News entrepreneurs bet they can top newspapers online

(c) Copyright The News & Observer Publishing Co., 1995

LOS ANGELES, May 3 (05-04-95) -- Getting online is the issue du jour for newspapers. If publishers don't have an online version of their paper up and running on one of the commercial computer networks or part of the Internet, they're working on it, or talking about it.

But newspapers aren't the only ones looking to bring news to the online masses. Several cyber-savvy entrepreneurs think they can beat the papers at their own game.

These groups are taking on newspapers' roles of organizing and disseminating time-sensitive information and giving the process a distinct Internet twist.

"There are people out there chipping away at newspapers' franchise," said Steve Outings, a consultant and author of Jupiter Communication's 1995 Online Newspaper Report.

But newspapers aren't blinking.

Newspapers are concerned with being "nibbled to death by ducks," but they've got a history, and skills that'll carry over to a new medium, said Randy Bennett, new media director for the Newspaper Association of America, an industry group.

"And their ace in the hole is localness," he said.

One of the electronic mavericks taking on the news industry is the American Reporter, a combination newspaper and wire service that's delivered through electronic mail. A demo version is available on the World Wide Web, part of the Internet global computer network, at

American Reporter, which opened for business last month, covered the Oklahoma City bombing and reports on other general interest news. Stories are written by professional journalists who eventually will receive royalties, but for now, earn a stake in the company for their work.

Subscribers, including weekly papers and news syndicates, pay $125 a week for rights to use any American Reporter story. Other subscribers pay a flat fee of $10 a month for access, plus 1 cent a word for stories they read or reproduce.

American Reporter's founder is Joe Shea, an ex-foreign correspondent who discovered the Internet a year ago and immediately began scheming to start a publication on it. Shea claims already to have attracted a small but encouraging number of subscribers.

Another news entrepreneur getting ready to launch is Newshare (, which describes itself as the Internet's first news brokerage.

Here's how it works, according to Newshare founder and former newspaper publisher Bill Densmore: Member content providers pay a fee to join, and in exchange, receive software to trace their online subscribers' visits to other syndicate members' Web sites. For their part, Internet users would receive one bill detailing all their usage, instead of having to sign up with each new site they visit.

Densmore expects to have Newshare up and running by the end of June. He admits a couple of things have to happen for the idea to fly: newspapers have to start charging for their online products and sign up with Newshare.

He's not worried about either. Papers such as the San Jose Mercury News and Los Angeles Times have begun charging. As for marketing, content providers are coming to him, Densmore said.

"They see us as a way to get visibility and deal with selling content online without having to set up a bureaucracy of their own," he said.

The hey-why-didn't-I-think-of-that-award goes to two 20-year-old computer science juniors at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania for writing a program that lets people create their own daily newspapers from free news sources on the Web.

The Crayon Project ( is a collection of links to mainstream news sites such as the Associated Press, Money, Time, PC Week, as well as more offbeat ones such as Adam Curry's Cybersleaze Report.

Using the Crayon form, an individual chooses the links he wants in his paper and how they'll be ordered, then saves the data as a file on his computer's hard drive. The next time he's on the Web, he can recall the file, click on any of the links and read away.

Jeffrey Boulter said he dreamed up Crayon because he was too lazy to walk to the store for a paper. Boulter, whose only other experience was as managing editor of the Bucknell student newspaper, enlisted friend David Maher to turn his dream into reality.

The duo's work hasn't gone unnoticed. More than 22,000 people have created Crayon papers since the service went online two months ago. Both Boulter and Maher have received summer job offers from newspapers; Maher's got other plans, but Boulter's going on interviews.

"I never thought it would be like this," Boulter said. "I thought it was a clever hack, but people really like it."

(c) Reuters News Service, 1995