Coalition crash spells good news for Newsroom

While the nation pondered the crumbling of its governing coalition last Friday, Newsroom, the politically-angled 'interactive news station' on the Web was having its best day ever, with 40,092 page accesses. In a sector where cost is a certainty and revenue a usually fond idea, Newsoom now employs four full-time journalists. We talked to founder Peter Fowler at the end of a busy week.

While the nation pondered the crumbling of its governing coalition last Friday, Newsroom, the politically-angled "interactive news station" on the Web was having its best day ever, with 40,092 page accesses. In a sector where cost is a certainty and revenue a usually fond idea, Newsoom now employs four full-time journalists. We talked to founder Peter Fowler at the end of a busy week.

Newsroom (www.newsroom.co.nz) launched about 18 months ago, and its service consists of two basic parts - a Website, which is free to use (and sponsored by Hunter Wines), and NewsMail, a subscription service which delivers a range of targeted news stories by email.

@IDG: It strikes me that a time like this for Newsroom is like wartime for CNN - you're in your element. But how long has it taken to set up all the systems and structures? How hard was it, for instance, to get party press releases supplied electronically?

Fowler: We've been going more than 18 months, and we faced a lot of ridicule that it would never work, but now employ four full time journos and one part time with offices in Wellington and Auckland. We have two journalists accredited to the press gallery, and gather releases any way we can. The political parties and ministerial press secretaries helped make it, however, by sending us press releases via email at a time, back in February 1997, when such a thing was unheard of.

Your setup is a kind of cross between NZPA and newstalk radio in that you're doing both breaking news and matters of record. How's it structured? Does the duty reporter do the news sypnoses too?

We are modelled on the public radio editorial line. We try to be accurate and present the facts and let the reader decide what the state of the world is. We run 24 hrs a day 7 days a week when we have to .. like at the moment. We run on a rostered shift system much like you would see in any other news agency. The duty editor does front page summaries, etc, but we are about to restructure rosters to take into account extra reporters

How are the hours as a Newsroom staffer? Any different at a time like this?

Because we are real-time we have to have someone in the duty editor seat constantly. We broke the official news of Jim Bolger's resignation last year just before 11pm at night for example. Reporters generally do an eight hour day either on a morning or evening shift. It is different at times like this! I got four hours sleep last night. We have good contacts and the phone never stops when people can smell blood in Parliament.

What's the usual traffic through the site? Is it up at the moment? Does it spike when a story breaks like it did last night?

Traffic goes throught the roof at times like this, but we also get heavy traffic from US yahoo.com linking to our headlines. The record is 10,000 accesses on one headline. Normal traffic is around 15- 20,000 accesses a day. [Through the current crisis] we are tracking about 35,000 accesses and rising - our audience is generally growing at about 10% per month.

How many NewsMail subs are there? Who takes them? Do you expect the coalition whoopsies to sell you a few more subscriptions?

NewsMail is linked into our robot G.O.R.F and is processed at the publishing stage. We have clients overseas as well as in New Zealand. We are about to launch a new version of NewsMail which will include news and sport from one of NZ's mainstream real-time news agencies which we are very excited about.

Who's your competition?

We cannot find anyone who hardly understands what we are doing let alone competing with us. Globally there is nothing that delivers what NewsMail delivers.

While the gallery reporters of the daily papers and the broadcast media are happy to quote "sources" and speculate, Newsroom tends to stick more to the facts. I'm sure you could run an Interactive Gossip Station, but you don't and I presume that's deliberate.

Credibility and reliability are two important principles in running a news agency. We may get an attitude at some stage, but at this stage we are aiming at the business market and they don't want rantings, they want facts they can use.

On the other hand, there's often a bit of dry humor about Newsroom ...

Glad you noticed ... as number of reporters increase so will range of content. Some pretty amazing things are about to happen to the site over the next few months.

Where's Newsroom heading? What are the plans?

NewsRoom is the elusive internet economic model everyone is looking for. The Internet is a global medium, which a lot of people seem to lose sight of. You can expect to see NewsRooms popping up all round the world from next year hopefully, which will all be linked to a global news service.

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