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38 responses to “Five Ways Newspapers Botched The Web”

  1. Someone else says:

    This link deals mainly with the business side of things. This is what happened in newsrooms:

    By 1996 or 1997, most major newspapers were realizing they had to have some sort of Internet operation. But the whole deal was regarded with absolute disgust by top editors and managers. So the fledgling little online operations began, generally with no money thrown at them, no reporting staff allocated to them and no respect from upper level editors. “Go play your little computer games” was the general attitude.

    Online operations made no money, remember. And they weren’t getting many hits. And the sites most papers threw together looked awful. They were impossible to navigate. They didn’t look like newspaper front pages. They carried stories late, and they never updated them. Because why bother investing in some little toy that top editors and publishers were convinced was going to vanish within a couple of years?

    The New York Times obviously took a different approach. That’s why that site has always looked good, been easy to navigate, brought you lots of bells and whistles (slide shows, video etc.).

    But for lots of major newspapers, executive editors fought the Internet for a long time, well into the mid-2005 range.

    So now newsrooms are facing the inevitable — people want their information immediately, updated constantly. And the business model that could have been changing all along to adapt to this new medium? Right. Now publishers are scrambling to figure that out, too.

  2. Tom says:

    Solid summary, Someone else. The DMN was ahead of the curve in terms of getting Web-based reporters and editors integrated into the newsroom, but as we all know, some work is still needed on the “impossible to navigate” side of things. Uncle Belo’s mandate on having company-wide designs and templates for Web sites didn’t help, either.
    But I always came away from interactions and friendships with fellow Webbies and ink-stained wretches feeling like the local site had a head start of 6 months to a year on everyone else.
    And yes, Tim, I think the use of Twitter on is a good thing. But the play-by-play of Nastia’s arrival was a little over the top.

  3. Blow Torch says:

    Thank God for the pop-up ad blocker! If we didn’t have that feature, we would still be waiting for DMN’s stupid pop-up ad to load 45 minutes. And only then I could read the news. Aren’t they in the news business? Don’t they want me to read the news? Leave it to idiot managers and editors to think of that nice feature for readers. They deserve to be bankrupt. Dumb-asses!

  4. Wes Mantooth says:

    The CueCat was too far ahead of its time. Just like the ThighMaster.

  5. Paul says:

    Five ways The Wall Street Journal got it right:
    1. Premium, originally-published content. 2. Paid model always in place. 3. Never given away as “added value” to a print buy. 4. Effective search optimization allowing users to view full articles without asking to pay (Network now has 28MM uniques per month). 5. Integrated news departments with agnostic platform delivery.

  6. Brandon says:

    You think the CueCat would have survived if it had been wireless?

  7. Topham Beauclerk says:

    Everything the NYT online does right, the DMN does wrong. I cannot believe at this late date what a train wreck the DMN online remains. Unfortunately, it’s not alone. It must be quite difficult to get it right, since so many sites are so awful. But a few do get it right. The others should take note.

  8. amandacobra says:

    I know this is a very small nitpick when put up against things like management, general technophobia in the upper ranks etc. But I avoid unless absolutely necessary because I stubbornly hold on to the belief that I should not have to go through a registration process to read an article. I will do so for a site that I think is really worth it (imdb) but Dallas News ain’t one of ’em. And that’s from someone who is a HEAVY online news junkie. I can only imagine the “peace out” their site gets when a more casual user is forwarded a link to a story and decides to go two clicks deeper and is asked for their blood type and SS#. Good luck with all that, Belo.

  9. Bethany says:

    I registered a long time ago, using a job e-mail address from six years ago. If they’re spamming me, I have no idea.

  10. amandacobra says:

    It’s not the spam that bothers me it’s the idea that you have to have a reputation that precedes you (NYT, WSJ, Cat Fancy) before you start demanding people register to access your content.

    Wait, so I have to fill out a form to find out when Nastia’s parade is now? Wellllll, I could do that. Or I could just go to the Channel 4/5/11/Frontburner/Observer site where they don’t make me fill out something like I’m at Kroger and I forgot my Rewards card.

    Yes, they have original content. And no, filling out 6 fields worth of information is not that exhausting. And yes, you can give a bogus or seldom-used email address. But it’s just the principle for me.

