Posts Tagged ‘online

17
Jun
08

Where do they go from here?

Only a few days ago online newspaper guru Rob Curley announced he was departing the Washington Post company’s WPNI to take up residence at The Las Vegas Sun. This would be interesting enough to those of us watching with hope and fear what happens to newspapers online. What will Curley, who has arguably been successful at every stop on his newspaper journey, bring to The Sun and, possibly, the many other properties of the Greenspun Media Group.

Don’t go looking at this like the savior coming to Sin City. The LV Sun already has what many consider a top-notch web site. Less than a month ago the site won the EPPY (Editor & PUblisher award) for “Best Overall Newspaper-Affiliated Web Site” with fewer than 1 million unique monthly visitors. The New York Times won the same award for newspapers with more than 1 million unique monthly visitors. The Sun’s recognition came only four months after launching its revamped news portal.

Curley played some role in the redesign. He recommended and used to work with the online editor who took over right before the re-vamping.

According to his blog, Curley was asked to recommend someone for what they were planning at The Sun. “I didn’t even have to think about it. I told them they should hire Dave Toplikar immediately. Dave was the long-time online managing editor at The Lawrence Journal-World before I got there, including being our sites’ top editor for the three years while I was in Lawrence.”

In fact, Curley appears to have recommended most of the new hires for the Sun’s new media team. Now that he has joined them it should be interesting to see what happens. Which makes this a great time to take a look at what is going on at The LV Sun web site.

However, all of this doesn’t necessarily mean there are lessons for us all in the LV Sun site. The reason for that lies in the story of the newspaper.

The LV Sun is in the third year of a JOA (joint operating agreement) with its larger rival, The Las Vegas Review-Journal. The rather odd arrangement has The Sun maintaining separate staff and content, but being delivered with the LVRJ. In order to make this work, The LV Sun has almost no “traditional” news and zero advertising. It serves as a sort of daily news magazine for the city of Las Vegas, with long, in-depth articles that lean more toward analysis.

The good of this is that the LV Sun is much freer to experiment than a paper that has to cost justify what it does. The bad is that is no business model from which others can glean clues about what may work in the online environment.

What about the web site, which comes off as almost an after-thought amidst all of the rest? It’s pretty, but probably not something that will change online newspapering as we know it.

It is clean, well-organized, and visually interesting. It is 100 percent local — you will have to drill down a ways for anything state, regional, national or beyond. It boasts lots of widets to elevate blogs and stories, a few tools to fuel reader interaction and great use of color. What’s more it has tons of useful evergreen stuff (Vegas History and Moving In, as two prime examples), and an easy to navigate multimedia section.

On the other hand, it isn’t a news site and Google is living proof that nice design means diddly online.

What may be brightest about the site, if it is true, is the statement from New Media Managing Editor Toplikar that the Web site is the result of a cooperative attitude between the Sun’s newsroom and the new media team. I’ve heard that before but never really seen it. Such a team approach is crucial to online success yet seldom occurs.

I am waiting to see what Curley will do there. The site isn’t shabby now, he has demonstrated some leadership ability in the past, and he is joining what may be the dreamiest team of his career. It’s a strong start — but where do they go from here?

06
Jun
08

I have met the enemy and he is me – pt. 2

In the old newspaper world readers lived in cages. Every day someone would slide a variety of food through a slot and they, those rather domesticated readers, could take from it what they wanted. Usually there was a bit of meat, a few potatoes, veggies for those who liked that stuff, a few sweets, and a lot of fluff. Take what you want, leave the rest.

Me, I read the newspaper cover-to-cover every day. I discovered worlds I never knew or even imagined in the nooks and crannies of that newspaper. But I was fairly unusual. Most people discarded 80-90 percent of the newspaper every day. Some were simply carnivores; they only wanted sports scores or stock tables. Some were just vegetarians, so they had a bit of world news before seeing what they could glean from the living section. Some just liked sweets, so they stuck to the entertainment section and lived for the comics. Those who who thrived on fluff just wanted the ads. The cross-over was small in those different groups.

But that was OK. What choice did they have? Unless they were willing to buy the New York Times at a news stand, they took what news nutrition they could from the local paper. Sure they could wait for Time or Newsweek, but those were for analysis (roughage?) — not news. Yeah, there was nightly television, but that required one to be in front of that TV at a specific hour and then you only got what the networks decided were the top stories of the day. TV has always been something akin to a liquid diet. Pureed news. You wanted movie reviews, stories about musicians, an early morning chuckle? Chances are you needed the paper. You lived for classifieds or coupons, there was no way to get that fix without buying your daily dose of pulped wood.

Choices were limited. For the voracious consumers of information, like me, you took what you could get and you chewed it down to the bone. Everyone else fumed over how little of what they really wanted could be found within the dirty pages of the local rag.

Today’s readers are not prisoners. They live in a vast information landscape. It isn’t just a Serengeti, there are huge grasslands, mammoth hunting preserves, candy mountains that dwarf Everest, veritable forests of fluff that can be sorted and sifted to one’s hearts desire, and waterholes of every ilk dotting every environment. Few have time for foraging amidst all this bounty. Most gravitate towards the information habitat that come closest to providing them what they want or need. And they populate the water-holes most traveled by those closest akin to their kind. They now live in an all-you-can-eat world and the only price is their time and patience.

While the printed product does not easily translate to this new freedom, except perhaps as a sort of daily map, the digital versions of newspapers need not be limited by that ink-on-paper motif. They could be whatever they want to be — whatever they need to be. So why do they insist on trying to force their online products almost exclusively into that old mold? Newspaper people have made a living for centuries off of surfing cultural trends, so how come they can’t see that the cage doors are open and the animals roaming free? In fact, the cages have been torn down entirely and the animals are headed off toward the raw food sources of their choice. Some newspaper sites look like they are being run by Laurel & Hardy. They’re still trying to figure out why the lock doesn’t work anymore.

It isn’t that there is no longer a market for the processed and prepared food newspapers have been providing. It is largely that people want only the type of nutrition closest to their needs or desires and, they would like to participate in the preparation. Had newspapers recognized this five years ago there might not be quite so much hand-wringing over red ink these days. Sure things would probably still be less rosy than the good old days of endless 30 percent profit margins — hey when the animals are caged you can feed ‘em what you want and charge whatever they are willing to pay. But newspaper executives might see a future that didn’t involve so much blood being spilt.

Today, newspapers are beginning to recognize that everything has changed and they need to adapt or die. Some newspaper leaders are starting to realize that they have seen the killer of their industry every morning in the mirror. I have met the enemy and he is me.

Now, what am I going to do about it?