editor on the verge

Online musings from the newsroom and beyond . . . by Yoni Greenbaum

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Is it too late for an intervention?

November 23rd, 2008 · 6 Comments

I spent part of my Sunday morning visiting dozens of newspaper websites and by the time I was done I found myself wanting to scream. WAKE UP! LOOK AT WHAT YOU ARE DOING!

Too many of the sites I visited looked as if they’re frozen in time or, at the very least, not working with any sense of urgency. When I tweeted my observation:

“Where’s the innovation? Where’s the experimentation? Don’t see most newspaper sites doing anything different or new. What happened?”

Steve Yelvington came back with this on-point response:

“Biggest risk of organizational (i.e., newsroom) convergence is a loss of imagination and innovative spirit.”

While I agree with his comment, I just don’t feel like any of these sites can afford to rest on their laurels or to be stuck in neutral. With marketing budgets at many newspapers shrinking or disappearing altogether, for the most part, it’s up to the individual web staffs to increase metrics such as page views, time or site and return visitors (for example).

What concerns me even more is that I’m not sure the people at any of these sites realize that they have a problem. On too many occasions I’ve heard the cliché “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”.

I once worked for a VP who said something along the lines of “if you’ve been doing it for the past 20 years, then it’s time to change what you’ve been doing.” With that in mind, I’ve got a suggestion for all the online staffers out there – consider this a low tech intervention. Take a piece of paper, or create a document and number the lines 1 through 10. Then, on each line, list something that you have done in the past three to six months at your site that you consider innovative or experimental.

For example:

  1. Experimented with commenting
  2. Incorporated user generated galleries
  3. Staffed the site overnight, etc.

Now if you don’t want to do this brief exercise or if your list contains only one or two items, then I would suggest that you have a problem. I would even go so far as to predict that your site (barring the occasional Druge or Fark) is seeing traffic hold steady. While that might seem like a good thing, it really, really isn’t.

With print products struggling just to maintain their depleted numbers, online growth must occur and innovation and experimentation, I believe, is key to that growth.

Now before you run off and put floating eyeballs on your site, I would suggest first of all setting, at the very least, a monthly traffic goal. This will help you gauge the effectiveness of what you attempt and justify those changes or alterations to those you work with.

Once you have that done, try something. It doesn’t have to cost money even, as there is plenty of free tech that you can leverage. Want chats? Try CoveritLive. Want widgets that you can centrally update? Try SproutBuilder. The list goes on and on.

And as you go, share your successes and your stumbles. Just like we’re seeing more cooperation on the content side between news outlets, we need to see more cooperation on the tech side (more on this another time).

Now lets get down to innovating and experimenting and be sure to let me know how it goes.

Tags: Audience Development · Best Practices · Editor on the verge · Editor on the Verge · Industry · Innovation · Metrics · Online · Organization · technology · Tools · Traffic

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Marc Matteo // Nov 23, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    I daresay that another part of the problem is that newspapers are rapidly approaching that critical juncture where hard decisions must me made that will either further online at the expense of print or preserve — for a short while — print at the expense of online.

    With management so seeped in newsprint for the last 20, 25 or 30 years, can you be surprised at the outcome?

    I’ve heard a resurgence in the “print is 80% or our revenue” meme that many use to justify a more conservative approach to the web, but I suspect that before the days of consumer refrigeration the same logic was used by those that harvested ice for a living (http://blog-o-blog.com/22/11/2008/treading-water/).

  • 2 Joey Mucha // Nov 24, 2008 at 2:10 pm


    You raise a very good point that newspapers web sites aren’t doing very much in terms of innovation. There is so much data flowing through these portals and they need to leverage it. Whether that’s using social networking utilities, video comments, or flash content (widgets), we all need to innovate.

    Keep pushing for innovation, you’re doing your part.

  • 3 links for November 23rd through November 26th | Jared Silfies // Nov 26, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    […] Is it too late for an intervention? | editor on the verge – The goal: Innovate. The problem: everything. […]

  • 4 Geekish journalism and media ramblings from a student « // Nov 28, 2008 at 11:58 am

    […] Is it too late for an intervention? | editor on the verge – The goal: Innovate. The problem: everything. […]

  • 5 Mindy McAdams // Nov 29, 2008 at 11:41 am

    Good post, Yoni. It seems to me that one of the biggest missed opportunities is the front page of the Web site. The Las Vegas Sun has addressed this better than most. Why not make the Web front something I feel I absolutely MUST look at every day? And if you did that, what would it look like?

  • 6 Larry // Apr 11, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    “if you’ve been doing it for the past 20 years, then it’s time to change what you’ve been doing.”

    As an author I can tell you what you already know. Just by looking at the numerous remakes that have been done in the past five years alone is an indication that people are becoming less and less involved with original thinking.

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