Newspapers and their Web sites, a deadly duality?

27 04 2009

Jeff Sonderman has an interesting post about how difficult it is to produce a great newspaper and a great community web site at the same time, and how the attempt is killing newspapers.

He makes some good points from an insider’s perspective. I like to see someone thinking about compromise rather than the usual rants of traditional vs. online news media, even with the great challenges Sonderman lists:

Production and planning. A lot goes on behind the scenes at a daily news organization. The major meeting of the day comes in late afternoon to plan what stories go on what print pages for the next day. In a web-centered newsroom, you might have that meeting at 6 am to be on top of the morning traffic peak. Tough choice: schedule your day and planning around the 24-hour web cycle or the daily morning print cycle? You can’t really do both (unless you just meet all day, which is even worse).

• Staff specialties. A web-centered newsroom would have a team of web developers working constantly on special projects and beta experiments. In reality, most newsrooms are lucky to have one or two people capable of this, and even then they may not be given the time or freedom to innovate. Tough choice: spend salary on a print copy editor or a web developer. You can’t do both.

• Writing style and content focus. Most newspaper-based news organizations are still writing “newspaper stories” and posting them online. It’s what they know. A web-focused organization, however, would rarely write a single long block of words to tell a story. We would focus on shorter, conversational-style, blog-like entries — heavy on links and embedded media. Tough choice: write for a print style audience or a web community. You can’t really do both well.

However, more is killing newspapers than the Web. The business model is antiquated on many levels, and the death spiral started before even a few people turned to the Web for news.



2 responses

27 04 2009
Jeff Sonderman

Thanks for the added thoughts. I agree there certainly are other business model problems. Even without online competition, this would be a rough time to keep running a print product supported mostly by ads from department stores (going), car dealers (going), realtors and job ads (gone).

27 04 2009

Yes, I fear we’re a long way from solving the revenue part of the equation. But there’s also the costs factor — increased prices for newsprint and petroleum-based ink, fuel for driving the product all around the circulation area, health insurance premiums for a labor-intensive industry, maintaining plants and heavy equipment, HVAC, etc., etc.

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