Digital progress: We have a long way to go

If the future of news is digital (Sorry. I forgot it isn’t 1999. Let’s try again.) Because news is now digital, why do so many newspapers continue to drive Yugos on the Autobahn?

Last week, I emailed a few questions to the leaders of the digital operations at the state’s largest newspapers to help me think about needs and next steps. (I also asked the editors of the papers a different set of questions. I’ll write about their responses tomorrow.)

I asked three questions: What are the first three websites, other than your own, you check each morning? What current news website is similar to the one you aspire to be?  If you had, say, $100,000 to spend on your digital presence, what would you do first?

Unfortunately, only two of digital folks bothered to respond.

Fortunately, I think the two who did — John Nagy of the News & Record and Randy Capps of the Fayetteville Observer — are on the money. Their answers aren’t surprising, and they show how far newspapers still have to go.

The answer to the $100,000 question is simple. We need good, up-to-date equipment so that reporters can do their jobs digitially. Smart phones, tablets, decent video cameras. In other words, we don’t necessarily need a Ferrari for the road, but at least get us a new Chevy. As Capps said, “It’s hard to think, produce and sell digital media with a notebook and pen.”

Can you imagine?

$100,000 isn’t pocket change, but it isn’t $1 million either. And when you’re talking about developing what everyone says is the only longterm future of the newspaper business, why isn’t more being done? Gannett apparently is making the investment. “Readers’ speedy adoption of new technology for news consumption creates new opportunities for us to uniquely serve them. To do so, we must ensure our journalists are equipped and trained on the tools to work in new ways,” reads a memo by the Gannett newspaper division president.

Exactly.

Nagy adds the need for content producers, a comment echoed by the editors of the papers. That, of course, is what permits a site to create unique, exclusive content, which leads to the ability to charge for access to the site. As Frederic Filloux writes in his description of a simple business model, “The simulation is aimed at showing there is a life after the death of the daily print edition. Success is a “mere matter” of persistence.”

At least, that’s one way to go about it.

Here are the full replies:

1. What are the first three websites, other than your own, you check each morning?

NagyGoogle Reader, Facebook, Twitter, in that order.

Capps: Facebook, ESPN Soccernet and Yahoo!

2. What current news website is similar to the one you aspire to be?

Nagy: ChicagoTribune.com or washingtonpost.com. With the Trib, I love the design of it. Open, very white, lots of clean type and photo display. Good use of horizontal display and multimedia content. With the Post, it’s more about the content, like the NY Times. I know I’m going to get authoritative national news, well written features and reasonably good display. A little tightly packed, but not like the Times. I’d rather read the Times’ ipad app than the website.

Capps: I’d like to have WRAL’s content volume with The Boston Globe’s design.The responsive design. If it’s done right, you can serve mobile, tablet and PC users in one fell swoop.

3. If you had, say, $100,000 to spend on your digital presence, what would you do first?

Nagy: If the $100,000 is recurring, it would be to hire a couple more content producers, especially multimedia/social media specialists. Likely would be just-out-of-college hires. If the $100,000 is a one-off, new digital equipment/software for staff. 3G/wifi ipads/iphones, modest video cameras, laptops for others. Then set strict and measurable performance standards to ensure their usage in posting digital content.

Capps: I’d put a smart phone in the hands of every content producer and a tablet in the hands of the online and marketing staffs. It’s hard to think, produce and sell digital media with a notebook and pen.

One thought on “Digital progress: We have a long way to go

  1. This is one of the first big obstacles we faced when John Paton took over Journal Register Company … he bought every reporter in the company a Flip camera, but at many sites, their computers were too old and slow to run the software needed to process videos. He implemented an “evergreen” program that is designed to make sure that no computer is more than 3 years old. The next pressing need, as you point out, is mobile/smart phones. And the open secret among most newspaper companies is that staff are using their personal smart phones for work. Not expected or required to, but they do because it has become such a necessary part of the new workflow of news reporting.

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