FOCUS: NEWS SERVICES - Web vs Wire. For up-to-the-second information, the web is giving traditional news services a run for their money. Mary Cowlett reports

While traditional news agencies such as Reuters and the Press Association continue to deliver breaking stories directly into the UK’s newsrooms over the wire, many web-based news operations have entered the on-line arena to offer a competing service.

While traditional news agencies such as Reuters and the Press

Association continue to deliver breaking stories directly into the UK’s

newsrooms over the wire, many web-based news operations have entered the

on-line arena to offer a competing service.



For PRs disseminating the latest information about a client, the choice

of channels is enormous, and the pros and cons of each delivery

mechanism need careful consideration. On the one hand, internet-only

news services tend to cover niche markets such as sport, finance, health

or IT, but on the other, they almost certainly lack the huge

infrastructure and resources of the big newswire operators. For example,

the Press Association (PA) has a team of over 400 journalists in the UK

and Ireland, while Reuters has 1,946 journalists, photographers and

camera operators in 183 bureaux serving 157 countries.



These agencies have also built up an impressive reputation for speedy,

unbiased reporting for use by the national and regional newsrooms around

the world. ’Our remit is to provide the media with fast, accurate and

impartial coverage of events around the clock,’ says PA deputy director

Jonathan Grun. ’Our editorial output is used by the media as background

when filing their own reports, or can often appear accredited to our

reporters in the pages of the press. The newswire is so integral to UK

newsroom operations, the Guardian once heralded PA as the media’s

’Invisible Friend’,’he adds.



However, the likes of Reuters and PA also have a huge interest in

web-based news services. Alongside its own on-line news sites, Reuters

provides newsfeeds to over 225 internet sites including FT.com and

Yahoo! while PA maintains its PA NewsCentre and provides content for

over 100 web sites including TescoNet, Orange, Vodafone, Halifax and

Nationwide.



But Grun says the rules for PRs looking to get stories onto PA’s on-line

services are the same as for its newswire. ’PA only carries news stories

researched and written by its own journalists,’ he says.



’Our on-line journalists spend a lot of time on-line, looking at web

sites, surfing through technical chat-rooms and reading through

newsgroups to keep up to date with the latest developments. But as with

all our stories, the facts are checked with a reliable source before

anything is transmitted by PA,’ he adds.



With so much historical weight behind such operators, the question

arises of why a PRO, who has always used the wire feeds that hit the

national and international newsrooms directly, should bother with the

newer web-based operators.



’My starting point is always with the journalists I’m trying to reach,’

says Penny Hawtin, account director at August.One Communications.



’Obviously, most IT journalists are happy to use web-based services, but

a lot of our stories are also suitable for the lifestyle and regional

journalists, where using the wire is often more effective,’ she

adds.



But Hawtin also highlights the drawbacks of the wire services, that

stories land on an editorial desk rather than with an individual

journalist, and that once stories are posted on the wire, effectively

they are old news.



As a consequence, Hawtin says that in general terms she only uses the

wires ’when I need to add a bit of extra welly to a story or on the

actual day the news is breaking’.



The greatest strength of the on-line-only news services is in covering

specialist markets. After all, establishing a level of expertise in a

niche arena is one thing, but nobody in their right mind would attempt

to take on the big boys at Reuters, CNN or the BBC.



Worth Global Style Network (WGSN) is the first web site to provide

constant information about the global fashion and style industry. Set up

in 1998, subscribers already include many of the leading names in the

fashion industry, including Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, Estee Lauder,

Next, Marks and Spencer and Debenhams.



In an age where distinguishing good information from bad on the web is

an ongoing struggle, Worth says his in-house team of 120 journalists

includes fashion writers with experience on the Sunday Times, the

Independent and the New York Times.



To reassure users of their integrity, some web-based news providers give

on-line biographies of their journalists. Others, such as Health-News

with its free up to the minute medical news service for health

professionals and the media, endorse their credibility by restricting

access to registered users only.



While Health-News is, in part, a news aggregation site from journals

including Hospital Doctor and Practice Nurse, editor in chief Gill

Shearer says all additional information comes from accredited sources.

In addition, any press releases posted on the site are clearly flagged

as such, with the appropriate company logos.



The Health-News site will shortly be splitting into two separate arenas

for its medical and media audiences. For healthcare PR agencies who deal

with prescription drugs, this is likely to be a bonus. However,

healthcare PROs looking to send out consumer news also have other

considerations.



’The wire services are always one of the first ports of call for

stories,’ says Shire Hall Communications media manager Linda Rose. ’But

we are also very aware when working with clients such as Bristol Myers

Squibb that traditionally HIV and Aids interest groups are really active

in using the internet,’ she adds.



However, in assessing which on-line news sites are worth bothering with,

Rose says that like many others, her agency has a journalistic advisory

panel. ’We ask both staff writers and freelancers - who tend to have a

different take on the issue - which services they have been using most

recently,’ she says.



This is a view echoed by Harvard PR director Gareth Zundel who says: ’It

is important to analyse the web-based services to find out exactly who

is using them.’



But Zundel also stresses that the internet places greater emphasis on

the issue of timing. ’The real value of web-based services is their

immediacy, but that means each on-line operator is very concerned to be

the first with a story,’ he says. ’Rather like being careful to not give

a scoop to a daily newspaper, this now shrinks down to a much smaller

timescale,’ he adds.



