News Leadership 3.0

August 08, 2008

Don’t forget the audience

Debate over Inquirer’s new print policy
shouldn’t overlook readers and users
How do you balance online and print?

Lots of noise today on journalism blogs about The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s plans to go print-first with more of its enterprise reporting. News will still go online right away.

Here’s the internal memo, posted yesterday on Romenesko. Critics (Jarvis, Outing) say this is a move backwards. Others (Owens) take a more reasoned approach, saying any news organization needs to consider how to best differentiate its online and print products.

Of course, newspapers for too long simply dumped print content online.This discussion of the roles of print and online is an important one, and I hope the debate about Philly moves away from an either-or, good-bad frame of some of the early criticism and toward two related ideas that will be more helpful to news organizations.

One, as Howard Owens notes, is differentiation:

” ... why is it wrong now to say ‘let print be print’ and ‘let online be online.’

Your online product should focus on:

  * Frequency. Plenty of updates. Web-first publishing. Tell me what is happening in my town right now.
  * When there is a big story, hammer it. Own it. Frequent updates, a flood of information, video, blogs, forums, public documents, databases, maps, graphics.

On a pure news basis, those two approaches are proven audience growth winners.

—-

“There are a ton of other web-centric things newspapers can and should do with their web sites, but none of them include publishing first online enterprise and investigative pieces, columnist, lengthy features, trend stories and even analysis pieces.”

Building on the idea of product differentiation, I want to underscore a second critical factor—how people use media. A lot of news organizations are still thinking about content and presentation in terms of medium and technology (or worse, in terms of tradition and comfort level) when they should be thinking about content and presentation in terms of audiences—in which I include people who read of print newspapers and people who read their news online or go there for more interactive experiences.

For an example of this, look no farther than your spiffy new iPhone and then check out what content your organization is providing to users there or on other mobile devices. The news industry’s capacity to deliver news, information and interactivity to mobile seriously lags audience adoption and use.

A number of newsrooms are pushing the audience front and center in the way they organize themselves and think about content. Examples:

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and ajc.com. This newsroom has “pitchers,” the news and information gatherers who come up with story ideas and execute them. Then there are the “catchers,” separate online and print teams that get involved early in the story planning and tell the gatherers how they want the stories developed and packaged for the audiences who use their platforms.

- The Tampa Tribune and tbo.com. This newsroom has recently reorganized and downsized and, among other things, created several “audience editor” positions. These editors are “the advocates for the audience in daily and longer-term story choices and story development,” according to Executive Editor Janet Coats. As I wrote earlier, the audience traditionally is not at the table when editors decide what to cover and who to cover it for different platforms. I think this plan may enable Tampa to significantly better its content across platforms. See this post for more detail.

Many of the editors I’ve been talking to of late put achieving an online-print balance high on their lists of challenges. This is partly because they are forced to do more with fewer people. They know that means they need to be ever more strategic in thinking about staffing and content. If you’re one of those editors, I’d like to hear more about your efforts to prioritize based on what you know about your audiences and how they use your different platforms. Please add your thoughts in the comments.

UPDATE: Ryan Sholin posts this interview with Philly.com online editor Chris Krewson, who talks, among other things, about audience considerations:

“Since I arrived here in November ‘07, we’ve tried hard to figure out how people actually use the paper and the Web site. obviously, that’s for different reasons. And we’re just trying to make sure we’re careful about what we do—roughly 75 percent of that will not change.

“The other 25 will be us taking more care, making case-by-case decisions, armed by whatever information we have about how people use our products.”

 

 

Comments

Hi Michalle:

“Critics (Jarvis, Outing) say this is a move backwards. Others (Owens) take a more reasoned approach, saying any news organization needs to consider how to best differentiate its online and print products.”

I don’t think the difference you want to highlight is between a “reasoned” and “unreasoned” one.  Does Jeff’s post lack reason?  Does Steve’s?  Would Howard Owens say: my response is reasoned, Jeff’s is irrational?  I doubt it.

I know journalist like to think that the middling approach is always the more reasonable but, as I’m sure you know, that reflex can itself be quite unreasonable.

I like the term “users” (common in the tech industry) more than “audience,” but your perspective is a valuable one.


Thanks Jay. You make a good point about “reasoned” and “unreasoned.” I plead guilty. My sense was that Jeff and Steve in this instance assumed the worst while Howard was more willing to the benefit of the doubt, at least for starters. That tends to be my approach too (even though I’m a journo!)Thanks for reading (and for the good work on ABC/anthrax).


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