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Teaching Online Journalism

Some still — still — don’t get it

The exclamations of amazement and disgust (x 2) at the Philadelphia Inquirer’s new online policy (or should we say non-online policy? Anti-online policy?) reminded me of something someone told me yesterday about a discussion in a newsroom, very recently, at a large metro daily. (Sorry, I’m not allowed to say which one.)

In a meeting in which the Internet and online trends of all sorts were discussed at some length, an older journalist said something like: It’s as if there are two parallel universes, the online world and the real world.

The younger journalists in the room (at whom my source immediately looked) rolled their eyes and made small helpless gestures with their hands.

There are not two universes, folks. There is only one. A lot of people live there, but apparently, some journalists don’t.

If the Inquirer’s managing editor, Mike Leary, lived in the universe of simultaneous and continuous online/offline life, as many of us do, I don’t think he would have written that memo.

I don’t mean to imply that all young journalists are online-savvy — they’re not. And plenty of the most online-savvy folks I know in journalism are over 50. So this is not an age thing at all — it breaks out that way sometimes, but age is not the point here. I work around young people who conduct at least 50 percent of their social life on screens and keyboards — there is very little separation of online and offline for them. But I sure do see a lot of 50-plus professionals in airports and elsewhere with screens in front of them too. Fewer and fewer with newspapers. (In fact, when was the last time I saw anyone reading a newspaper in an airport or on a plane?)

Keeping your news and information offline until after the paper version comes off the trucks?

What possible benefit could that have?

Update (Aug. 8): Steve Yelvington says, “Our job is to serve the public, not advance one medium and oppose another.” Jay Small says, “It’s like saying the public’s right to know can wait, now even must wait as a matter of news organization policy, until our cash registers ring.”


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11 Comments

  1. Brendan says:

    From a young, online-savy journalist:

    I see a scenario while not rushing to publish enterprise reporting that you also create value for online readers. If you read most local and regional newspaper websites throughout the day there’s nothing new from 4 p.m. when writers begin focusing on print deadlines until 12 p.m. when the newsroom comes awake again and editors conclude their morning meetings (not to mention all weekend long, when the same weekenders published Friday stay on the homepage for three days).

    As an online reader, I welcome the day when I look forward to new, engaging content when I log-in at 8 a.m. I think the web-first mantra has become so uniform that editors are too shy to step out of line and ask how its effecting both online and especially print readers. After all, lets not forget that print operations still support most online news gathering operations.

  2. Mindy says:

    But do you think the Inquirer’s new practice will make additional people buy the print edition? Or will the same people not buying it continue not buying it?

  3. Online and print audiences don’t really overlap. Publishing online doesn’t steal readers from the print product, and publishing in the paper doesn’t take eyeballs away from the Web site. To think otherwise, as the Inquirer apparently does, is to misunderstand the two media. Newspaper junkies will still read the paper — and will be grateful for the additional information on the Web that can’t be squeezed into print. Online readers will appreciate the fact that the publication delivers them news quickly and that they can bookmark in-depth reports for more leisurely study. As a colleague once pointed out, a news organization can’t scoop itself.

  4. Paul Evans says:

    I’m not sure how Brendan thinks a blanket policy to do dead trees first will get him more news at 8 a.m. Is it still news if it occurred at 8 a.m. the previous day, but you don’t get to read it until the day after because of the online embargo?

    I would argue that the way to deal with this is not to prohibit web first, but to have a newsroom and workflow that focuses on publishing first to the platform that best serves the audience and story.

    My newspaper doesn’t start it’s story cycle until an 11 a.m. meeting each day. Then they chase stories all day until starting the paper-making process around 6 p.m. Even though deadlines have steadily crept forward, that cycle has stayed the same. The online disaster gets done on a catch-as-catch-can basis. It isn’t about the rush to web, but the desperation to have something online during the day so we appear relevant. Quite frankly I don’t see that serving anyone, yet still we stumble on.

    Adjusting the cycle isn’t about being first online or holding for print. It is about planning, preparation, and understanding the various media in which we newspaper people publish and the disparate mediums to which we publish. It may be that the folks at the Inky understand none of those things. That would explain a lot.

  5. Peg Achterman says:

    Just as a note – yes, there are still people reading newspapers at airports! On the tarmac, in the void which is “no-electronics-until ten thousand feet!” ;) But not too many other than that!

  6. Mindy says:

    @Paul: I hear about more and more newspapers where some editors and copy editors come in earlier, and instead of having a big editing bottleneck at the end of the day, copy is edited continually from mid- to late morning onward. This relieves stress on the editors as well as serving the online audience well.

  7. John Kroll says:

    Could we hold off on some of the disgust until/unless we hear the reasoning and process behind the decision?

    I’m not defending the idea. In particular, holding reviews offline seems to be giving up on one of the advantages online gives us. And the caution to bloggers sounds suspiciously like a knee-jerk reaction to someone’s online feeler turning into a story tip for a competitor.

    But is it so unusual for non-newspaper sites with print components to co-ordinate publication? Does your local alt-weekly post its cover stories far in advance of the print distribution?

    And is it so awful to hold features offline so that the print and online packages can be better co-ordinated?

    Does every Web site put up its non-news content as soon as it’s created — or do you hold off to co-ordinate a celebrity profile with that celebrity’s appearance in your town, or a back-to-school feature with the first day of school?

    True, that the memo calls this an “Inquirer first” policy sounds curmudgeonly. And it could be everything its critics say it is. But I’ll hold my disgust until I know what’s really going on.

  8. Brendan says:

    But do you think the Inquirer’s new practice will make additional people buy the print edition? Or will the same people not buying it continue not buying it?

    I don’t think this policy alone will. But I hope its a start to getting rid of the group-think and try to find a way to create value for readers of both the online and print products. Currently, newspapers aren’t striking a good balance for those who read both. The same story will be online at 2 p.m. as leads the paper the next morning, often with the same breaking news headline and lead. I hope that this policy will lead to the newspaper featuring more thoughtful analysis and enterprise reporting to lead its morning newspaper and to feature online, perhaps with added online features that you don’t get when stories are rushed to the web.

    I’m not sure how Brendan thinks a blanket policy to do dead trees first will get him more news at 8 a.m. Is it still news if it occurred at 8 a.m. the previous day, but you don’t get to read it until the day after because of the online embargo?

    I don’t expect more news per se. If its truly hard, breaking news, it should be featured on the web as it happens. But enterprise reporting and unique analysis could be held for both online and print to strengthen both products.

  9. In Syracuse, I’m an editor who comes in at 6 a.m. to lead a mobile journalist, a photographer, videographer, court reporter and whomever we need to borrow from other reporting teams to report the news first online. An exclusive that’s been weeks in the works might still be presented with print timing in mind, but rarely these days. The online news cycle is here.

  10. John Kroll says:

    Hope this link works: Ryan Sholin talks to an Inquirer editor and, well, it doesn’t sound so apocalyptic.

  11. Mindy says:

    Thanks, John. The interview with Chris Krewson, Executive Editor, Online/News at the Inquirer, is quite good. He sounds like a smart guy.

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