MEDIA: In Digital City, you’re just one click away from it all - Online community Digital City offers everything from job ads to movie guides, personal ads to political forums. Claire Atkinson tells how to reach the site’s 4.4m monthly vis

The Internet will be more important to the US population than the telephone or the television. That’s the vision of Jim Riesenbach, VP of programming and marketing for local-oriented Web channel Digital City.

The Internet will be more important to the US population than the telephone or the television. That’s the vision of Jim Riesenbach, VP of programming and marketing for local-oriented Web channel Digital City.

The Internet will be more important to the US population than the

telephone or the television. That’s the vision of Jim Riesenbach, VP of

programming and marketing for local-oriented Web channel Digital


And Riesenbach should know. Digital City is just one of many successful

brands of Web pioneer American Online, which is run by the visionary

Steve Case. Riesenbach plans to continue in his boss’s footsteps,

expanding the profitable operations of this interactive city guide.

For the millions of people who don’t know what to do on the weekend, Web

guides such as Digital City (or rivals such as City Search-Ticketmaster

and MSN’s have become invaluable. For instance, Digital

City offers users the opportunity to meet a new date through its local

personal column, choose a restaurant from its dining section and even

find a new job. But keeping the 60 city guides up to date is a

challenge. Riesenbach says PR pros should make contact with their local

events editor to keep the staff aware of the latest news.

Digital City has a number of main regional editorial centers that

co-ordinate content for many of the other areas. Riesenbach oversees

three managing editors: Arne Jokela, New York; Mark Gozonsky, Los

Angeles; and Rick Robinson, Washington, DC. The other main ’hubs’ of

activity include Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

The senior staff members oversee an editorial team of around ten to 15

people, and commission a growing range of freelancers who scout out hot

new venues in each city. ’They are our eyes and ears,’ says


’They keep us abreast of what’s closing and opening.’ Riesenbach won’t

reveal the identity of the freelancers but says they are experts in

their fields. In line with the democratic nature of the Internet,

visitors are also encouraged to post their own comments on various


Digital City’s young, affluent audience is exactly the kind of people

that PR pros want to attract to their venues. According to the site,

over 78% of its visitors have an average income in excess of dollars

50,000, while 78% are between 18 and 49 years old.

Digital City, which is busiest on Thursdays and Fridays, claims traffic

averages at around six million visitors per month. The latest rankings

from Web ratings firm Media Metrix puts it at 4.4 million for


While some of AOL’s content channels, such as AOL News Channel and AOL

Computer Channel, can be accessed only through the service provider,

Digital City is freely available to anyone with Web access.

PR pros will be pleased to know that the entertainment section, which

carries reviews of hot bars and restaurants, is the most popular on the

site. Through alliances with other content suppliers AOL also updates

local news and sports. Another part of the site offers practical

services such as car rental, job listings and mortgage offers.

Digital City first launched in Washington, DC in 1995 and within three

years became the first local content provider to supply information on

the top 50 US markets. There are 60 now and the aim is to serve around

200 cities by spring 2000.

Site visitors are directed to editors’ picks of the best restaurants and

museum exhibits. Riesenbach says that the aim of the section is not to

identify the worst but rather to highlight the best. Visitors are also

encouraged to post their own experiences. ’Our members provide input and

we don’t censor that, unless someone is particularly abusive,’ he


In addition to the original material, which rarely runs beyond a

150-word review, Digital City has partnerships with the likes of Knight

Ridder and the San Francisco Examiner, which supply locally oriented


(The company has similar partnerships with other local newspapers; PR

pros who pitch to these papers may have their stories appear on Digital

City.) Many of the restaurant reviews are by French publishing company

Gayot. Riesenbach says the business model has proved highly profitable,

with the free service supported entirely by advertising and business


Riesenbach, who joined Digital City in 1996 and oversaw the programming

and sales of the Philadelphia site that year, wants to keep a balance

between the breadth and width of the content, offering the right amount

of information on the right number of venues.

He says that in the next 12 months the site will become significantly

enriched. Digital City will eventually be compiling high school sports

scores for regional areas. E-commerce will also be developed, along with

the addition of apartment listings and directories of doctors, lawyers

and landscapers. AOL-sponsored Moviefone is planning to sell movie

tickets through Digital City within the next three to four months. In

July, the company announced it had linked up with, Web-based

mortgage company, while Mapquest signed a deal in June to use Digital

City information on its site.

But just as many new Internet sites are threatening to turn the Web into

little more than an electronic strip mall, AOL’s Digital City also takes

its civic responsibilities seriously.

Volunteer groups looking for help are listed, as are helpful gridlock

warnings for commuters. Under the news and issues section, there is

space to vent on local issues. During one debate, a member of the Nation

of Islam in Harlem found himself exchanging views with a white police

officer from the Westchester suburbs. Riesenbach also says he knows of a

couple who got engaged after meeting through the personals on Digital


But does it make coffee?


AOL Digital City Events editors

New York/Detroit: Fred Meyer

32 W. 22nd St., 5th Floor

New York, NY 10010

Tel: (212) 206 5033

Fax: (212) 620 7433

Washington, DC:

Marian Rosaaen

8615 Westwood Center Dr.

Vienna, VA 22182

Tel: (703) 265 0397

Fax: (703) 265 1630

Los Angeles/Atlanta:

Justin Chan

351 Fourth Street, Suite 200

Santa Monica, CA 90401

Tel: (310) 979 5620

Fax: (310) 979 5658

Boston: Ayshe Yildiz

25 First St. Cambridge, MA 02141

Tel: (617) 679 5782

Fax: (617) 494 8340

San Francisco: David Allan

333 Bush St., 22nd Floor

San Francisco, CA 94104

Tel: (415) 844 9203

Fax: (415) 358 4455

Dallas: Rick Dixon

3131 McKinney Ave., Suite 350

Dallas, TX 75204

Tel: (214) 954 6204

Fax: (214) 954 6202

Philadelphia: Margit Detweiler

20 N. 3rd St.

Philadelphia, PA 19106

Tel: (215) 418 5420

Fax: (215) 829 0298

Denver: Tracy Weil

1860 Blake St., no. 210

Denver, CO 80202

Tel: (303) 298 5804

Fax: (303) 292 4139


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