As more newspapers in the U.S. continue to pare down their newsrooms and close entire sections, the idea of making their Web sites more than a digital dumping ground for the print product has gained traction. This is a view that every newspaper needs to adopt. But there are great differences between a Web strategy and a print strategy when it comes to the news.
Here’s are five metrics I came up with for determining if a newspaper lacks a defined Web strategy:
- AP overload
- Web content wakes up when the print product goes to bed
- Living a blogless existence
- Dismal or nonexistent multimedia
- All text, all the time
If you pull up a newspaper’s Web site and more than 25% of the content comes from the Associated Press, there’s problem. For local titles the AP should be used sparingly, and only when it’s a story that you don’t have the time or ability to turn around into a localized version. Running AP copy on your Web site is a lazy approach and does not serve your readers well.
In the late 90s this approach would have worked well because the Internet wasn’t that widespread and many more people still read newspapers. However this is not the case today. There’s a push-and-pull happening in newsrooms about whether to put print content on the Web. The argument goes that by putting content that appears in the print edition, you’re discouraging people from picking up the issue, which then discourages advertisers. In a community where most news is still consumed through the print edition, that’s a valid argument. But in less rural communities, it’s a non-starter. People refuse to wait for the news. And if you make them wait, they’ll find someone who won’t make them wait.
Blogs present a potential gold mine of page views if they’re done correctly. Most newspapers have a handful of beat writers, covering everything from schools to courts and the drain commission. If the beat writer is truly entrenched in their beat like they should be, coming up with off-the-cuff blog posts on the subject should not be a challenge. Some will argue that with all the demands of their beat to fill the print product each deadline day, they simply don’t have the time. To which I say: you’re wrong. Blogging isn’t something you can dismiss and assume the need for it will go away. You’ve got to adjust your news gathering and news writing habits to make the time to write a 300-word blog post every couple of days. Your credibility, increasingly, depends on it.
As the cost of HD-quality video cameras come down, seemingly every month, papers have less reason to not have a full-fledged multimedia section on their Web sites. What often happens is papers will just take whatever video AP will let them use, and then call it a day. People can be trained to shoot and edit video. It won’t be easy at first, but once a few people get the hang of it, they can be the ones teaching others. There isn’t an excuse to run stories online without some kind of multimedia component, whether its a sound slide, sideshow or video. Readers may at first not know what to make of it, but if the quality is good, they will come to appreciate it.
A common but easily fixed problem that many newspaper Web sites suffer from is a lack of photography on their stories. It’s common knowledge (right?) that people are more likely to look at a photo before they read a headline. If they think photo is interesting, they will continue to read on. Most of the stories on your Web site should have an image to go with it. Not only does it give more context to the reader, it also makes your Web site appear more colorful and lively. Columns of text and the odd image here and there have the opposite effect.