wire and other publications, along with custom advertising, said F. I. Goldhaber, HP marketing manager.
HP's new-media publishing services should become available by the end of this year. The company expects to be able to deliver broadly customized publications via the Web and e-mail to computers and Internet appliances. Late next year, the service will be improved with the ability to more specifically profile customers' news interests, automatically producing custom news, along with custom advertising targeted directly at individuals.
In other new-media news, IBM has unveiled version 4.0 of its Networked Interactive Content Access program, which aims to helps publishers archive and search their stories and photos. The product can potentially help publishers transform their stories into Internet content for wireless readers, according to Kim Nguyen, a spokeswoman for IBM.
A few publications have already begun the shift to wireless. "Some of these publications, like USA Today and MSNBC, are already publishing in digital formats," Nguyen said. "I get news from both of them on my pager."
Wireless news delivery should have a definite impact on new media publications. "I've been told... half of Internet content will be wireless by 2003," said Stan Austin, Knightridder.com's director of operations in Kansas City, which produces the Kansas City Star's Web site, Kcstar.com. "It's on our radar, we see it as important. We need to very quickly become enabled to provide content in the form people want it."
Pager message news alerts and stock reports on a cell phone may begin to blur the lines between different news producers in different media, but content quality will remain the most important component, said HP's Goldhaber.
"What's changing is the method of delivery," Goldhaber said. "The publisher will always be the content producer, that will never change. You may get the New York Times on your cell phone, but it's the publisher that the readers will trust."