Very dizzy busy work
On one hand, the 24-hour new desk proves publishers can come up with a fresh idea every decade, whether they need to or not. On the other, the concept is a disheartening strategic blunder with the potential to simultaneously degrade the print and online coverage at most newspapers for no discernable gain.
Unlike the online content giveaway, described here as the world’s longest running introductory offer, there’s still time to stop the industry’s stampede to create 24-hour news desks.
With any luck, the resources rescued from this ill-considered initiative could be deployed in a more productive manner. We’ll propose one idea in a moment. First, a bit of background.
The 24-hour news desk, which suddenly has been adopted everywhere from the New York Times to the Des Moines Register, dedicates groups of increasingly scarce reporters to continuously refreshing web sites with breaking news.
It makes sense for the New York Times to update its website if John Bolton quits the UN or for the Wall Street Journal to bulletin the $16.5 billion purchase of Mellon Bank. If these national news sites weren’t freshened for major events, they would become justifiably irrelevant in the era of the 24-hours news cycle.
But there’s no conceivable journalistic or economic reason for a company like Gannett to require its ever-dwindling number of reporters to continuously feed the web such routine stories as the eviction of mobile-home residents in Asheville, NC; a man attacking a game warden with a tree branch in Winneshiek County, IA, or an advance story on the inauguration of the governor of Hawaii that was posted 1 hour and 11 minutes before she was “expected” to take the oath of office.
Quickie web coverage seriously imperils the print product, because these down-and-dirty stories deprive reporters and editors of the time they need to consider – and report on – the major issues affecting their communities. If news staffs thinned by continuing economic cutbacks are stretched even thinner with busy work, who will write the compelling stories that merit the continued patronage of the print product by readers and advertisers?
The industry inadvertently undermined the value of the newspaper by making the decision more than a decade ago to give it away for free on the web. It is a modest consolation that newspaper sites generally present the most thorough, thoughtful and rational coverage on the web. If they start trivializing themselves with fender-benders and mattress fires, who will want to read them?
Quickie online coverage of inconsequential news won’t please traditional newspaper readers or attract the young, restless and wired consumers that newspapers need to sustain and build their multimedia franchises.
If you are wondering what might attract both traditional and new readers to newspaper web sites, take a look at the new city sites just launched by Ask.Com.
By typing in “Italian food” and your Zip Code, you can get a map showing all the restaurants in your neighborhood, as well as detailed reviews, menus and driving directions. In some cities, you can make online reservations, too.
You can locate nearby merchants, clubs and theaters – and even buy advance tickets to a performance. With a few more clicks, you can customize the map to tell your friends who is joining you for dinner, that it’s a surprise birthday party and where to hide in the restaurant.
Almost every newspaper has deeper community information and better reviews than Ask.Com ever will. The technology to index and display this data is easily and affordably accessible.
Newspapers shouldn’t have been beaten at their own game by Ask, the No. 4 search engine. But they were.
Now, Ask – like Google, Yahoo and others before it– is out to sell ads against newspapers in almost every significant local market . How’s that for a quickie news bulletin?