Brave Old World  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Columns
From AJR,   July/August 2001

Brave Old World   

Some online readers prefer

By Barb Palser
Barb Palser (bpalser@gmail.com), AJR's new-media columnist, is vice president, account management, with Internet Broadcasting.     



THE BANE OF RUNNING a newspaper or broadcast Web site is that you have to serve its audience as well as your own. That covers a lot of ground, from divvying up prime page space to answering truckloads of viewer mail about the feature on liposuction that ran last Friday.
It also means that not everyone coming to your site will crave breaking news and "enhanced" Web content the way you believe they should. Web editors know that a news story must be repackaged and constantly updated in order to be any good online. Why would anyone want leftover news?
While most users do seek immediacy and interactivity, there's a little wrinkle in the convergence theory: A few people don't want fresher, bigger or better. They want a second helping of the same old thing. They don't have unrefined tastes, necessarily; just different reasons for their search.
Sites that belong to newspapers or broadcasters draw a group of missed-it-the-first-time users who are looking for a story from page C3 of Wednesday's paper or the kicker they saw on the 5 p.m. news. They're hunting for something that matches the headline they read or the words they heard. The portion of users who make up this contingency varies (which is a nice way of saying that I have no numbers), but there are enough of them to produce a steady hail of e-mail, as any Web editor can attest.
An online "print edition" or broadcast script is an expeditious way to provide that synchronicity without compromising the news value of a site.
These print editions are served alongside Web editions, not in lieu of them. They are accessed from a link on the homepage and simulate the newspaper in their navigation and content. They're not more printable, faster loading or formatted differently than the rest of the site. Nor are they unique; most stories and features in the online print edition also appear elsewhere on the site.
The differences are that stories are grouped according to the newspaper page or section where they appeared, and do not get updated as news develops. Editorially, the online print edition should mirror the paper that was dropped on your doorstep.
Among the newspaper sites that offer print editions are the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Boston Herald, Chicago Tribune and USA Today. (It's far less common to find a broadcaster that posts news scripts, since scripts are hard to read without some editing.)
Presentation varies slightly; the Times and Tribune arrange stories according to section, while the Chronicle, Post and USA Today also note the page on which each story appeared. The Boston Herald posts a print version of the front page and sports page only.
The Akron Beacon Journal made industry news in June by offering a CD-Rom version of its paper--with advertisements and enhanced content--at newstands for 25. It was scheduled to be offered online in August.
The better a Web site is at following breaking news and showcasing original content, the more helpful a print edition can be. When I visited USA Today one afternoon, the Web headlines had far outpaced the print edition and bore no resemblance to the front page of the newspaper.
That immediacy, depth and interactivity should never be compromised in order to keep yesterday's headlines on the front page a little longer. Nor can a Web staff replicate every piece that ran in print or on air and still find time to do original work. A print edition can be a smart way to solve that conundrum. Even broadcast scripts, sloppy as they may be, can be useful in that sense.
If it's not convenient to post a print edition or if the idea of posting a raw broadcast script is simply too abhorrent, there are other ways to provide continuity to traditional media users. A well-kept archive is one of them: Both print and broadcast sites can orient users by offering archives that list all the stories published on a given day. Another idea for newspaper sites is to note the printed pages on which stories appeared if they've been copied from the print publication. Finally, TV sites can offer a page of popular links or past stories that viewers seem to be seeking.
The happy lesson is that there clearly is crossover between print and broadcast audiences and Web site users. Our visitors are not just savvy surfers who've given up on traditional media; they are also faithful watchers and readers who use the Web as a supplement and an archive. We should give them what they order, not just what we think they want.
Each first-time user is an opportunity. He or she might come for last night's meatloaf, but perhaps will stay--and keep coming back--for the news du jour.

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