Thursday, July 9, 2009

What would happen if publishers and editors read only on the Web for two weeks?

Now that I'm on the outside of the news business, I've had more time on my hands and more time has meant more of an opportunity to explore everything from Twitter and Facebook to iGoogle and the Web sites of numerous news outlets. (Not that I wasn't already doing that when I was at the Rocky Mountain News. But not to the extent I am now.)

The experience has made me realize something I should have done when I was an editor/publisher. I should have gone cold turkey on the print edition of my own and other newspapers for two weeks or a month and determined what life was like for those who were living solely in a digital world.

I say that because somehow the print paper always remains front and center - after all, it still provides most of the revenue - for most newspaper executives and there's only so much time in the day. I use the term executives because I think it's important that all the top leadership of a local newspaper do this, not just the editor or publisher.

If they would try this, I think newspaper executives would quickly see flaws in their offerings and would also more clearly understand the flood tide that is running. I'm not writing to criticize specifically what papers are doing online. Only to say that my experience being outside a newspaper tells me that other executives while they still have a chance might want to experience the world without their newspaper. I believe it would hasten their sense of urgency. I'm not talking about a sense of urgency about revenue. We know that's there in most buildings in this economic downturn. But is it there to the same degree in understanding audience and what's available to people today? Is it there in making sure their offerings stack up?

They could consider this exercise a competitive analysis if they must. But whatever they call it, weaning themselves from the paper for a brief period could be a big help.


  1. Certainly. I'm 50 -- grew up with papers, obviously -- and I have zero use for them today. There is absolutely nothing in a print edition that is of use to me. The online versions succeed when they don't try to be newspapers and instead work at being a focus for the community. Perhaps the most annoying carryover from the print days is the idea that news should be on some sort of daily cadence. Some events are of no interest six hours after the fact, and others remain of interest for a week. Successful online news providers know the difference.

  2. It is called "Eat your own dog food".

    At age 60 I still love having the morning paper. I just don't want to sit on the toilet with my laptop.

  3. Yep. It's changing. But there's still something to be said for the Sunday paper, a cup of coffee and an hour to just browse what's happening locally. The internet is truly global. My Sun-Sentinel is extremely local. What would Sunday morning be without it?

  4. Definitely. When owning a "product" it's essential to understand what the "competition" is, even if the competitor doesn't even look or smell anything like what what you are producing. Disintermediation can occur very subtlely and if you aren't in touch with your customer base, then you will be climbing a very tough mountain to even survive. I'm not sure people would have predicted long ago that Internet usage would tear into television time, or that a site like Craigslist (and perhaps eBay) would gut the profits of local newspapers because of classifieds. The worst thing is for a product "owner" to think "well, because I find value in reading a paper everyday, then others should too."

  5. Mark Potts, writing at, has a terrific suggestion to build on what I'm proposing here.

    "It's an excellent suggestion, and I'd take it a step farther: Every editor and publisher should spend some time trying to use their Web site the same ways that readers do, to truly find out what the user experience is for a site visitor. I think they'd get a jarring education in just how crappy and hard to use many (most? all?) newspaper sites are."

    Mark is right on. He even offers a test the editors and publishers can do of their own site. When we launched at the Rocky, we developed a content management system that worked exactly the same way for the journalists as the users. Admittedly, it was clunky in many respects. But the concept was key. No two classes of users. Everybody gets the same tool. That way, it's much more likely that you'll provide users with an easy way to work.

  6. Constance, I totally agree with you about the Sunday paper. Frankly, I still love reading some daily papers. But my life is changing and time is precious. The Web is more efficient. The day I'm not looking for efficient is Sunday.

  7. Dave Barnes: I've been working in new media for newspapers and others for 17 years, and one of the first things I heard was a variation on your line: "Nobody will read the news on a computer sitting on a toilet." Well, get yourself an iPhone, or a Kindle, and give it a try. That's no longer a legitimate objection!

  8. @recoveringjournalist,

    I just cannot imagine wiping my butt with a Kindle. Way too large. And, then, how do I clean it afterward? At least the newspaper can be flushed down the drain and become Metro Sewage's problem.

  9. For all the talk about how Craigslist killed papers, or Yelp killed papers or Google news killed papers, I think that one thing that really hurt the print edition was the ubiquity of computers at work.

    I can't sit in the office and skim through the paper. That looks like slacking. But I sure can surf the Web. How often do you walk into a colleagues office and notice CNN, MSNBC, Youtube or People Online on the screen.

    This is to say, I agree wholeheartedly with the gist of this piece. It's never been journalism versus bloggers. It's been paper versus bits.

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