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Exploring the Web as a New Medium of Communication

Financial News on the Web

By Debbie Weil
Sept 96, No. 2


If you ask David Ignatius, The Washington Post’s business editor, what’s special about WashingtonPost.com’s business section, he’s got a ready answer: "We think we’ve created an electronic product that gives business readers an extra dimension, an element of interactivity." He points in particular to Jim Glassman, whom he dubs the site’s "anchor personality."

"An anchor personality is part of what will make online journalism go," Ignatius said in a recent interview, comparing online journalism to the broadcast medium.

"We think Jim Glassman is the best investment columnist in the country." Glassman, the former editor of Roll Call, is a respected Washington journalist who writes about complex issues with a distinctive, clear voice. He’s generally regarded as a very smart guy. "We’ve created a special site for him," said Ignatius, where readers can ask questions and engage in ongoing dialogue.

Another popular feature of the Post’s online Business section is The Post 200, a searchable database of facts and figures covering metropolitan Washington’s top 200 companies. There is also a Business Glossary ("New and Improved," according to the site) which Ignatius calls "a marvelous thing... The vertical dimension of the online medium enables us to define complicated financial terms for our readers with the click of a mouse."

Lawrence Roberts, content developer for WashingtonPost.com’s Business pages, says he gave much thought to "what the basic things an investor would look for in an online newspaper site." His goal was twofold, he said in an interview. He wanted to make the Post’s online Business section "a one-stop shopping place." Secondly, he wanted the online section to be a serious competitor with the other three national sources of online financial news: CNNfn, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.

To that end, Roberts identified four major areas of interest to online investors:

* current quotes on stocks & mutual funds
* access to basic information on any company that’s in
the news or that an investor might be considering
* personal finance & investing advice
* tips on how to manage money (saving for college, 401(k)’s, etc.)

The actual sub-sections of the Online Post Business section cover these four areas, but with different names. For example, information on companies includes both the Post’s Top 200 as well as the database from Hoover’s Online, with which the Post has partnered. Jim Glassman’s columns from the print Post are incuded in the personal finance section, along with the interactive message board that Glassman moderates.

The result, asserts Roberts, is "a site with value and wisdom. I think we’ve got the most complete online business section that you don’t have to pay for."

But there are, in fact, dozens of sites on the Web that dispense free financial information. Whether or not they have the "value-added" component of an online newspaper’s business section is a question that webheads can debate. Personally, I’ll cast my vote for the judgment and editing imposed on online newspaper sites by old-fashioned print journalists.

Jayne Lytel, former editor of The Internet Letter (sold to Phillips Publishing), and currently new media editor of Institutional Investor, the financial publishing company with the eponymous flagship magazine, agrees that there is "a growing amount of financial information on the Web." But, she points out, it is generally targeted at "individual customers."

"For corporate news about mergers and acquisitions, etc., paper newspapers are still the place to go," Lytel said in an interview.

In addition, there are the specialized forums on America Online and CompuServe, as well as the newsgroups where much chatting goes on about stock prices, brokerage fees and the like. These tend to be moderated by non-experts, however, and depending on your comfort level with the credibility of your sources, they may be of questionable value to investors with little time to spend online.

(The playing out of the Iomega stock saga on AOL’s Motley Fool forum is the subject of a column unto itself.)

Institutional Investor does not yet have a Web site. (Lytel sighs.) But as product development editor, she has just launched the company’s first "wired" publication - an email-based, subscription-only newsletter called Financial Net News. The weekly update is available as a two-fer: it’s delivered both in print and by email, for an annual cost of $1,395. (For more information: jayne@lytel.com).

Lytel offers up four financial Web sites she consults frequently: Web Finance, Corporate Finance Network, StreetEYE Index and the Electronic Banking Resource Center.

I did, in fact, get some feedback to my last column on the subject of "Wired Women." One response was a vitriolic attack on my lackluster promotion of the "feminist" cause. I.e. the writer inferred from my column that I’m not really a "feminist." Since that was not the subject of the column (nor did I discuss my personal "self-identity"), I’ll move on to several other interesting replies.

Writes Wendy McLelland, "Women are getting onto the ’net in droves, but IMHO (they) feel intimidated by what seems to be a male-dominated industry. I try to encourage my clients - small business owners (male & female) - that this ’brave new world’ is full of potential for all, including women." McLelland operates the Biz Resource Site.

Another reply came from Jessica LeBeau, advertising director at a corporate headquarters in Dallas, Tx. She reacted to Rosalind Resnick’s comment that in an ideal world we wouldn’t need "women’s groups to compensate for women’s lack of self-confidence."

"Though I have never joined (a women’s group)," writes LeBeau, "I feel that perhaps they were organized so that women could vent their frustrations regarding a male-dominated society..." She goes on to give a specific example of unfair and demeaning treatment in a professional situation (not her current position, she emphasizes.)

Hmm, are all you editors & publishers out there listening? Yes, I know it’s 1996, but things really haven’t changed all that much. I’ll never forget what an editor said to me almost 20 years ago when I was interviewing for a staff position on The Atlanta Constitution.

I had just gotten my masters degree in journalism and was passionate to get a job as a real reporter. "But you’re married and your husband is a doctor (he was in medical training at the time)," said the editor in question. Pause... "Why would you want to work?"

OK, enough Oprah for this column.

Do you have specific ideas on how and why the Web is developing as a new medium of mass communication - a Fifth Estate, if you will? A fundamental question to ponder: Do you see the Web as an adjunct or ultimately as a replacement for traditional print media? Let me know what you think.


Debbie Weil is president of Wordbiz.Net, a Web site consulting firm specializing in the design and organization of content.


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This column was originally written for Editor & Publisher Interactive.

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