Getting the Facts Fast-
BY GREGG PEARLMAN
START ASSISTANT EDITOR
Let's say you're a reporter and you need as much information as possible-and pronto-about the latest scandal from Washington. Your newspaper maintains a "morgue' that's fairly current, but not completely, and that means that you're in for hours of viewing microfiche and taking notes. This wouldn't happen if your paper subscribed to DataTimes.
DataTimes is an online database containing virtually every story and editorial from dozens of local and national newspapers, wire services and trade publications from all over the United States and the world. Like Dialog and Knowledge Index from Dialog Information Services, Inc. (see the Online With START column in the October 1988 issue of START), DataTimes is an incredibly vast storage house of data, but it's not nearly as difficult to use. And if you do have trouble, DataTimes holds free monthly seminars.
Figure 1. The DataTimes quick reference card gives you most of the information you need. For
instance, if you don't know how to spell a word, you can truncate it and add a wildcard (like ATAR*).
The system will give you a list of possible spellings.
One main use of DataTimes is for the scenario mentioned above. Television and radio news teams also use the service, not just newspaper and magazine staffers. "At the time DataTimes began in 1981," said Allen Paschal, Vice President of DataTimes Corp., "local information on companies and people was typically inaccessible through any online service. This was a market niche that was missing, and we figured that if this information was available for research, we could fill that niche."
Figure 2. The complete list of publications in Datalimes' database, as of December 1988. So far,
The New York Times and Los Angeles Times haven't made the list, but DataTimes is working on it.
DataTimes Corp. started with the Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City. Their clipping files were converted to electronic media and put online, specifically for the newspaper staff. "We figured that if it could work here, it could work anywhere," Paschal says.
The Oklahoma Publishing Company, owners of the Daily Oklahoman, bought out the majority interest of DataTimes in late 1983 and began expanding in 1984. Now DataTimes is the largest provider of electronic magazines anywhere. "We expanded in one market after other," says Paschal.
DataTimes has about 30 magazines online, including US. News and World Report, Business Week, Forbes and Fortune; industry-specific magazines, such as Computer Reseller News and Computer Systems News; and travel, health and industry magazines. For a quick overview of important DataTimes commands and a full list of databases, see Figures 1 and 2.
The people who use the service range from Fortune 500 types to internationals to Mom-and-Pop organizations, according to Paschal, but it's primarily used by the publishing and broadcast media. "We have very very few general consumer subscriptions. It's not common for a consumer to research another person or company. I could see students doing research, but overall, individual consumers comprise less than 1 percent of our subscribers."
DataTimes has users in the legal and law enforcement fields, banks, credit agencies and accounting firms. Academic users include university libraries and metro library-type systems. "We're used by PR and ad agencies, too," says Paschal. "anyone with a quick need for research information on their competitors or clients. When a business wants to subscribe-we have 446 different information sources-we go out there and meet with them, one on one."
Over 300,000 businesses worldwide access DataTimes, but since the company is privately owned, people don't know much about it. "We're kind of a shy company in a way and haven't been involved in too much PR work," says Paschal, "but though we haven't sought much coverage, we certainly endorse it when the opportunity arises.
Paschal says that according to a Digital Information industry-wide survey dated February 23, 1989. DataTimes is the fastest-growing online service in the country, having expanded about 75 percent in 1988. "We're just at the tip of the iceberg of our business potential. Were growing so fast that it's almost chaotic-and hard to keep up with."
Is the Price Right?
DataTimes is certainly profitable for newspapers and other publications. While they can access their own databases for free, they also receive royalties, sometimes as much as 50 percent, for user access.
One thing that helps these publications-and DataTimes Corp.- make money is the price for using Data-Times: a $1.42 to $1.83 per minute access rate ($85 to $110 per hour). Global searches cost $2.75 a minute ($165 per hour). DataTimes also charges a onetime startup fee of $85, however, colleges and other academic bodies can obtain educational discounts. But although the access rates have increased slightly over the past four years, it costs less to automate a newspaper now than it was four years ago.
Doing Your Homework
DataTimes has no clipping service, but it does have some gateways, including Dow Jones News Retrieval, which has stocks and historical quotes, which date back 15 years. Once they're placed in the database, stories are never deleted.
Each story has an access number. Articles are displayed in full text, not as abstracts, and the database is updated each day. Classified and paid advertisements are not stored in the database.
Search fields vary among newspapers. Some fields are "intelligent": a search in the San Francisco Chronicle for stories involving Elizabeth Taylor will dig up stories involving "Liz Taylor" as well. The same is true for "George Bush," "President Bush" and "Vice President Bush." Each newspaper's head librarian decides on the searchable keywords for each article. Online help is available, but the quick reference card tells you "about 80 percent of what you need to know," according to DataTimes Account Executive Vickie Hutchinson. "But in terms of your search, you're at the mercy of the person with the byline. Therefore, this kind of service might affect the way articles are written - in the future, stories might be geared toward this kind of service."
Coverage and Service
"California's especially good for us because there are so many publications there," says Hutchinson. "We cover California pretty well. San Francisco subscribers spend about 46 percent of their online time searching the Chronicle for local information.
"As soon as we sign a contract with a company we begin compiling the database as of that day. DataTirnes has had a contract with the San Francisco Chronicle since January 1, 1985. We've had the Daily Oklahoman for the longest time- since 1981. People ask us if we're interested in 'going back in time,' but from a commercial standpoint, we really aren't. Over 80 percent of searches are on topical things from the last two years."
"We're working with a couple of companies regarding graphics," said Paschal. "There are still lots of kinks to work out, but our service may have graphics within two years."
DataTimes fills a unique niche in online services. If you have the need and the money, look into this online repository of recent history.
DataTimes, fees vary. DataTimes Corp., Parkway Plaza, Suite 450,
14000 Quail Springs Parkway, Oklahoma City, OK 73134.
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