Monday, August 11, 2008

Hurry up! Come with me! What are you waiting for?! Get in gear!

Alisa Zykova at the Editors Weblog posted a short story on Aug. 8 about a Philadelphia Inquirer edict to hold some stories until the articles have appeared in print first.

Read "US: Philadelphia Inquirer managing editor takes "backward" step?" for more information.

The memo can be found at Ponyter Online. Scroll down to the memos starting at Aug. 8, or search for "Philadelphia Inquirer adopts new online policy."

Managing Editor Mike Leary told his staff that the newspaper would publish some articles online first, including investigative reporting, enterprise, trend, news features and reviews.

"What that means is that we won't post those stories online until they're in print," Leary wrote.

I was surprised. Other bloggers were too.

"It’s disheartening to see a major newspaper go backward," Steve Outing wrote in a blog post titled "Don’t go backward, newspapers!".

Jeff Jarvis was far more negative in his blog post, "A stake through the heart of the has-been Inquirer".

"You are killing the paper," Jarvis wrote. "You might as well just burn the place down. You’re setting a match to it. This is insane. Even the slowest, most curmudgeonly, most backward in your dying, suffering industry would not be this stupid anymore. They know that the internet is the present and the future and the paper is the past. Protecting the past is no strategy for the future. It is suicide. It is murder. You should be ashamed of yourselves."

I had to include to the long quote. Such venom. Such passion. I love it.

Steve Yelvington was measured in his response and offered a counter-argument in his blog post, "What's wrong with the new Philly publication rule? Us and them". He wrote that by waiting for publication, a newspaper can build momentum for a story's release, "teasing" and "setting the stage," being the operative words.

Yelvington is most concerned with a publication giving priority to one medium over another.

"It's entirely possible that the print and online components might be completely different with some parts being print-only," Yelvington wrote. "But you can't do that if you regard one medium as yours and the other as theirs. And that's the real problem with the Leary's memo."

The memo scares me, yet it doesn't surprise me. I'm not sure how it will change how the newspaper operates after reading a Q&A with Executive Editor Chris Newsom at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I think newspapers need to find appropriate publication times with all stories. I think a lot readers check out newspaper Web sites around noon and near bedtime. People seem to be more willing to sit with a longer article at these times. Holding investigative pieces wouldn't be out of step with reader trends.

I'm not so sure holding reviews is such a good idea. Then again, I'm not sure what the Philadelphia Inquirer reviews. Some reviews should be posted as soon as possible, like a television writer or a political column during campaign season. I could care less about CD reviews.

Enterprise, trend and news features can be published whenever. They often get pushed a couple of times. I don't see why one of these articles can't find life online first. If circumstances permit it, and the news environment calls for it, print it online first. Capitalize on the news environment. Don't be left looking like an ambulance chaser. Printing online can even alter the print edition, and even provide design elements by using reader comments or anecdotes.

It's common for newspapers to print stories about events at the end of the week. This isn't a problem for some, and it helps to have a snapshot of what's coming if you haven't made weekend plans. But it's a problem for people who want to plan ahead. I'm sure any of these features would be described as news features at the Philadelphia Inquirer and they may be published so late as to be considered irrelevant by some online readers.

Lost in the flurry about publication is that a newspaper needs to keep a steady steam of content coming to its the Web site. Links to daytime crime reports shouldn't bury investigative pieces. I also don't expect midnight and morning readers to care about a noon fire. Articles should be rotated appropriately on the front page. Newspapers need to get more bang for the buck. Nothing should go unread because its too hard to find on a Web site, or published too late.

I don't mind that The Sacramento Bee posts its daily stories online at midnight. I'm not bothered by it because the Web site regularly updates with other content.

On the other hand, its time consuming to check my RSS feed when the Sacramento News & Review posts its Thursday articles. I haven't clicked on the link from last week and its 52 links remain unchecked. Too much at once. I don't want to read everything at once, and, even if I bookmark some articles for later, many will go unread.

Newspapers: don't grasp at the old newspaper model. The Web is your friend. It provides a medium for more eyes than ever before. The print circulation numbers of the past are history. More papers distributed won't solve declining revenue. At the end of the day, that's what the memo was really about.

Instead, find ways to get users coming back to the Web site, and translate that Web time to increased revenue.

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