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Earlier this year, The New York Times celebrated the 20-year anniversary of its website.

My Tuesday post shared a back story leading up to the site’s launch, compliments of Pete Lewis who was the paper’s foreign correspondent for cyberspace  at the time.

Today, we look at the actual words from Jan. 22, 1996 (my takes in bold).


 

The New York Times Introduces a Web Site

By PETER H. LEWIS
Published: January 22, 1996

I suspect the paper feared anything coming close to smacking of hyperbole; hence, the Spartan headline.

The New York Times begins publishing daily on the World Wide Web today, offering readers around the world immediate access to most of the daily newspaper’s contents.

The term “World Wide Web” sounds downright quaint today.

The New York Times on the Web, as the electronic publication is known, contains most of the news and feature articles from the current day’s printed newspaper, classified advertising, reporting that does not appear in the newspaper, and interactive features including the newspaper’s crossword puzzle.

Amusing to see “classified advertising” highlighted as one of the features of the “electronic publication.” With Craigslist going live in 1996, it will be some time before it eviscerates this revenue stream of daily newspapers and articles like this one from New York Magazine in 2006 start appearing: “How a schlumpy IBM refugee found you your apartment, your boyfriend, your new couch, your afternoon sex partner — and now finds himself killing your newspaper.”

The electronic newspaper (address: http:/www.nytimes.com) is part of a strategy to extend the readership of The Times and to create opportunities for the company in the electronic media industry, said Martin Nisenholtz, president of The New York Times Electronic Media Company.

The company, formed in 1995 to develop products for the rapidly growing field of digital publishing, is a wholly owned subsidiary of The New York Times Company, and also produces the times service on America Online Inc.

Mr. Nisenholtz reports to Russell T. Lewis, the president and general manager of The New York Times, and to Joseph Lelyveld, the newspaper’s executive editor.

The Web-based Times is the newest of dozens of papers available to a global audience on the Internet’s fastest-growing service, which lets computer users see electronic publications consisting of text, pictures and, in some cases, video and sound.

Notice the characterization of readers as “computer users.” Back then, they weren’t one and the same.

A selection of the day’s news, discussion forums and other material from The Times has been available through the @times service since the spring of 1994 on America Online.

The Web site’s global audience means a larger potential readership than that of @times, which is limited to America Online’s subscribers, currently more than four million. The new site also offers new products and services.

“Our site is designed to take full advantage of the evolving capabilities offered by the Internet,” said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The Times. “We see our role on the Web as being similar to our traditional print role — to act as a thoughtful, unbiased filter and to provide our customers with information they need and can trust.”

Here we are 20 years later, and I think the digital version of the NYT has lived up to that “thoughtful, unbiased filter” moniker.

The Web site will also offer access to much of what the newspaper has published the previous week and access to feature articles from as far back as 1980.

The NYT archive has evolved into an incredible resource with articles going back to 1851. Apparently visual storytelling had yet to gain traction in the early days.

Old 1851 NYT Clip Post 2 02-16

Mr. Nisenholtz said that initially, at least, no subscription or access fee would be charged for readers in the United States and that the electronic paper would generate revenue from advertising. Readers who connect to the electronic paper from outside the country will be offered a 30-day trial without charge, but will eventually face a subscription fee.

Advertisers that have already announced participation on the Web site include Toyota Motor Corporate Services, Chemical Bank and the Northeast real estate concern Douglas Elliman.

Subscribers will have limited access to archives of Times articles and features dating to 1980, and will be able to copy articles to their own computers for $1.95 each, Mr. Nisenholtz said.

Again, amusing to read language like “copy articles to their own computers” as opposed to “download.”

The new service will also offer, for a fee, a customized clipping service that delivers to a subscriber’s electronic mailbox articles gleaned from each day’s editions of the newspaper, based on key words the subscriber selects.

Resembles Google Alerts two years before the founding of Google.

With its entry on the Web, The Times is hoping to become a primary information provider in the computer age and to cut costs for newsprint, delivery and labor. Companies that have established Web-based information sites include television networks, computer companies, on-line information services, magazines and even individuals creating electronic newspapers of their own.

“The New York Times name will get people to look at the product once or maybe twice, and the fact that The New York Times has the kind of reach and credibility it does may persuade people to look three or four times,” said John F. Kelsey 3d, president of the Kelsey Group, a consultancy running a conference on interactive newspapers next month.

“The market is booming for newspapers on the World Wide Web,” Mr. Kelsey said.


 

One shouldn’t judge Mr. Kelsey too harshly. How could he have predicted that this wrecking ball called “free” would swing through the newspaper industry?

I suspect that Mr. Sulzberger never envisioned the paper creating the type of digital storytelling, both editorial and native advertising, published today. The interactive storytelling, dubbed “Snow Fall,” around the deadly avalanche in the Washington’s Cascade Mountains set a new standard for digital publishing possibilities.

In fact, the NYT’s “Idea Lab“ captures in one place the media property’s more innovative digital work.New York Times idea labIt’s a great source of creative triggers for anyone involved in business communications.

 

 

 


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