James Cramer and Mark Sauter are kings of the minute-ly news. Everyone who toils at the frontier of Internet journalism will understand what the minute-ly news is--a Web newscast that is updated so frequently it feels as if news is breaking every single minute of every single day.
Cramer co-founded a financial news site called TheStreet.com, and Sauter is one of three people who launched the Internet crime news service APB Online. Both once worked for daily newspapers but don't think this phenomenon is limited to the news biz.
The Net has a way of making speed demons of everyone who attempts to do business on it. Soon, look for minute-ly customer service, minute-ly inventory updating, even minute-ly restaurant reservations online. But for an early glimpse of the Internet-time work style, check out the Net newsies.
Cramer, a money manager who doubles as an online scribe, dashes off stream-of-consciousness stock commentary day and night for TheStreet.com, even after becoming an Internet millionaire many times over last month when TheStreet.com sold stock to the public.
Cramer could afford a ghostwriter now, but good luck to anyone trying to imitate his staccato spin. Nearly 60,000 people pay at least $99.95 a year to read the eight or so stories Cramer bangs out daily along with those from more than 50 colleagues, all with hyperlinked bylines.
"I am writing things that are meant to be provocative," said Cramer. "The feedback is so instantaneous I find I am doing articles in response to e-mails about earlier articles I did the same day--which I love!"
Also in New York City, in a building not far away, Mark Sauter and his partners are ramping up APBOnline.com, using a third round of cash raised from venture capitalists. The VCs have been falling all over each other to fund a project that some speculate might do for Internet news what Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" did for book publishing--spawn an entirely new genre that people never knew they wanted until it was offered to them.
APBOnline.com is creating a network of information about the criminal justice system. The Web site, which is free, aims to pay its way with advertising and commerce, following a profitability plan that chief executive Marshall Davidson predicts will take at least three to five years to play out. While privately held APB won't reveal revenues, you can bet they are less than TheStreet.com's ($4.6 million last year, against losses of $16.4 million).
APB's innovations include live police scanners that "stream" police talk from 10 cities. There's an "Unsolved" area allowing people to explore evidence, develop suspect profiles and chat about leads. Former FBI profiler John Douglas helped APB develop its first "Unsolved" package around the Green River killings near Seattle.
The site's main draw, though, is its "911 News" channel, offering as many as 18 original crime stories a day. Spend a few minutes clicking through its edgy, green-on-black pages and you will see that Sauter drives his crime reporters as hard as TheStreet.com drives its instant stock analysts.
"There is something dynamic that happens when you put a bunch of journalists in a room and tell them to put out something original. There is excitement," said Sauter, who supervises the site's two dozen or so writers in New York and network of 130 freelancers nationwide. The company currently employs 41 people but expects to have three times that number by next year.
The stock options help the recruiting drive, although Sauter said he had to explain to many print journalists what an option is. "We award extra stock options to anyone who does extraordinary journalism," he said.
Sauter raided a Web hound from the newspaper industry to run the newsroom--Hoag Levins, who had earlier turned the Internet site of trade magazine Editor & Publisher into a live news service. Levins said he believes most newspapers devote much space but scant resources to crime coverage, and most simply "have not known what to do with the Web--they put up Web sites but have not aggressively staffed them."
That is changing, though. Many newspapers that now update their sites through the day mainly with wire reports as news breaks are rushing to put their own stories up. New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. announced last month that the paper is putting its scribes on Internet time.
"We now have a plan in the newsroom to begin offering continuous news from the New York Times on important stories throughout the day," he told an ad conference. In addition, the New York Times Co. recently bought a stake in TheStreet.com.
And The Washington Post, which occasionally posts early versions of its stories online, recently notified its print reporters that it wants them to write more live stories for the Web earlier in the day. But it's hard to find a cycle faster than Cramer's; his articles appear online two to seven minutes after he hits the "send" button. Cramer, who writes under contract, starts typing at home before 4 a.m. and often dashes off his final piece after midnight.
APB Online moves equally fast, occasionally chasing its own stories. Last month, for example, several hours after an APB reporter broke a story about the Seattle Art Museum's plan for a controversial crime exhibit, the museum canceled the show in response to reaction on the Internet, prompting APB to write another story the same day. "Even in our newsroom we said 'Wow,' " recalled Sauter.
TheStreet.com and APB are just two examples of a bevy of online news services emerging in what I call mega-niches--single topics that are broad enough to interest lots of people. You can count Cnet's technology news at www.news.com and ESPNSportszone in this group as well. Others are trying to build audiences in narrower niches, but the majority--including the many Web sites aimed at the mega-market for health news--still fail to click on Internet time.
Look for that to change. Pioneers like Cramer and Sauter are setting a standard for real-time response that other sites will have to match.
Leslie Walker's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
TechThursday columnist Leslie Walker will host a live Web chat today at 1 p.m. with Audrey Weil, chief operating officer of CompuServe, about how the online service aims to serve the business market by offering "custom portals" for specific industries such as airlines. To participate, go to www.washingtonpost.com.