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Cover Update: News you can use

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  • | 6:00 p.m. January 4, 2008
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Cover Update: News you can use

Every family has a genealogist. You know the type: It's the one person that can recite your family tree back to the Mayflower.

Now, professional and amateur genealogists can search historical newspapers that have been digitized by a Naples company called NewsBank and search for clues about distant relatives.

"The attraction of that is the news content we have," says Daniel Jones, president and owner of NewsBank. Birth notices, obituaries and articles are a rich source for researchers.

Over nearly four decades, Jones has steered NewsBank from a small microfiche distributor to a leading provider of digitized newspaper articles via the Internet. Today, NewsBank provides libraries with content from over 2,000 newspapers, including most of the largest U.S. newspapers by circulation.

In the past year, NewsBank has added hundreds of newspapers to its database. Much of the growth today is coming from local community newspapers.

"Interestingly, the usage of smaller papers continues to be higher than one might have expected," Jones says. That's because they publish local news that readers can't get anywhere else.

But some of fastest growth is coming from historical newspapers dating back to 1690. Millions of pages of these newspapers have been digitized, dramatically speeding up the work researchers do. When a page is digitized, it's easy for a researcher to perform a keyword search to find what he's looking for. That would have been a long and laborious task just a decade ago.

Meanwhile, NewsBank is growing its presence overseas, selling content in faraway places such as Australia and New Zealand. Although much of NewsBank's content is in English, its stable of Spanish newspapers and Spanish customers is growing.

Jones' other big challenges include the distribution of content on Internet services such as Google and the turbulence in the newspaper industries as large companies split up.

NewsBank provides Google News with access to some of its clients' newspaper archives. When you search Google News, a list of relevant articles appears on the screen. NewsBank provides many of the articles and the links to the newspapers' archives.

"One of the changing things is that newspapers are making the archives free of charge," Jones says. Some newspaper companies are betting they can sell more by advertising around free content than by charging users for it. "I'm not ready to say which one is right," Jones says.

The fact that many large newspaper companies are struggling financially is complicating matters. Circulation and advertising at many metropolitan daily newspapers are declining. News companies are spinning off their newspapers, others are selling pieces of their newspaper empires and some are acquiring rivals in a bid to wring out efficiency through consolidation. "You never know when it's going to stop," Jones says.

His forecast: "More of the same."

-Jean Gruss


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