‘New Media’ Start-Ups Savor Big Apple

From Associated Press

John Borthwick at age 30 is considered a senior in a cyberspace industry where executives and department heads are barely past the legal drinking age.

His 2-year-old Internet Web site, called Total New York, is timeworn in New York’s upstart “new media” industry, the East Coast’s equivalent of California’s Silicon Valley.

There are about 27,000 new media companies in New York City, according to the New York New Media Assn., an agency that helps cyber start-ups navigate through the city’s business law bureaucracy.


“New media” refers to companies that bring together services from many industries--graphic design, publishing, journalism, computer programming, advertising and broadcast--and blend them to form an Internet or online product, said Phil Strohl, programs coordinator for the association.

New York is “now the content capital in new media,” said Cynthia Allen, program coordinator for New York University’s Center For Digital Multi-Media.

And clearly, the city’s young entrepreneurs are betting that content--the subject matter and innovative use of graphics on the Web--is the next wave of new-media profits.

Entry-level salaries for page designers and programmers can range from the low-20s for online worker bees to mid-40s for department heads, to $70,000 a year for highly skilled programmers.

Borthwick, a London native who graduated from the Wharton School of Business, co-founded Web Partners from his apartment with $50,000 from private investors and another $50,000 of his own and his partner’s money in 1994. That same year in Manhattan’s cyber-trendy Chelsea district, he launched Total New York as a subsidiary. TNY had seven employees then. It now has 30.

Borthwick is evasive about whether his company is profitable, but predicts future revenue will come partially by charging users who visit his Web site.


“New York is exactly the place to be doing this now,” he said. “The logistics of starting a company in the United States are so much easier than Europe.”

New York and new media are why Marisa Bowe left Minnesota and why Andrew Wanliss-Orlebar left Paris.

As editor in chief of Word, an online, general interest “zine,” Bowe says she loves what she does, and especially where she does it.

Word’s suite overlooks Broadway in midtown Manhattan, an ideal place, she said, to explore the emerging universe of new media.

In fact, when Word’s parent company ICon tried to move the publication’s offices from Manhattan to Weehawken, N.J., Bowe and the staff refused to go. The company later relented.

“They couldn’t produce Word without us,” Bowe said.

In a far corner of Web Partners’ offices, Wanliss-Orlebar stares intently at his Macintosh clone. TNY, which averages about 600,000 Internet “hits” a week, is launching a pilot.


On an adjacent desk, a Texas Instruments notebook PC allows him to test Web pages that he designed using Adobe Photo Shop and Adobe Illustrator.

The larger PC is almost never used at full capacity, he said. His 120-mhz machine is far more powerful than what the average online consumer has. The 17-inch monitor has “millions” of colors, but he works in 256-capacity because “that’s what most people have.”

In addition, Wanliss-Orlebar must be conscious of “Web hierarchy.” Although he never formally studied design, he said his double major in communications and cognitive psychology help him create logical signposts for even neophytes to get to the next “place.”

Across town on East 34th Street, another start-up is staking its claim in the emerging industry. Despite its new-agey moniker, Earthweb is clearly reaching for the corporate brass ring.

Unlike TNY, its under-30 executives wear suits and ties. Its clients, seeking “Internet development and technology,” include the New York Stock Exchange, Digital Equipment, Coopers & Lybrand and Fidelity Investments.

Allison Fishman, 24, abandoned her pursuit of a law career last year after a “disillusioning” stint helping an attorney prepare defense cases.


In August 1995, she joined the new-media gold rush as Earthweb’s marketing director.

The average 70-hour workweek of Fishman and her 35 co-workers focuses primarily on promoting what is currently the company cash cow: Gamelan, a directory of Java programming resources on the Internet.

Advertisements keep the site profitable and eventually, Fishman hopes, successful enough to spin off Gamelan Direct. That site is being developed as a “shop” at which to buy, discuss and link to Java programming products on the Internet.

Steve Ross, who teaches computer-assisted reporting at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, believes the city’s new-media luster eventually will fade as online collaboration tools get better.

“The industry is in danger of slow erosion in New York,” Ross said.