On Feb. 7, Knight Ridder Digital pulled the switch on a new digital publishing platform and redesign for its network of 30-plus city portals and regional hubs. The switchover resulted in dead links for vast amounts of archived material, drawing withering criticism on Poynter's online-news list, in weblogs and in this publication. (See Staci D. Kramer's column, "KR Bids for Hub Status," March 14, 2002.)
It was, in short, a case of content management done wrong.
The Real Cities sites are still getting slammed for their cookie-cutter design. It's as if the corporate designers said, "Miami? I know! Let's throw a palm tree into the masthead."
The move to a unified publishing system, dubbed Market Leader, is reducing costs and helping sites share content more effortlessly. In the years ahead, the new system will make it easier to share content across a wide variety of publishing platforms, such as mobile devices.
Bob Ryan, vice president of operations, says many kinds of packages can be programmed at the national level with content feeds from local online staffs. For the Oscars, an entertainment channel manager at corporate headquarters in San Jose worked with a producer in Philadelphia to coordinate coverage among all the local sites.
Feature stories from the Miami Herald and El Herald Nuevo on up-and-coming Latino entertainers can be shared throughout the network, Ryan says. The Charlotte Observer's online staff takes the lead on NASCAR racing and built a site, That's Racin', that is promoted throughout the network.
"The real value proposition that distinguishes us from national verticals like ESPN is that we have deep local content and columnists who are franchise players and name brands in their local media markets," Ryan says.
Dan Finnigan, whose departure as president of Knight Ridder Digital was announced by Yahoo! on Monday (he'll be general manager of HotJobs), told the E&P conference: "Now that we have the infrastructure in place, we'll start making a lot of little bets on the content in the business channel vs. the living channel vs. the outdoor subchannel of our living channel. And we'll find out what works and figure out the value of convergence."
And what is Finnigan's reaction to criticism of the design of the relaunched Real Cities sites? "I don't think we've done a good enough job of allowing for flexibility on how the sites look," he said. Can't argue with that.