Bob Stepno's Other Journalism Weblog
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Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Bivings Report, which looked at the state of newspaper websites earlier this month, now offers a nine-point plan for making online news better, including plenty of recommendations inspired by the blog world. Pretty good advice... and pretty good self-promotion by Bivings.

Many papers, including The New York Times (with help from Microsoft), are still trying to find better ways to use the Web and make a buck at the same time. The same is true of the once-a-month media: See AP's "Mags drop print for Web to reach teens," if the article is still online when you read this. Those linked stories and several suggestions from Bivings will be good for classroom discussions next week. For example, right now most news sites use RSS subscription feeds to distribute headlines and story summaries, which (the theory goes) entice readers to click-through to full stories on the home site, where what we used to call "the paper" sells advertising and invites readers deeper into its pages.

What if the papers, like most bloggers, put the full text of their stories into their RSS feeds? Would RSS aggregator users be willing to pay for speedy feed subscriptions? Will they tolerate advertising in the feeds? Do they want full-text feeds, or do they use feeds to skim headlines?

One of the things the Web is good at offering is choice. Like some blogs, a news site could offer readers a variety of feed formats -- headlines alone, headlines and summaries, or full text. Or are the choices available online already overwhelming?

Another suggestion (from Bivings' supplementary list) is that papers offer more access to their archives, something the historian in me agrees with completely. Altogether free archives are unlikely, especially when some papers have outsourced the job of managing those archives to profit-minded companies for a piece of the action. (More about digital archives from my AEJMC panel last month.)

However, I'd love to see more "subscribe to the print edition or a special service and get free archives" offers, or a switch to a more rational "micropayment" pricing schedule. The old saw was "yesterday[base ']s news wraps today[base ']s fish," but today many Daily Fishwrappers expect readers to pay five or ten times the price of the original newspaper for one story from the archives, often a wrong one, found by a hit-or-miss search! It[base ']s not as if the companies were sending checks to the reporters who (doing work-for-hire, probably with no union) wrote those stories years or decades ago.

I wonder what kind of contracts the The New Yorker had with its writers. It's selling a full 80+ years of  scanned pages for $60 on DVDs (several times that if you want it pre-installed on a single faster-access hard drive). It's almost a "there must be a catch" offer. Will I find Hummer ads driving out of the digital pages or something? In any case, I'm going to give it a try... if I can ever find the time to read something older than the aggregator net full of today's online fishing.

A good fish from yesterday: Joanne Colan's Rocketboom interview with Steve Rubel, a public relations exec who has embraced the Cluetrain idea that markets are conversations. His own conversations are with some household-name corporate clients. Or, to quote one of Rocketboom's readers,

"Starbucks, GE, Microsoft.... Wow, what a client base. It's like working for Evil R Us. What, were Wal-Mart and the oil companies already booked?"

Propagandistic mind-control sounding name or not, Steve's Micropersuasion weblog is full of useful media links, news and information -- not promotion for his company's high-tech and high-roller clients. And in the Rocketboom interview he does seem like a nice guy... just like most of the public relations folks I've met. Hmm. That might even be part of the job description. I recommend the interview to faculty and students in not-always-on-the-same-page journalism and public relations departments -- at least on a "know your enemy" basis.


7:42:25 PM    

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