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All the News That's Fit for Print

Diane Westfall, a professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, said that working with the Web that way could result in successful cross-promotion. "A great way to sell magazines is to let the news part of the story out on the Web and say 'for more information, go to our magazine,'" she said.

Friend said, however, that it comes down to priorities: "Getting the magazine out is what's important. ... I was more interested in getting the magazine out than [getting] the Web out."

[ Cue stunned silence from the bloggers ]

But wait. Maybe that's not such a radical statement in 2005. After all, it seems fitting that a fat, monthly mag like Vanity Fair would rely on a 30-year-old media strategy to solve the biggest mystery of 1974. It is a magazine, not a Web site, and magazines by nature operate in a different way than the breathless Internet.

Or maybe not. It is admirable that publications like Vanity Fair continue to support longform journalism, telling interesting stories that are allowed to unfold at their own leisurely pace. But when that story is one that has bewitched, bothered and bewildered the nation for decades, you would think the magazine would want to tout its coup in every way possible.

After all, the day's most-read story before Vanity Fair broke its news was Paris Hilton's engagement. People magazine, which had the exclusive story, broke it on the Web on Monday afternoon and, I daresay, will not suffer a slump in newsstand sales because of it.

As more people start digesting even super-sized stories on the Internet, they will demand this of their favorite publications. If they don't get it, they will go elsewhere. The Internet does not abhor long, well-researched stories; it's just another publishing medium, and there's no reason why the magazine couldn't have come up with a strategy to publish the story online in the two years that it was in development -- the fact that vanityfair.com didn't launch until last October notwithstanding.

Encyclopedia Immediata

Wikipedia's many volunteer editors weren't napping on the job as the W. Mark Felt story broke on Tuesday. A new entry (created yesterday, in fact) on the former associate FBI director and bona fide Deep Throat went up with great dispatch. A glance at the entry shows a clean, dry biography on Felt along with the circumstances of his involvement with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on the Watergate series. It is not the first time that Wikipedia has tried to function as a sage tome of encyclopedic knowledge on breaking events, but it almost certainly is one of the most prominent, at least on its English-language site.

And here's a little something you won't find in editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (or on the Britannica Online site which has not updated its Watergate references): A note at the top of the Wikipedia page says: "This article or section contains information about a current or ongoing event. Information may change rapidly as the event progresses." The entry on " Deep Throat" also was updated a few hours after the news broke.

New Jersey Tries to Ban Online Auto Sales

More than half of all late-model used-car seekers are using the Internet somewhere in the buying process, according to J.D. Power & Associates, but that's not stopping New Jersey from trying to ban online automobile sales. The Star-Ledger reported that the state's Motor Vehicle Commission could adopt the ban by June 13 as one of several rules changes to crack down on fly-by-night used car salesmen.

"To prevent salesmen from operating at 'phantom' locations where dissatisfied buyers cannot track them down, the state has crafted reforms that require auto dealerships to set up offices equipped with phones, furniture, electricity and even air-conditioning and heating," Star-Ledger transportation reporter Joe Malinconco wrote. "The proposals also would prohibit dealers from using cell phones to make sales outside their offices, require safes for storing motor vehicle documents and impose tougher insurance requirements." The Associated Press said that dealers would have to spend at least 20 hours a week in their place of business and conduct most of their telephone business from a landline at that location.

Lawyers and lobbyists representing hundreds of used car salesmen protested the regulations at a hearing yesterday, saying that the regulations will hurt their businesses. But making a quick buck through dirty-dealing in the car business is not difficult to do in New Jersey, the Asbury Park Press reported: "Typically, said witnesses, a rogue used-car dealer might secure a car at an auction, slap dealer, or temporary, plates on the car, then hand the keys to a buyer, who is told by the trickster to meet at an address in a week or so to gain the title. But witnesses said the buyer may find no dealership at that address, setting off a lengthy and costly process for the buyer to try to get the vehicle's title."

Even if the DMV manages to pull off its shortsighted attempt to ban online Internet sales, it still needs to figure out how to operate its computers. The Press of Atlantic City reported that the agency suffered what it's calling its biggest "customer inconvenience" in recent memory after a computer glitch caused problems for up to 10,000 people trying to get their digital drivers' licenses. "Not only was (Tuesday) the last day of the month, it was also the day after a holiday, which is usually very busy for us," DMV spokesman Gordon Deal told the paper.

The Star-Ledger reported that the agency produces 7,500 licenses on a typical day but only processed a few hundred on Tuesday. Deal told the Asbury Park Press that the DMV would not offer any amnesty to people whose drivers' licenses expired yesterday and would be forced to drive with those licenses today. The version of the story that ran in the Bridgewater Courier-News contained a quote from Deal urging any drivers pulled over to remind the troopers of the glitch and essentially ask for a free pass.

Maybe it's part of a secret plan to make the state more deserving of its nickname.

Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

That doesn't describe telecom mega-giant SBC Communications, not at least in my eyes. But it does describe their latest offer of high-speed Internet service for $14.95 a month. I don't normally devote space to free advertising for bloated corporations, but in this case it's pretty interesting. The Wall Street Journal reported that the move severely undercuts cable broadband prices, which typically start around $40 and move up -- way up. The price also sails below America Online's standard $23.90 monthly charge.

"Cable companies officials said yesterday that they don't need to respond to price cuts by the phone companies because they say cable broadband service is faster and more efficient than telephone broadband service," the Journal reported. "'If price were the only thing that mattered to everyone, we'd all be driving Yugos,' says a spokesman for Cox Communications Inc., the country's third-largest cable operator." Yes, but not everyone requires a Mercedes.

Send links and comments to robertDOTmacmillanATwashingtonpost.com.


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