Interview with Struan Bartlett, NewsNow

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Sometime last year I conducted an interview with Struan Bartlett, founder of NewsNow. Here is the transcript of that interview:

SY: Hi Struan, thanks for sparing some of your time with us. Can you please tell a little bit about yourself and how you guys got together to found NewsNow?

SB: I?m currently 30, graduated from University of Glasgow in 1994 with a 1st in Mathematics and began my career, hacking out articles for a computer products review mag. After a couple of years, the .com boom was in its infancy and, inspired by the possibilities, I decided I better brush up one of my childhood hobbies – programming – and get my head around web site development. This allowed me to help set up the UK?s first online publication devoted to Internet business (surprisingly, called Internet Business) where I had the pleasure of first working with the other three founders of NewsNow.

But it wasn?t until a year later, after having successfully made the transition from journalist to full-time web site developer, that the idea for a UK-focussed news aggregation portal arose. I prototyped custom software; the second founder secured the domain and some web hosting; the third provided office services; and the fourth joined almost full time to develop and promote the site. We officially launched in February 1998 and, before the year was out, we had reached 1 million page impressions per month, the minimum required to interest a banner ad sales house. At this point, NewsNow started to make serious money.

SY: As I have heard, and even witnessed, NewsNow updates its sources every five minutes ? possibly faster than other news engines such as Google News ? and by doing so, it must use a decent amount of hardware, which indeed requires some investment. Can you please provide us some details as to from where NewsNow gets its venture?

SB: In mid-2000, NewsNow scored an investment deal with v.c. Monticello PLC worth ?500k, on very favourable terms.

SY: How would you rate NewsNow? Do you think it stands out against

its competitors as we speak?

SB: NewsNow isn?t a goliath like Lexis-Nexis. NewsNow is a small company full of people who care about the customer and the service. It stands out – as it always has – for the best sources, effective technology and responsive customer service, provided with a personal touch, at very reasonable prices.

NewsNow was hardly going to be a .com bust, because it could always provide something people really wanted. It?s seen steady growth since its inception and has begun turning a healthy operating profit.

There are others that are bigger, but in Internet press cuttings, the NewsNow team has experience and technology that?s hard to match.

SY: I?ve submitted a few sources to NewsNow in the past and to what I?ve noticed, they get approved ASAP with all letters in capital and italics. Do you have a dedicated team or a person working on it?

SB: Publishers are our customers too. They pay us in kind with the contribution their content makes to our service, and we provide their content with enhanced exposure in return. We therefore accord them the same respect as all our customers and, yes, with the personal involvement of as many of our staff as it takes to get the job done professionally.

SY: Right. Do you have any future plans for NewsNow? Are you guys working on something that the web might be waiting to see?

SB: We?ve just completed next year?s annual business plan. It focusses first and foremost on doing what we do even better. We?ve got ideas to develop the business – but to find out what, the web will just have to wait and see.

SY: Last question. What do you feel is the future for real-time news technology? Do you think it is yet to evolve or has it evolved enough already?

SB: It?s still evolving. Wireless technology is turning all citizens into potential reporters and syndicators. The likes of Ohmynews and Slashdot have begun the trend, and the mobile phone shots taken in the US-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq show the potential. But the change is only just beginning.

News itself, like Linux code, will increasingly be free of charge and freely available. And in the same way that the best free code finds its way into Linus Torvalds? and Alan Cox?s Linux kernel updates, the best free news will be chosen by editors for inclusion in their publications. Value will be added by the editors who prioritise and organise the news-space to suit the worldviews of their readers. Those who do this the most effectively, will build up a world-wide reputation.

This new paradigm, which allows ordinary people to write and circulate the news themselves, will increasingly see smaller publishers able to effectively compete for readers with the maintream establishment monoliths. Small newsbooths will print out and staple the morning?s edition of your favourite editor?s journal at lower cost and with fewer ads than metro or a national newspaper can manage.

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