A good response to our last post, and some good feedback
I don’t think that messes up his point at all.
You can collect a paycheque from a place that is firing people on the print side and still be concerned about the product, in both print and online.
I work at a major daily newspaper. I’m being laid off (for the third time in ten years) and I’m very concerned about the quality of the print product (which will still exist in my case, but my job will be outsourced to somebody with less experience who will get paid less and be in a different location) AND the product online and how things will change as we go behind a paywall while laying off editors.
With fewer editors, errors are much more likely to creep into copy, especially online.
Because, FACT IS, newspaper copy on the print side is FREQUENTLY cleaner and tighter than online copy simply by virtue of the fact that there are more sets of eyes looking at it.
A reporter writes an article. Two or more editors read it, do fact-checking and makes suggestions and changes to angles, order and style. Maybe it goes back to the reporter for some rewriting. After that, a line editor goes through the story and edits it by fact-checking, reading for grammar, spelling and style, writes a headline and posts it online. Online stories are rarely edited for length and reporters, in my opinion, often believe they can write as much as they want for online. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Few people read it all and it’s been my experience that copy I read online at newspapers would probably benefit from being tightened up a bit.
If a story goes into the print edition, a page editor takes the story as it stands after having gone online, puts the story on the page, reads it, writes display copy, then sends it to a copy editor to trim it for space if needed. When the story fits the space, the page editor prints a copy and gives it to a proofer. A proofreader reads a hard copy of the page and the page editor makes any changes caught by the proofer. The page editor sends the final page to a more senior editor who may request changes to display copy (headlines, subheads or cutlines) or even a lede before the page is sent to the press.
Copy in a newspaper gets AT LEAST two more reads than a story that goes online only and there are at least three more people looking at the display.
And we STILL make mistakes.
As editors leave the building (either by taking buyouts or being laid off), there are fewer experienced eyes on the copy, both online and in print. How do you ask people to pay for an experience online they’ve been getting for free while also increasing the opportunities to let more errors slip into copy?
I don’t have the answers, but I do know that the content suffers and when you offer people a diluted product that they’ve been getting for free, they’ll either find a way around your paywall or worse, just stop reading entirely.
The answer certainly isn’t less informed journalism graduates who don’t know anything about the industry they’re going into. I know the way we get our news is changing (I get a lot of my news online, even though I work for a paper and read it and several other papers in my city on a daily basis) but there’s a huge benefit to reading newspapers that you cannot get online.
I’m sure I’m in the minority for my age, but I believe newspapers are FAR superior to online news in many respects. That may well change and I welcome the day that online copy is as good as the stuff I read in print.
First up, in the case of the Examiner, the situation with the print publication getting pushed to the back is a much different situation than that of a lot of papers. The Examiner likely could have gone on for years in its daily newspaper form, but the owners decided that they really just wanted to have a tentpost in national politics, so they switched over to a weekly magazine—which makes sense, really, because the newspaper was full of syndicated columnists on conservative issues. Columnists like Bedard didn’t lose their jobs, but if you were running a local news section, that was where you felt the pressure point.
That said, my take on this: If tighter writing and editing is the reason print is better at this juncture, that’s not good enough for me. Most of our readers are moving online, particularly younger ones. We need to raise standards for those readers. Our editing processes need to improve on this kind of content. Likewise, I think readers understand that a story is a living, breathing document and it evolves over time. We need to take advantage of the fact that nothing ever has to be final, like Fast Company does here.
The reason why print articles have that tighter writing and editing is because of the way the publication itself works. Too many newspapers see online as an extra burden on top of the print product. We have to change this mindset. Print has to become the last function of an online media outlet that could live without it. We’re deluding ourselves if we don’t think that’s the way things are going. Our processes have to match our readers, or we’ll become irrelevant to their needs.
My point was not strictly about the quality of the writing and the editing. Rather, with a story, you can simply do more with it online as far as shape and interactivity. Our approach is maturing. Hyperlinks, which I think don’t get used enough in traditional news stories, are massive. The opportunity to work with interactive data is huge. But the thing is, if you want to do more with these sorts of things, the mentality has to change. These kinds of elements give online content a distinct advantage that print cannot touch. We should be playing that up, not just worrying that we missed a comma or two.
I come at this from the perspective of a longtime newspaper guy. I spent eight years hitting at it, and I just sort of feel like the issues we’re seeing now are problems of a failure to adapt just as much as a failure to monetize. Too many media outlets are looking at online as a way to save money (by laying people off rather than bolstering online offerings) rather than something that still needs the resource push that the original product has always had. The outlets doing the best are the ones that haven’t forgotten this.
Anyway, that’s my take. Sorry it’s a little long-form. — Ernie @ SFB