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Newspapers encouraged to go the wireless route

Though most U.S. newspapers are still struggling to publish online editions, one association wants them to think about going one step further: publishing on wireless devices.

Though most U.S. newspapers are still struggling to publish online editions, the Newspaper Association of America wants them to think about going one step further: publishing on wireless devices.

"The day is coming when the portable Web will outnumber desktops, because it's portable like the newspaper and it becomes what (wireless) carriers call 'the unconscious carry,'" said Melinda Gipson, director of new media business development for the NAA.

"One won't replace the other, but newspapers more than any existing medium have the rich local resources on which to draw to create these tactical, useful walking-around services," Gipson said yesterday. "This is why newspapers should care about wireless."

The NAA is working with Nando Media, a division of McClatchy Newspapers, to build a national database of local newspapers that can be accessed through wireless devices. The concept is that consumers using browser phones can look up local newspaper content based on the area code, ZIP code or city name wherever they're traveling.

For newspapers, the draw would be to stay competitive in an increasingly wireless world. Earlier this year, International Data Corp. predicted that Internet-enabled wireless subscribers would outnumber wired Net users by the end of 2002.

By teaming with Nando and the NAA in a national database, the newspapers would increase the odds that major wireless carriers such as Sprint would pick up the look-up service.

"The carriers want local content, but they want it in a national deal. They don't want to deal with every locality," said James Calloway, Nando's executive vice president for business development.

But the Gordian see story: Technology tussle underlies wireless Webknot lies in newspapers' participation. The look-up technology is ready. The newspapers just need to come aboard by building Web sites compatible with Wireless Application Protocol (WAP).

The NAA and Nando must convince their nearly 1,800 member papers to not only get up to speed technically, but to also think in terms of publishing tailored information for the small real estate of browser phone screens.

To help this effort, at its annual conference next week in San Francisco, the association is offering a training seminar in conjunction with Nando and Phone.com to teach newspapers how to create WAP-compatible sites. WAP is a standard way for wireless devices to be used for online activities.

"If we develop the kind of compelling application that I know we can, we're going to get that one-to-one reader relationship that publishers have always relished," Gipson said.