OJR long has enjoyed a strong following among newspaper website managers and employees. So don’t think that we’ve forgotten about you when we write about start-ups and independent online news efforts. I think there’s much that newspaper-dot-coms can learn from the “little guys,” ideas and innovations that they can bring back to their papers in an effort to keep them competitive in their news marketplaces.
But let’s not forget, either, some of the advantages that newspapers bring to these markets. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll be bringing you blog posts from newspaper website editors whom I’ve asked to share some of their recent successes. If you a newspaper website editor with a story to share, too, please, feel free. You can post to the site directly, or e-mail me and tell me your story so that I can post it to the site.
Before we get to those stories though… a challenge, if you will.
Newspapers often focus on their newsrooms, and even, sometimes, their sales staffs when looking for strengths that they bring to their local markets. But what about their IT departments?
Great content build traffic for a day. If you want to keep that traffic, you must continue to add new great content. But great functionality builds traffic, too. And keeps it for far longer than content does before it needs to be refreshed.
Instead of trying to play catch-up, to learn to blog, to Tweet, to do what “the kids” are doing, why not turn the geeks lose to build whatever might be the next Twitter?
Granted, the chop’s come down on the IT folks as hard as it has in other newspaper departments. Not every PC tech would want to or be able to try application development. But newspapers employ more than a few programmers who have handled some nasty problems. (Newspaper publishing systems can get, er, ugly sometimes.)
Many newspaper chains made crucial errors when they decided to consolidate their online IT staffs at the corporate level, with minimal staffs charged with handling little more than maintenance tasks. I, for one, saw too many good programmers let go during my stint with Tribune and have heard similar stories from friends at other chains.
Folks like Adrian Holovaty have been building neat tools to move data out of newsrooms onto the Web in fresh and engaging ways. But much, much more can be done. (And Adrian doesn’t work for a newspaper anymore, either.) Why fight a battle with a single weapon – content? Copy-cat functionality helps newspaper-dot-coms keep up with the competition, but that’s not enough. Newspapers need fresh killer apps, along with their great content, if they are to move back in front of the competition. IT development isn’t something to outsource, or discount. It is as central to newspapers’ efforts to remain viable online as reporters and sales staff.
What is your newspaper doing to keep its IT staff motivated, engaged and innovating?