Herald trims its internet ambitions

Nearly a third of the 35 jobs at Wilson & Horton Interactive are on the line as the New Zealand Herald publisher prepares to shelve several planned e-commerce projects.

Nearly a third of the 35 jobs at Wilson & Horton Interactive are on the line as the New Zealand Herald publisher prepares to shelve several planned e-commerce projects.

Editorial staff of the Herald's online version have already been largely integrated into the paper's staff and the five sales staff are set to follow.

In a statement yesterday afternoon W&H Interactive general manager Mark Ottaway said the company had "reluctantly reached a preliminary view that there must be a reduction in staff numbers and non-core product development costs based on the markets slow uptake of Internet offerings." Discussions over the future of about 10 jobs will take place over the next two weeks.

The interactive arm was formed on a shoestring two years ago in the wake of a "strategic alliance" with Telecom and Xtra that produced little other than a badly botched W&H corporate site. Clearview Communications, which had rescued the corporate site from the Telecom subsidiary DVP, subsequently built the original Herald site. Development was later taken in-house.

Ottaway says the paper's Web business no longer needs to be a stand-alone unit.

"I think we had to start that way because traditional businesses just couldn't handle the completely different mode that the internet involved. There's much more understanding of that in those traditional environments and desire to make use of it. We do believe that we need internet champions, that they are dedicated internet people, and that will carry on."

Ottaway says all the current Herald brands – including StockWatch, Travel and NetClassifieds as well as the nationwide MyTown initiative, which brings regional papers online – will be staying.

"And we have some quite ambitious plans for them. The cut if we're going to call it that is not on active projects, but things that are in the R&D stage. We took a fairly wide approach when we started – it was almost a portal approach – and what we're doing now is consolidating into the Herald brand and the products we've got there.

"So some of the things that we were investigating are going on the back burner or being cancelled. There's no market for some of those things."

Ottaway won't specify what the cancelled opportunities are, because they involve other companies and because some may yet be pursued in future.

Meanwhile, Stockwatch and Travel are both on line for further development.

Content is now directly delivered to the Web from the paper's Cybergraphics publishing system. The Herald site itself is built on Allaire's ColdFusion product, but Ottaway says the company will not be rushing to migrate to Allaire's next-generation product, Spectra.

"Spectra's the next stage, and personalisation and so on is a little bit easier under that environment," he says. "We have a licence for Spectra but at this stage we're a bit hesitant to get involved with such a massive project that does actually have quite a lot of cost attached to it. It's in the wings and I think it'll stay in the wings for a bit longer."

In yesterday's statement W&H group executive officer Craig Marsh added the company’s online business would still be driven by its "valuable and trusted newspaper brands".

"As I mentioned at the recent E-commerce Summit, we’ve been through the 'field of dreams' period," Marsh said. "We remain committed and enthusiastic to this market, but we are applying appropriate disciplines and refocusing on where we can continue to grow the business."

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