However, some of the on-line services feel that PR people are not coping

well with the demands of web-based news. Richard Barry, editor of ZDNet

UK News, part of Ziff Davies, says: ’I probably spend around three hours

a week telling PR people that we are focused on the consumer arena of

IT, so stories about the latest hub or high-end corporate IT

applications are not appropriate.’



But his biggest gripe is with PR people who fail to understand that the

news is immediate, with a one paragraph item developing into an ongoing

story throughout 24 hours. ’Basically PR people are not responsive

enough,’ says Barry. ’The internet doesn’t wait for people stuck in

traffic jams or out of mobile phone contact. I don’t want a spokesperson

tomorrow, I want one now,’ he adds.



Some of the most popular on-line services with journalists are the

PR-dedicated web sites. At Newsdesk, for instance, journalists can

register and then set their profile by areas of interest, geography and

language.



The information they then receive is sent in a format and at a frequency

they request, and above all it is free.



While customers have to pay to post their press releases up on Newsdesk,

research and development director Bill Leask says the advantages are

enormous.



’From the customers’ point of view, they are delivering to an audience

that has already said they want to receive your news, and then there is

the reporting element, where companies can see who has accessed their

information.’



The Source offer a similar service for IT journalists, but with less

barriers to registration. In answer to the question of guaranteeing a

valid audience, managing director Daryl Willcox says: ’We know we are

reaching the right journalists at the right time, as PR people have

stopped asking about it because they are receiving the enquiries.’



It seems clear that PROs need to target both the traditional newswires

and the new web services as a complementary activity, depending on which

audiences they wish to reach. Tessa Curtis, MD of Shandwick Broadcast

says in the current climate, on-line services tend to reach the feature

journalists and the freelancers, who operate with less time constraints

and often fewer resources - while the newswires still go direct to the

staff news journalists.



However no matter what reservations PRs have about web-based services in

terms of credibility or audience, they are here to stay and will gain in

importance with every new technological development. ’Sure, on-line

services might be a bit of a wild west at the moment, but this is what

the future of PR will be, there isn’t a choice. Do it and be good at it,

or get out of the game,’ says Curtis.



VOX POP - Would you use web or wire services for company research or a

pitch?



MATT FEARNLEY, board director, Fleishman-Hillard



’People buy people. To be the right people your pitch team has to know

the potential client’s reading of and aspirations in their

marketplace.



This colours their perception of the solutions you suggest.



The best way of finding out about a company is to visit it in person,

soaking up its corporate culture. The next best way is to visit its web

site which will tell you how it perceives itself. An understanding of

the competition comes from up-to-date searches on the wire, such as

Reuters. It’ll tell you who’s trying to own what messages.’



GORDON BEATTIE, managing director, Beattie Media



’Web news services are still in their infancy compared to the power and

depth of traditional news wire services. Ten minutes spent using, for

instance, Reuters databases, will supply a detailed picture of the

target company that cannot yet be matched by the internet. However, all

research needs to backed up with personal interviews and there is no

substitute for speaking to real people - analysts, journalists, former

employees - who can add the real colour that makes a significant

difference in a pitch situation.’



TARIQ KHWAJA, MD August. One Comm-unications



’On-line and wire-based services are crucial research tools for

complementary reasons. At a few keystrokes, they can become a PR

consultancy’s window on to what the outside world has been saying about

a potential client or their rivals - what great, or nightmare coverage

they’ve been receiving.



But however useful they are, it’s also important not to get carried away

with the technology tools. They can never replace the real research -

that must always be done person to person.’



PAUL NEWMAN, head of marketing Europe, Shandwick Int.



’Because pitches are becoming increasingly rigorous and competitive, we

are investing more and more in research at the pitch stage. The amount

and type of research varies from pitch to pitch, depending on the nature

and value of the opportunity. Typically it includes on-line searches

such as FT Profile or web-based research, and often both.



We look to get timely research insights as cost-effectively as possible,

so that our pitch teams shine in their response to each new business

opportunity.’



A SAMPLE OF WEB OFFERINGS



www.pa.press.net features all the regular PA output augmented by on-line

journalists. PROs should e-mail pacontacts@pa.press.net with a brief

outline of industry, specialism or area of the country and PA will reply

with contacts.



www.ft.com is the place to check out all the latest business news and

market prices.



www.thestreet.com is the financial site that is launching its much-hyped

UK presence next year.



www.health-news.co.uk is used by medical specialists and the media, with

information from journals, charities, and pharmaceutical companies.



www.wgsn.com contains 200,000 pages of news, catwalk photography,

international shopping reports, technical and licensing data and

directories.



www.the register.co.uk is an IT news site good for checking out industry

whispers with the added bonus that it doesn’t take itself too

seriously.



www.zdnet.co.uk/news a consumer IT news site with a Linux Lounge and

irreverent nuggets of information. Its stance and style on the latest

stories is often reflected in the print media.



www.newsdesk.com a press release wire service covering IT, and

healthcare. In the new year this will expand to include the

entertainment and automotive industries.



www.sourcewire.com is an IT press release wire service with a journalist

enquiry system and IT experts directory a database of European PR

companies and a forward features service.



www.newsnow.co.uk is a news aggregator site that updates headlines from

sources including CNN and the BBC every five minutes. It doesn’t create

the news, but its a good guide to other sites.



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