Ya’ gotta love the newspaper business, which was dragged kicking and screaming into the electronic age as fat cat publishers finally began to see Internet advertising as a threat to their bottom lines.
When in doubt, form a committee, as the saying goes, so the titans of dead- tree journalism formed a consortium of major newspapers to deal with the matter. But now, less than two weeks after New Century Network abandoned its news function, cut its staff by a third and said it would focus on attracting advertisers, the whole operation has been shuttered.
About 40 people were put out of work. Why? “Not enough members felt strongly enough to keep it going,” said board member Harry Chandler, director of new business development at The Los Angeles Times.
Well, 40 jobs are really nothing in an industry where a new CEO can come in and close an entire newspaper, as Times Mirror’s Mark Willes did with New York Newsday.
But what went wrong at NCN? The idea of an online newspaper advertising network would certainly seem to have some appeal. Apparently one factor was the swiftness with which member newspapers, fearing for their advertising dollars, developed their own online initiatives. The official version: It became too difficult to find a unified strategy, NCN’s board was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
NCN’s members may still band together to seek advertisers, but there are no formal plans to continue that mission, Chandler said. “Each of us obviously is free to work any other ad network, but there is no group decision on that,” he said.
In late February, NCN (the Web site was still functional as of yesterday) eliminated its 20-person editorial staff as it stopped displaying news on its NewsWorks Internet site, and said it would serve primarily as a search engine for about 140 affiliate newspapers online. The cutback was the second this year.
The nine member companies reportedly poured $27 million into the venture, formed in 1995, but Chandler would not comment on the investment.
The NCN partners were Advance Publications Inc., Cox Newspapers Inc., Gannett Co., The Hearst Corp., Knight Ridder, The New York Times Co., Times-Mirror Inc., Tribune Co. and The Washington Post Co. The Associated Press, while not a partner, has been a supplier to NewsWorks.
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