Online firms battle to provide City news service

THESTREET.COM, a US provider of financial news and analysis over the Internet, will raise the stakes in the battle between online firms to cover the City when it launches in London early next year.

Martin Baker, European editor of Sunday Business, has been hired to lead its UK expansion. The firm is also planning to launch a major recruitment drive next month.

The move comes as it emerged that two senior journalists at the Financial Times considered quitting the newspaper to set up their own Internet- based financial publication. The journalists, political editor Robert Peston and New York correspondent William Lewis, are understood to have abandoned plans for the venture.

Talk of a breakaway from the FT, which is owned by media group Pearson, came amid employee anger about integration of the newspaper with its online sister publication FT.com.

Senior journalists are understood to be upset with plans that will see them work closely with the online venture's recent intake of young journalists, many of whom are newly graduated from journalism training programmes.

"It's all being done for the greater glory of the Pearson share price," said one insider, commenting on the integration plan.

Freeserve, the UK's largest Internet service provider, started the rush to provide distinctive British financial news online in competition with long-established news wires such as Reuters. It took a stake in Globalnet Financial, which has launched UK-Invest.com. The UK service is headed by Clive Wolman, a former FT journalist and ex-editor of London Financial News, a weekly newspaper covering the City.

Freeserve is also setting up an online trading service to complement Globalnet's content. It will compete with E-Trade, which began offering online dealing in Britain last month and which recently set up a joint venture with Instinet, the electronic broker owned by Reuters.

In the US the Internet handles one in six stock trades, compared with only 3 per cent of trades in Britain, although that figure could triple within the next year.

Charles Schwab, the world's largest online broker, announced in February that it had notched up online trades worth more than pounds 100m over the Web after launching a British trading service last year.

TheStreet.com share price soared more than threefold following its flotation on Nasdaq, valuing the company at nearly pounds 1bn. But the rout of Internet stocks in recent weeks has clipped its market value to nearer pounds 300m.

TheStreet.com offers financial news and data to retail investors prepared by a team of 60 journalists. The Web site also links into online trading systems such as Datek and DLJ Direct that offer execution-only services from $9.95 per trade.

Unlike most Web sites, TheStreet.com charges users a subscription fee of $99.95 per year or $9.95 per month.

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