On The Meaninglessness Of 'Digital First'

I'm about done reading endless editorials about how this time, today, this go-round the newspaper is all about the Internet. It's not like last time, with the paywall. Or the time before that, with the hyperlocal.
On The Meaninglessness Of 'Digital First'

GOD, this gets so tiresome:

"For six consecutive years, The Plain Dealer had double-digit losses in advertising revenue; that's compounding on one another," Fladung said at a gathering sponsored by the Cleveland chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists at the Market Garden Brewery in Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood. "Whether you are a business reporter or not, it's not hard to see that that's a jetliner nose down. The business model was broken."

Fladung said the decision to cut back home delivery from seven days a week to four was precipitated by the revenue dive.

The strategy, Fladung said, "is a market-share play in the digital space." In other words, by focusing on the kind of news the online audience prefers — shorter stories, posted continuously during the day and updated if necessary — the newspaper hopes to attract as many local readers as possible away from television station websites and other sources of local information.

I fail to see how home delivery impacts when you post on your site. Are the delivery guys doing the posting? Do they need space in the vans for their laptops, and the papers get in the way? If you want shorter stories posted continuously (which I don't grant is an automatic path to riches, by the way) you need to maybe rearrange your newsroom, not your distribution operation OH WAIT:

The last six months have been tumultuous for the city's only daily newspaper. At the end of July, the paper laid off 50 journalists, reducing its news staff to 110.

Well, fewer journalists will definitely help you come up with more content faster!

The newspaper industry is determined to make people read newspaper websites instead of newspapers, out of this misguided idea that this will lead to piles of money, because print is expensive and the Internet seems cheap.

What the newspaper industry fails to understand is that print is still where customers are. As many customers as yesteryear? No. Probably as many customers tomorrow as there are today? No. But customers, nonetheless. The Plain Dealer had readers who paid for the paper to be delivered to their homes. Instead of saying okay, let's pursue other readers in addition to the ones we have, the company said instead let's shaft the readers we do have, while blathering in consultant-speak about "digital first," our understanding of which only seems to be that we need to update the website more.


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By annihilating their print product, newspapers are also killing off the easiest way they have to market the website. How do people know to go to the Plain Dealer's site for local news? How do they know that's the source they should be seeking? In print, you're competing with other local news outlets. Online, you're competing with Gawker and the New York Times. Just once I'd like some team as part of their groundbreaking digital first strategy to explain how they'll get people to click on a brand they've gone out of their way to destroy.

It's just blathering, like every other fantastic great brand-new Internet trend the newspaper industry has glommed onto. This time, today, this go-round the newspaper is ALL ABOUT the Internet. It's not like last time, with the paywall. Or the time before that, with the hyperlocal. Or the time before that, with the glitter logo and the shaky iPhone video of that one house fire/car wreck/pet show. This time, the newspaper is taking the Internet seriously and is really, truly gonna do something new.

If they'd actually commit to any of these ideas for more than five seconds, and create genuinely innovative sites (instead of bloated, heaving replicas of the paper's front page, with a side-scroll of some Google ads and Buzzfeed links) it might be possible to be digital first, instead of just talking about it all damn day long. These CEOs and MEs who loudly declare that they are "digital first" are the industry equivalent of that one friend you have who will not shut up about how someday he's gonna go to Japan or join a gym or write that novel.

Every time you're over at his house he's high and watching Honey Boo Boo, but damned if he doesn't want to tell you his very detailed intentions at every dinner party.

Use tools to report online, show some understanding of the economics of the Internet, and a minimal amount of respect for your customers, and you won't have to write endless editorials about how you're digital first. People will know.

A.

About Allison Hantschel

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