"B-" for American newspapers online
Steve Outing at Editor & Publisher has reviewed American newspaper websites, and he’s not very satisfied with what he’s found. This is how he describes the current challenge these papers are facing in his “Stop the Presses” column:
How to transition a significant part of the newspaper business to online and new media — how to make the newspaper online experience compelling enough to attract the modern media consumer — while keeping enough money flowing in during the transition period to fund quality journalism, and prevent newspapers from entering a downward spiral (in terms of audience as well as financially).
His conclusions, then? There are several problems, and the newspapers aren’t taking them seriously enough.
1. Not enough video content, or too little on it on the front page of the site. Outing writes:
It seems to me that to compete more effectively, newspaper sites should be making their homepages a healthy mix of text, still images, video and audio.
2. Better blogging is needed. Outing wants newspapers to use the blog format for breaking news stories – “use the blog format to tell the story in bits and pieces as reporters learn the details”.
3. Bad use of classifieds. Many smaller or medium size newspapers are still just bringing the print classifieds online. Craigslist is taking over the market, and to my opinion rightly so – the newspapers could have taken that initiative.
4. Way too little interaction between journalists and readers. A lot of newspapers still don’t give their readers a chance to comment on news.
Yeah, sure, public discussion is scary and it can get messy. So institute some tight controls, or even moderate (pre-screen) public posts to keep out the crap. But preventing public discussion outright is a sure-fire way to demonstrate that your organization doesn’t understand the current media landscape.
Interestingly enough, Editor & Publisher doesn’t allow comments to Outing’s column. Something he says he regrets.
Outing singles out the Washington Post as a leader and innovator, though he’d like to see more of all of these points even there. And e concludes:
Today’s state of the newspaper website doesn’t leave me terribly optimistic about the industry.
I think Outing’s demands of newspaper sites are, though valid, quite modest. A comments function to every article is the very least they could do when it comes to interactivity. But why only let the readers react to the agenda already set by the editors? Invite them in, let them write and create news too. Blogging is a great tool for this.