The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s recent announcement that it’s ceasing publication of a newspaper — and going online only — is sad because of the jobs and lives impacted and what it means for the future of journalism.
But I’m hoping the P-I’s online experiment can help us all learn a bit more about the revolution happening in journalism today.
Twenty editorial and 20 advertising employees will staff the online-only P-I. The P-I will continue to showcase content from 150 or so reader bloggers and link off site to content partners and competitors.
Here’s what I think the rest of us in journalism can learn from the P-I experiment, based on Guzman interview. (We’ll have to see how the reality measures up.)
- Don’t let technology fear hold you back. Guzman acknowledges that not all the 20 editorial employees have the Web skills they’ll need for an online-only operation. “Does anyone have all the necessary Web skills to thrive on the Web?” she asks. Great point. Some journalists seem to view computer skills like math (“That’s why I went to j-school because I didn’t want to take advanced math classes.”) For our industry to flourish, we need to get over that. We need to learn to teach ourselves computer skills. The Web is a wealth of information. Need to know how to edit video, Google it and find a Webcast someone did. We need to be plugged into the Web’s technology scene to find new applications to help us do our jobs.
- The content has to change: Guzman notes that what the online-only P-I will become isn’t really known. But what is certain? It won’t just be print on the Web. “Since the P-I site is in large part an experiment, innovation and new thinking will, I think, not only be tolerated but encouraged,” she says. I hope so, at the P-I and at newspapers across the nation. Journalists are creative people by and large, but in a crisis upper-level managers tend to tighten the reins and restrict innovation. That’s a mistake. Reporters and editors need to try stuff, play around, make mistakes — “throw the spaghetti on the wall and see if it sticks,” as one editor told me. And they can’t do that if they need to go through three layers of management to get the OK. Why? Because they just won’t bother.
- The relationship with readers has to change: Guzman hedges a bit when asked about the role of social media and two-way communication with readers. That’s understandable; she’s not in charge, and everything is new. She hopes for a fuller engagement with readers, more beatblogging, more social media experimentation as well as columns from people in the spotlight. All good. What we can learn is: Don’t just keep doing same old, same old. Change. Please.
- Bloggers need to know their stats: Guzman notes that knowing the real-time data from her blog helped her as a blogger and hopes online-only staffers will get that benefit, too. So do I. I think it really cripples your ability to reach your audience if you don’t have access to your stats regularly, which is common at some newspapers. You can’t find out what types of post really resonates with readers, which posts got read the most, which post fell flat, whether your readers frequent you on Monday or Fridays. (The folks who need to know them aren’t just high-level managers; it’s the bloggers themselves. And not just a snapshot of stats every six months; to really understand your trends, you need to have daily access.) Joel Kramer explains that stats are vital at the MinnPost, a nonprofit journalism enterprise: “It makes us want to do more of what gets read, and less of what doesn’t, while remaining true to our mission.” Exactly. We don’t want our stats to govern us — if we did that, we just run porn and sports on our newspaper Web sites and call it a day. But we should be responsive to what readers want.
I’m looking forward to seeing if the Seattle P-I’s experiment lives up to these ideas. I hope it will.