The Baltimore Sun announced yesterday that it has hired the executive director of a planned downtown children's museum to lead a move into the infant medium of the Internet.
Lawrence A. Kessner, a 38-year-old former reporter for The Evening Sun, will become "webmaster" and publisher of The Sun's new Internet World Wide Web publishing dividsion late next month.
Hilary Schneider, vice president for sales, said The Sun is planning a May launch for a site on the World Wide Web.
The Web is a fast-growing, graphics-oriented segment of the Internet, a worldwide network used by an estimated 30 million people. But Mary Junck, The Sun's publisher and chief executive officer, emphasized that she sees great potential for the Internet as a local medium.
"The Sun's site will be built around several data bases that enable readers to customize the information they want to receive, when they want to receive it: sports scores, government information, transportation routes, restaurant or movie reviews, to name but a few," Ms. Junck said in a statement.
In addition to providing localized on-line information, the new Sun division will also enter the highly competitive business of connecting customers to the Internet.
Ms. Schneider said The Sun expects to form a "marketing partnership" with a third-party Internet access provider to handle the technical aspects of the service, which would be marketed under The Baltimore Sun name. She added that the company intends to license Netscape Navigator, the world's most popular World Wide Web "browser" software, for its subscribers' use.
The Sun's Web site will offer a mix of news and advertising content, including a classified section that will let users search for the specific items they want, Ms. Schneider said. She added that The Sun anticipates that users will be able to conduct secure electronic transactions through the Web site, which has not yet been named.
Douglas Gomery, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland, said many other newspapers have been on the Web for months or years but that so far none has figured out how to make it pay.
"We're in the era of what TV was in 1948," said Dr. Gomery.
Mr. Kessner said figuring out how to make money will be the
challenge of his new job. He said he expects revenue to come from a mix of advertising and subscriptions.
He said the new service will use some of the news content of The Sun "when it is the appropriate thing to do" but that it will not attempt to duplicate the newspaper in an on-line form.
Mr. Kessner said he will continue to serve on the board of Port Discovery/The Baltimore Children's Museum, which is being designed by the Walt Disney Co. to take its place among the Inner Harbor's tourist attractions. He said the design process is "moving along with all due speed" for the project, which is expected to open in the old city Fishmarket in about two years.
In addition to reporting for The Evening Sun from 1979 to 1983, Mr. Kessner has practiced law in Washington and has co-founded a company that launched three radio stations for children in the Baltimore-Washington region.
Ms. Junck cited the latter experience as one of the reasons Mr. Kessner was chosen.
"He has a solid track record in developing content that is compelling for consumers and advertisers," she said.