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.
- Experimented with commenting
- Incorporated user generated galleries
- 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.