  11. Tom says:

    The main reason for registration is demographics. They can let advertisers know who is looking at the site and where they are from. This isn’t possible in the dead tree edition, where they just have names, addresses and credit card info for subscribers.
    Of course, an IP address reveals one’s location, but not age or income. That said, many news organizations are finding that registration turns more people away than it brings in, so it’s being eliminated or modified in some places.

  12. amandacobra says:

    Exactly. That’s what I am saying is that I think this “online dohickey” was given such little credibility and respect as a platform for delivering the news. Instead of trying to make the site as user-friendly as possible to retain readership through the transition from print to web, it was about “let’s just see if we can make some money off this website thingy with some ads. Get me some numbers. Don’t kids like this inter-Web?”

  13. Gail says:

    Hmmm. Does journalistic competence have anything to do with these resulting problems, or are they just the consequence of misapprehending the technology? Or did the ready excuses of competing technologies and undependable business models present such perfect cover for journalistic incompetence to hide within indefinitely that there never was any hope of success, just a longer and more painful twilight?

  14. Wes Mantooth says:

    My next door neighbor is a reporter and columnist for the DMN. I was discussing with him a couple months ago the tragedy that is the DMN website. He told me that there is a move underway to make the front page of the website look like the front page of the daily paper. So the DMN has a web strategy that mimics the NYTimes circa 2002? Good heavens.

    And amandacobra, I love you. But Jovan seethes with hate.

  15. amandacobra says:

    Making the front page look like the front page of the daily paper? Dear jeebus, it’s worse than I thought.

    If I was a registered user, I would head over right now to email them my suggestion to make all their video content look like microfiche films that have been recently transferred to Laser Disc.

  16. mediawonk says:

    Wes, your neighbor is likely misinformed (or perhaps indulging in some wishful thinking similar to that of older scribes, many of whom have wished the website looked more like a newspaper).

    If anything, you’ll see the DMN site move further away from the “front page” look and more towards Web 2.0 flexibility. It’s already happening with their addition of comments and the “recommended” bar above major headlines on the home page.

  17. Snotty-tot says:

    Bethany = Brilliant

  18. Wes Mantooth says:

    Mediawonk, you might be right, but my neighbor is a pretty smart fella. That said, _I_ wish that the DMN website looked more like the paper than what they’ve got going on now. It’s totally useless even before you get to the dreaded registration requirement.

    Their RSS feeds are no better. For example, they have a feed for the incomparable Rick Gosselin, but then the notices themselves contain absolutlely zero content. Not even the lede. Now why would I clickthrough my newsreader to the entire article when I’m not even getting a tease from the RSS feed? I suspect they’ve intentionally neutered their feeds because they are afraid that the RSS feeds are cannabalizing pageviews rather than adding to them. If my suspicion is correct, then they totally misunderstand the web these days and the idea that they are going to go all Web 2.0 (how 1337!) is just frightening. How/why are they so stuck on what-was-hot-three-years-ago?

  19. Someone Else says:

    When I registered for the DMN and ST online sites, I lied about my home address, age and gender, just to confuse the demographics. (Try it! It’s fun!) What are they going to do, e-mail your blind e-mail address and demand to know the truth?

    But back to the point at hand: It’s not just the DMN site, it’s most major newspaper sites.

    Now that executive editors have discovered that this newfangled computer thingy isn’t just a passing fancy, all they know to do is chase their latest whim. The bigs discover blogging — and everyone now has to write a blog! The bigs discover Twitter — oh, goody, let’s Tweet this Liukins parade!

    What they haven’t discovered is how to make money off their Internet sites.

    Back when Craig Newmark was busy inventing craisglist, newspapers were too invested in the way they did business to realize that he’d just changed a good portion of their business model.

    If you ask me — and publishers don’t! — newspapers would do well to put a 25-year-old whiz kid in charge of Internet Strategy. Because the point isn’t latching onto what’s already here; the point is inventing new ways of thinking that will become the way we all expect to get our news.

  20. Blow Torch says:

    Twitter this: “I work for DMN bosses that are assbags”. Plus, they probably have a staff that has to set-up an account for them to use on their Blackberries. What a bunch of dingle berries. They couldn’t do it themselves.

