28 September 2009
by Jeff Zbar

This article was published in the South Florida Business Journal on Friday, September 25, 2009.
The Florida Keys gets thousands of visitors each year – beyond those coming for fun in the sun. Because the destination’s Web site receives visits from reporters, journalists and others seeking news and information on the destination, an online newsroom seemed to make sense.
The site is called the Keys’ official “newsroom” – created to manage what can be a flood of media requests for everything from news and information to images for use in magazines and newspapers.
“These days, you’re really expected to be always available. You literally have a 24-hour news operation,” said Andy Newman, senior VP of Miami-based NewmanPR and account supervisor for the Florida Keys Tourism Council. “But, with a newsroom, you don’t have to be there every minute of the day.”
Companies big and small are finding value in online newsrooms. They provide ’round-the-clock access to company information – without a communications staffer being burdened by requests.
The rise of Web 2.0 services, where users can update content themselves without a webmaster or IT department, gives companies options for creating their newsrooms. Some, like the Keys, use a dedicated online newsroom service. Others use Web pages dedicated to various functions or features. A recent story on the Web site Mashable highlighted how companies can use Facebook to create company newsrooms. Another solution is WordPress blogging software.
Today’s online “newsroom” serves more than the media, said TEKGROUP's director of marketing communications at TEKgroup International in Pompano Beach. The software development firm creates online newsroom applications for such clients as Ford Motor Co., Delta Air Lines and the Florida Keys.
Custom online newsrooms range from $5,000 to $12,000 a year, she said. Compared with free services like Facebook or a WordPress application, some could argue for the cheaper way out, she agreed. Yet, custom newsrooms offer features the others don’t, like search engine optimization, and even distribution to e-mail lists, Twitter and Facebook sites, she said. YouTube videos can be embedded on or linked from a newsroom page.
Newman appreciates the freedom, and time and cost savings found by allowing journalists registered on the site to fetch their own high-resolution images, he said. No more duplicating or shipping slides, which can be expensive and laborious, he said.
An important element regarding an online newsroom is the audience it serves. Though the Keys newsroom was created exclusively with journalists in mind, journalists aren’t the only people who visit most newsrooms, Woodall said. Business partners, investors, customers and others frequently turn to the sites for news and background information, including company history and timeline, executive biographies, frequently asked questions, even high-resolution images of product or people, she said.
“It isn’t just for the media anymore. Anybody and everybody wants to know about your news,” she said. “It becomes a central location for all your news, and your official site for details, rumors or traffic.”
Among the content Woodall suggests be included in an online newsroom are searchable archives of postings and news releases, media credentials registration, media contacts, a link to the company’s Twitter feed, videos and interview request forms. Using custom applications, staff can control visitor access to information by creating password-protected areas, she said. With such access, bona fide media can get executive cell phone numbers or high-resolution images, she said.
The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale uses a blended solution. Its Facebook page serves as a news distribution application that supports its existing news page on its Web site, said Arlene Wites, the institute’s director of communications. For the past 18 months, Wites has issued press releases, event news and other updates to more than 1,100 Facebook “friends,” she said.
This week, Wites posted news about graduation and student portfolio reviews. Last summer, she posted school closure updates as tropical storms approached. The Facebook page has event photos, news about competitions and other information, she said. The newsroom concept is one of the evolving uses of Facebook, she said.
“It’s part of the media mix to get the word out to students and other friends of the school,” Wites said. “Because it was so viral, it’s better than e-mail or texting. It’s an effective communications tool.”
In Boosting Your Business, Jeff Zbar covers marketing, technology and small business strategies. Contact him at jeffzbar@gmail.com or (954) 346-4393.
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