Okay, give old media credit for trying to jump into the digital age… You know, after the handwriting has been on the wall for a decade that they needed to.
But this post will not be particularly encouraging if you’re a lover of daily papers. Jim Romenesko — who is taking a rare break from nitpicking blogs himself – published a memo from the Oregonian describing what a beat reporter’s digital day should look like.
Not all of it is bad. But most of it is atrocious. It tells reporters to live on Twitter — announcing their presence each morning — and blog up to ten times a day. It discourages investing time in reporting or writing or much of anything, encouraging reporters to save all that, you know, journalism for the paper. It is heavy on teases, repackaging what’s already run and publishing tidbits from a notebook that normally wouldn’t be interesting enough to put in an actual story. It suggests when you can’t cover an event, to ask the readers to cover it for you. Because, I’m sure they’d ask all the same tough questions to the school board, right? It suggests doing polls. They’re fun for readers and easy for us! GAH.
In other words, the paper basically wants an army of Robert Scobles with the Huffington Post’s news filter and Business Insiders’ willingness to immediately publish any thought that comes into its head, no matter how random or offensive. Is that a cocktail any of us wants to drink?
It basically suggests a big game of bait and switch. Want to hear what the Mayor thinks? Click here…. Oh! Gotcha! It’s just a tease to an upcoming interview. Publishing stuff that the paper would never allow, but some readers might click on. And if the goal was simply to promote a strong core product without detracting from it, this actually wouldn’t be a bad strategy. But Romenesko notes that the Oregonian is expected to wind down its print publication and focus on digital. Considering that this is their ideal of digital, this is not a pretty future.
Look, I am no expert in the ways of blogging. I struggle to write three posts a day, and most clock in at over 1,000 words. I obsess over turns of phrase. I commission original art for them, and I try to hire people who are equally anal about anything they put their names on. I mean, Adam Penenberg considers me prolific. Me! We will never have anywhere close to the page views of Mashable or Business Insider, so if that’s The Oregonian’s goal, feel free to laugh my comments off. Because I clearly do not get that playbook.
What we do have — even in just seven months of existence — is a core of really intelligent readers who come to our site every day. You can see it in the comments, and in who Tweets about what we write, and the excellent questions at our always-sold-out events.
That’s because we have two values here: Respecting the readers’ time and respecting the readers’ intelligence. It has created a nice community, which one would think to be the goal for a typical daily paper, whether online or off. I actually worry about getting so big that that goes away.
Here’s the part of the memo that screams that the Oregonian doesn’t have these values of basic respect for the reader:
Often beat reporters get all kinds of information that readers might find interesting but that we don’t. Maybe it’s reports, studies, events, speakers, etc. Post it. “This study crossed my desk today, and I’m not planning a full story, but I share it with you in case you’re interested. I’ve written about this topic before, and here are links to that and a link to this study.”
I can promise you right now, I won’t waste the 10 minutes of my time or scant caloric expenditure to type anything into WordPress that I don’t find the least bit interesting. Given I find enterprise software and the inner workings of decaying newspapers fascinating, I feel I’m already pushing the boundaries some days. If you view readers in that kind of outside-the-ivory-tower, dual-class structure, you’re just done. Because it shows you either don’t respect them or don’t understand them. It’s just this simple: If you don’t give a shit, they likely won’t either. Call it “the Golden Rule of Blogging”.
Six-plus years into professional blogging, one thing is pretty clear to me: You can either go for huge page views or you can focus on influence. That’s not too different from the old media world, which was delineated between large national publications and regional ones and trade pubs.
But the magnitude of page views you need to create a solid business is way bigger than what daily papers and magazines are used to. Anything that endeavors to produce high quality work for people connected by an industry or by geography just isn’t going to get to a sustainable business by scale alone. (See Huffington Post’s expansion from Politics, and Mashable and Business Insider’s expansion from Tech.) 10 million readers was a massive audience in the old days. Today, that’s a niche.
That leaves most of us — PandoDaily, the Oregonian, and anyone else who wants to aim lower than 1 billion page views a month — in the camp of quality, and not polls, not volume, not filler. And you’re going to need the readers on your side to get there.
[Image courtesy antigone78]