  21. Wes Mantooth says:

    Then maybe we really can blame the DMN’s woes on the CueCat. New, bold, inventive and expensive. They took it hook, line and sinker, and then it sunk. I’m sure heads rolled over that innovative venture, so now whatever management remains has received an object lesson on how to lose their jobs: innovate.

  22. amandacobra says:

    @ Someone Else

    Which of course is that point #1: You’re now dealing with a generation of people who are quickly growing accustomed to not paying for anything.

    #2: Sometimes, and I know this might come as a shocker, making a grizzled old print columnist blog because you heard it’s all the rage does not make for a very interesting blog. Kind of like when your grandfather tries to set up voice dial on his cell phone.

  23. Someone Else says:

    I’m glad you agree with me, amandacobra. No one wants to pay for what they can get for free. And obviously, if your content providers are dull as dirt, they’re going to write boring stuff, whether it’s online or on print.

    And Wes Mantooth, I would blame part of the DMN’s woes on CueCat. Are misguided technological choices worse than no choices at all? Maybe so. CueCat was always (at best) a counterintuitive deal.

    So when I say put a 25-year-old in charge of internet strategy, what I mean is a smart 25-year-old who makes sound decisions.

  24. amandacobra says:

    My hippie mom let me make a Christmas tree ormanment out of our :CueCat when I was 11 so in a small way, the :Cue Cat (let’s take it up a notch) lives on in my family.

    But alas, I am a 27 year old unregistered former Morning News subscriber. Who would want me now?

  25. Tom says:

    @amandacobra: Here’s proof that making a grizzled old print columnist blog because you heard it’s all the rage does not make for a very interesting blog.

  26. Tom says:

    And although it’s off topic, when will I be getting my free MacBook Air/iPhone/Nintendo Wii. In time for Labor Day?

  27. Someone Else says:

    Hey, at least you got some use out of your CueCat, amandacobra! Good for you.

    To the much previous poster who raised the issue of journalistic competence: Give it a rest, already. Every newspaper in the world hears from readers who think reporters are sooooo unprofessional and biased and blah blah blah — simply because reporters aren’t reporting what those readers would like to hear.

    My DMN experience was that reporters there cared very much about getting the story right. They worked hard. They were passionate about good writing.

    And they were dealing, way too often, with editors who were a bunch of jackals. I’m not talking about middle managers. Those folks were just scared scared scared, and they often over-edited stories that didn’t need it, because they were determined to justify their position and salaries.

    But good god, the upper managers. They’d eat their own young if they thought it would get them a bonus.

    It was not a creative atmosphere. It was a very very fearful atmosphere. But good journalism was committed despite the poisonous atmosphere, because the reporters were solid and there were enough mid-level editors who were solid, too.

  28. bleacherbum says:

    Imagine flying an airplane and while you’re in the air, you’re attempting to completely renovate the plane, from the fusilage to the engine to the seats to the bathrooms to the overhead compartments. That’s the kind of challenge that newspapers have faced in recent years: how to completely renovate themselves and adapt to the digital media revolution, while continuing to put out a daily print product that still includes 300,000-plus daily subscribers.

  29. ceemac says:

    I am curious about those of you who have dropped the print version of the paper.

    Were any of you ever serious newspaper readers. By serious I mean an average of 45 min to an hour a day and 2-3 hours on Sunday.

    I am or at least was that kind of reader.

    And the internet is not an adequate replacement as far as I am concerned. It’s fine for blogs and short bits. But the computer screen is not user friendly for reading several long descriptive articles in a row. The internet is great for getting basic info but not great for narrative stories.

  30. amandacobra says:

    @ ceemac

    I was a serious newspaper reader. Every day. Probably spent 30-45 minutes with the weekday paper each day. That’s gone. Now I buy the Sunday NYT and DMN on weekend and spend a few hours with them.

    I have just found that anything I have lost in the experience of reading a story in paper has been outweighed by things like being able to go beyond the story with links and being able to backtrack in the story if it’s something I haven’t been keeping up with.

  31. Gail says:

    @Someone Else: I’m happy to take your word for where the problems with journalistic competence may have originated,

    “My DMN experience was that reporters there cared very much about getting the story right. They worked hard. They were passionate about good writing.

