Providence's Alternative Source!

Marketing comes into the fore at


During the Plunder Dome trial, there was barely a pause in the court action before reporter David McPherson would quickly post another in a series of detailed updates on, the Web site of the Providence Journal. For news consumers, the rapidity of these dispatches epitomized the Internet's ability to reduce walls between events and readers' receipt of information.

News concerns are rarely paramount, though, when it comes to the evolution of newspaper Web sites, as evidenced by the growing number -- including -- that require users to register to gain access to certain parts of a site. It's hardly surprising that media organizations want to build ties with online readers while gleaning demographic detail of interest to advertisers. Still, registration isn't without a potential downside. And the ProJo's parent company, the Belo Corporation, whose costly :CueCat misadventure (see "Belo lays an egg," News, February 8, 2001) was motivated by an overeager zeal for demo data, hasn't exactly been agile in this area.

As J.D. Lasica recently wrote on Online Journalism Review (, registration is "a tricky dance, and one that risks alienating news junkies when they bump into registration walls as they surf from site to site. Registration also throws up roadblocks for Weblogs, community news sites, discussion boards, and e-mail newsletters that point to news articles." Lasica rapped an earlier registration form for, the site of Belo's flagship Dallas Morning News, as "pretty hellacious with a clunky interface and too many mandatory fields."

Things are proceeding more tentatively at, which began to phase in registration for some sections of the site about two months ago, as part of a Belo-wide plan. One notice blithely blurbs, "Your registration will help us improve our site to better serve you," although another concedes, "By having you register, we are better able to target our advertisers' messages, thus improving the effectiveness of their [ads]."

Eric Christensen, vice president and general manager of Belo Interactive in Dallas, was similarly frank in discussing the plan. "As an organization, we don't believe there's a substantial opportunity to charge for our [Web] content, but we do believe it's reasonable to expect users to provide some information to access this valued content," he told OJR. "We want a way to monetize that database information and we plan to be pretty aggressive about it."

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis[a]

Issue Date: July 12 - 18, 2002