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Net publishers expand offline

Some Web publishers have traditional-media stars in their eyes as they venture into radio or television. Slate teams up with NPR, and The Smoking Gun heads to Court TV.

Some Web publishers have traditional-media stars in their eyes as they venture into radio or television, in a new sign of the digital domain going mainstream.

On Monday, online publication Slate said it would collaborate with National Public Radio News to produce a daily radio show, taking its political and social commentary to the airwaves in July. Celebrity crime Web site The Smoking Gun said it is creating two half-hour shows for broadcast on the cable channel Court TV, joining a genre of popular gotcha shows like "Cops" in August.

Meanwhile, alma-mater Web site Classmates.com, in concert with Twentieth Television, is developing a reality TV show based on reuniting long-lost schoolmates. The show is set to air on select Fox stations June 30.

The trend signals some maturation in the "new media" industry as a handful of its more popular properties spin into old-media venues. During the Internet boom in the late 1990s and early 2000, a few Web entertainment companies, including Pseudo.com and Digital Entertainment Network, had grand plans to branch into offline media. But many such aims were foiled with the technology bust. Some early efforts have resurfaced, however, including Pseudo's designs for a Web TV show.

The moves also play into a long-expected shift in which the Internet becomes just one more way for media companies to reach audiences, rather than a medium that will either dominate or play second fiddle to traditional media. Internet-only companies are pushing for this kind of change to garner more respect and dollars from traditional advertisers--and making a mark offline could raise their visibility.

"This is a sign that these companies have reached a certain amount of staying power and are trying to satisfy their audiences in new markets," said David Card, an analyst with New York-based Jupiter Research. "Modern media companies must be in different mediums."

ESPN, for example, with its Web site, magazines, TV shows and sports bars, is defined as a modern company visible in multiple mediums, he said. As audiences become more fragmented, they will demand to receive material in the way they choose, such as through the Internet from work or via a cell phone while they're in transit, Card said.

He cautioned that the medium must match the message, however. Internet companies attempting to transfer their material must ensure that people want to access it that way, he said. People aren't clamoring to watch movies via the PC--an example of how new methods don't always catch on right away. Also, companies must do it inexpensively to mitigate risk, considering that advertisers aren't necessarily accustomed to buying across all media properties at once the way that sales departments and media executives hope for in the future.

"This nirvana of cross-media marketing is still far out there," Card said.

Classmates CEO Mike Smith, however, is confident that the site's popularity online, with 35 million members, will draw advertisers to broadcast television. Like many reality shows, the program will feature real-life people, but this time, they will be looking to reunite with old flames, long-lost friends or rivals. To get on the half-hour show, people can log on to the site to share their story about how they would like to find someone. Still, Classmates is gambling with a new reality show at a time when the genre's draw is waning with TV viewers.

The Smoking Gun is dabbling with a show on Court TV, its parent cable station. It will be hosted by Mo Rocca, senior political correspondent for Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." For now, it's scheduled to premiere Wednesday, Aug. 20, at 8 p.m.

Microsoft-owned Slate is piggybacking its show onto established radio station NPR, which likely attracts a similar audience to that of Slate's. Its one-hour weekday radio show, called "Day to Day," will air midday around the country and will feature news topics of the day. It will be hosted from Los Angeles by NPR correspondent Alex Chadwick and will include such contributors as Slate founding editor Michael Kinsley and editor in chief Jacob Weisberg. "Day to Day" is the first program collaboration NPR has initiated with a commercial media outlet in its 33-year history.

"NPR's loyal audience and nationwide reach coupled with Slate's innovative delivery of news and information is the perfect marriage of radio and the Internet," Slate publisher Cyrus Krohn said in a statement.