    And they were dealing, way too often, with editors who were a bunch of jackals. I’m not talking about middle managers. Those folks were just scared scared scared, and they often over-edited stories that didn’t need it, because they were determined to justify their position and salaries.

    But good god, the upper managers. They’d eat their own young if they thought it would get them a bonus.”

    but could you clarify among the four parties involved here, the writers, the editors, the middle managers, and the upper managers, just who exactly was doing what to whom?

    Which ones were just scared scared scared, the editors or the middle managers? If the editors were the scared ones, what then were the middle managers doing, or vice versa? And how did the appetites of the upper managers compound the previous problems in creating the final journalistic product?

  32. Someone Else says:

    I think it’s pretty clear from what I wrote previously that it’s the middle managers who are/were scared scared scared — as in, trying to cover their butts, over-editing stories that didn’t require it and not defending their reporters’ work.

    Which — again, I think it’s clear — is all part of the poisonous corporate culture set by upper level managers.

    But if you think upper level managers *dictate* the content they’d like to see, think again. That was never my experience. Again, I’m not there now. But many of those same mid-level and upper managers are.

  33. Gail says:

    @Someone Else:

    I’m sorry, you sound as if you think I can read your mind and your memories. I can’t.

    First you said the reporters cared very much, worked hard, and were passionate about good writing. Okay. But they were dealing, way too often, with editors who were a bunch of jackals. Then what does that mean, jackals? Not the middle managers, it turns out, they were just scared so they over edited and didn’t defend their reporters’ work. Then there were the upper managers who would eat their own young.

    So there were the editors who were jackals, the middle managers who were scared, and the upper managers who would eat their own young.

    Then what do the reporters have to do to succeed, or even just to survive under these three layers of poisonous corporate culture?

    Do they fight the good fight every hour of every day? Do they at some point just give in and join them?

    What sort of journalism does this four layer sandwich top-heavy with poison produce?

  34. pookie says:

    @Gail: “What sort of journalism does this four layer sandwich top-heavy with poison produce?”

    I believe you’ve come up with the ultimate rhetorical question. What sort of journalism, indeed…?

  35. Dave Thomas says:

    Very good discussion here. A couple of points:

    1. I use a CueCat now. It’s attached to my computer as a bar-code reader. It came with software I purchased that lets me keep a database of CDs, DVDs, and books I own. (you scan the barcode on the back of the item and it pulls up the cover online and all kinds of info on who’s in the movie, etc. – very cool)

    2. The first screwup newspapers made with the web was making their content free. You can read pretty much the entire paper online without paying a penny. The Wall Street Journal didn’t do that and found a way to make money on paying subscribers. As it is, they’ve had to rely on online advertising to make money. That’s just not panned out as well as they had hoped.

    3. Early on newspapers treated the website as just a part of the paper. They needed to view it as a separate media entity like a TV or radio station. Hire people who know the web to focus on making the website a success. Let them figure out how to use the newspaper’s content to make money. Let the newspaper people do what they know best: publish a newspaper. I think newspapers are starting to get this idea, but it’s really hard to tell.

  36. Bill Marvel says:

    I’m with Dave on this, but I’d extend his argument to every kind of publication. Maybe I’m not thinking straight because I’m a writer, a “content provider” in that nasty little phrase. But every blog-hopper who logs in expects to get his/her content free. And newspapers, TV, magazines — Wick, are you listening? — oblige them. We’re the cheapest item in the grocery basket. The electrons that flicker on your screen cost more than we do.
    Let’s say you’re Nabisco. Okay, give the crackers away. Print ads on the box, and pray enough people buy ad space to pay for the crackers.
    THERE’S your damned business model!

  37. NPHater says:

    Great discussion. The quote about upper management is dead on. As are those who blame the DMN’s woes on cuecat… but…

    I’ll make the argument that the cuecat killed Belo in a very unsual way. They refused to learn from it.

    CueCat is was all about cowtowing to advertisers, and didn’t care one iota about the audience. That mentality pervades to this day in things like the pervasive popups, registration, and myspamdirect. The web strategy can be summed up as FTA (the last two words are “the audience”)

    Had they learned the lesson from cuecat, they might be in a better place. That lesson is that audience matters.