Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Web first, web last or web never?

I think the majority of media organisations have some kind of web policy now.
Most of the big ones have declared that shoving everything written by their hacks straight onto the web is the way forward.
Some bizarrely still see the web as the enemy and have limited, if no presence at all.
I believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Our guys want it all on the web, right now. Shorts, leads, second leads, picture stories and exclusives.
Soon as its written, bang it up. It's an official policy.
It is also ridiculous (and largely ignored by me) for many reasons.
The first and, I think, main one is what commercial value is there in putting all of your reporter's stories into the web product that makes a tiny amount of the company profit, but by doing so slowly destroys the value of the print product that still makes the vast majority of said company's profit?
Our managers would say more stories on the web equals more money in the long term.
Their reasoning may be sound (despite the fact more does not mean better).
They are building a fledgling product so they need stories to populate it and give users something to look at.
I agree with getting as much copy on the web as I possibly can. But chucking up everything as it is written is clearly devised by someone who has no concept of the value of real news.
How many times has web first meant your splash in your PAID FOR paper is out there two days before you come out?
How many times have you been scooped by your opposition papers by something YOU broke on the internet?
How many times have you followed up a national news story which started off as your OWN exclusive?
How many times have you LIED to your boss about whether a story is finished so that it makes the paper before it makes the web?
Our web heads - note the fact they are called managers and not editors - will argue that it does not matter because the web audience is different to that of your printed paper.
In that case, why not give the web our exclusives or non time-sensitive stories after - or indeed the same day - that our readers in our CORE product will see them.
After that I could not care less which agency, rival or national picks up on it.
This balanced approach works.
If you read the paper only, it's all new. Web only, it's all new. Web-paper combi reader (which I am told is a growing number) they get some new, some old but they are already progressive enough to skip over the shit they have already seen.
This way treats our newspaper readers with a little respect and our web readers get the same service.
(The only thing this approach needs is investment. You can't write the content needed with just one reporter and unfortunately that's all some of you poor bastards have on a good day. But that is another topic.)
There is a reason why newspapers have someone in charge of the whole page planning process. There is a definite art to bringing out a good-looking, easily read newspaper.
Even in your most bleak, crime and grime ridden weeks, it is possible to engineer a paper that does not make the reader want to open up their collective wrist for daring to live in their postcode.
This process should be applied to our web-sites - not just a first come, first served aproach to whatever happens to be knocked out of a reporter's notebook fastest.
There should be a balance between what goes online (and when) and what is saved for the paper.
Breaking hard news is always, for me, banged on the site straight away. Crashes, murders, fires, stabbings, court results, plane crashes and nuclear strikes from Axis of Evil states all are slapped up and updated many times during the day.
This is where the web-sites really earn their money.
Readers comments and pics can give you leads and quotes an army of reporters would struggle to get.
Pictures and witness reactions can flood in. Who didn't have more pictures you could handle last time it snowed or there was a major fire?
Also police appeals, council announcements, court cases, inquests, down pages, wedding anniversaries and the village fetes should all be subject to that instant news ideal.
If it's old news tomorrow, whack it up. Why not?
With luck and a good audience you may turn the mundane into magic for your next paper edition with a decent comment or emailed pic.
I love this aspect of the web.
But save the exclusive shit, the non time sensitive stuff, the features and the great picture story until the paper comes out.
The webbies can still have it at the same time your paper readers do.
Nobody loses and your products become one entity and not competing for your reader's affections.
The web is without doubt the future of journalism, but we ain't in the future yet.


  1. Giving something away for free when you've always charged for it in the gotta admit it's a genius business strategy.

  2. Love the line about pretending a story isn't ready so the web nerd doesn't slap it up straight away. We've all done it.

  3. The Fifth Yorkshireman23 October 2009 at 13:25

    Unfortunately most of the managers for whom the web has become the holy grail haven't actually used it much.

    So they don't know that what web users want is decent pictures of a reasonable size, short items of concise text and clean, simple webpages that don't take an age to load. What they dont want is 500 words cut and pasted from the paper and tiny crappy little pictures on a site thats been overpopulated with crappy flash-based adverts.

    If you hold it till it hits newsprint, then the webusers will hear about it from a luddite and go online to read it, but its never the same the other way round.

  4. The Fifth Yorkshireman23 October 2009 at 13:27

    Amusingly the captcha comment for that last post was "turdbrim". Kind of sums up the newspaper business. All the turds float to the top and hang around the brim...

  5. When I started my new (web-only) role I was given the choice of keeping 'editor' in my job title or changing to 'manager'. I stuck with editor.

  6. what about charging for access to exclusive stories on the web?

    and how does that affect your timings argument?