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Local newspapers, blogs and the future

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In today's hyper communicative environment many blogs are like a bowl of popcorn compared with a full restaurant meal.

The idea of blogs and Web sites that use "crowdsourcing" assumes that eyewitnesses are the best reporters (this is not the case), and that participation is a given from a 'vibrant community of readers. Sorry, but that's a mistaken assumption. It has been consistently shown that only about 5 percent to 7 percent of all readers of any publication (online or in print) will ever send in a letter, newstip or other contribution. Among those, how many have an axe to grind or are otherwise biased? How many of them can provide a photograph better than a snapshot or a video from something more than a cellphone?

The quality of a photograph or video or story matter, precisely because they tell the story better, more succinctly.

Professional journalists don't waste your time

Professional journalists perform a very valuable function in a democratic society. They sift through the information and, when they are good, provide as unbiased a view as possible. That's the job.

Instead of 3000 words about a community council meeting that was 'live blogged' with updates every seven minutes, wouldn't you honestly prefer 300 words that tell you what happened and what was decided?

Do you seriously want to simply be referred to a series of links where you must delve deeply into issues spending hours of time to glean the facts?

Print vs. Online Advertising

Newspapers and Web sites both sell and display advertising. But a Web site ad is only worth about 10 percent of what an ad is worth in print.

This is so because print advertising actually WORKS. You can say more, show more, and it is often seen multiple times in the same home or family and kept around. Weekly news-

papers have staying power.

Online advertising is often simply ignored, especially small square ads with annoying animation or no useful value-driven offer. Worse, some ads appear virtually on their own, adjacent to nothing, or so crowded into the tiny space on the edge of a Web page that their message is lost. Online ads have their place certainly and can help brand a business, but simply showing a logo is not the best way for a business to drive traffic to their store. Online ads are almost always quite small, so for that reason alone

they can't tell you much. How often do YOU click on an online ad?

Things change and so do people

While it is true that the cost of producing a news product on paper points to a diminishing return, an economic model will emerge that allows good papers to continue to publish over time, as enlightened readers grow weary of the information bombing presented by the blog, and twitter formats, and embrace a more measured, thoughtful presentation of what is going on around them.

Real life has a way of asserting itself and people often come to realizations that their time is worth something.

Past is prologue

There are those in the blogging world and those otherwise enamored of online communication for whom newspapers can't die soon enough.

They point to the ability of the internet to deliver news almost instantly (have they heard of radio?), and provide a framework of interaction that allows the audience to become part of the newsgathering process.

This is purported to be 'better' than the 'biased' approach of a seasoned trained journalist who with some experience and judgement sifts through what is often largely unimportant information to deliver a concise report on what matters. There are pluses and minuses to this of course but what many of those who look at newspapers and their current dilemma fail to understand is that there are significant differences between these models of information as well as the potential effectiveness of the advertising the supposedly supports them both.

Predictions about the demise of many things in the past often did not come true. Television did not replace radio, and even in an age of digital downloads, believe it or not, vinyl records are seeing a significant resurgence. This is not to say everything will remain the same but people love newspapers for very good reasons.

Those reasons will still be why they love them for some time.

Reports of our death are greatly exaggerated

Some daily newspapers whose content is largely duplicated by other media WILL go away. That's clear.

But community newspapers are NOT going to be replaced by neighborhood blogs and are doing quite well though in an economic downturn some evolution is necessary for all media. In the weeks ahead you will see this newspaper change page size, for example, and we are re-launching our Web site to bring you more information and provide greater interaction.

We want to assure you that THIS newspaper is stable and devoted to the community and plans to be publishing in print and online for a long time to come.

We thank you for your readership and the support of our advertisers. It's our honor and privilege to serve you.

Please share your point of view on this story. Comments posted with First and Last names will be considered for publication in the print edition. You may request that your name not be published. You may also send your comment directly to the editor at wseditor@robinsonnews.com.

Alcina wrote on Feb 13, 2009 8:13 PM:

" Definition of journalism from the on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary:
1 a: the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media b: the public press c: an academic study concerned with the collection and editing of news or the management of a news medium
2 a: writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine b: writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation c: writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest

1 a., b. as well as 2 a., b., and c. apply to West Seattle Blog.

I've been an active blogger since 2003, but I still enjoy and regularly read newspapers. However, this editorial speaks volumes. My sense is that the owners of the WS Herald are not only a tad out of touch, but also threatened by the competition of a good community news blog successfully operating in the same area. "

Melanie wrote on Feb 13, 2009 5:35 PM:

" Patty - I wholeheartedly agree with your post!! I have had the same experience with the so called "editors" of the WSB, who run their business and their forums in a dictatorial and unjournalistic manner.

The editors of WSB definitely favor some businesses and bloggers over others, and more than that, actually allow others to verbally bash local businesses with unsubstantiated drivel. How is that responsible journalism? I'm surprised they haven't been sued yet for defamation based on some of the things put on their website.

WSB's live reports are the most boring things I have ever read. I want the same as you Patty - a summary of the event without reading someone's chicken scratch typing every few minutes. If I want more detail about the story, I can then find it in more depth by going to the source, i.e. City Hall, School District, etc....

What really gets me is the fact that the WSB editors call themselves "journalists", but in my experience they are more like news "compilers" than journalists. Journalists analyze and synthesize information and regularly check themselves on whether the story is unbiased before they print it. Most of the "reporting" on WSB comes from visitors to the site, who provide information in the "comments" or "forums" sections. The "editors" then take that information and pass it off as their own brand of "fabulous" journalism, often without further investigation. In most situations, they're not the reporters, the people who are posting on the blog are. It's not rocket science or even journalism to regurgitate what people post on your blog - and usually it's not "news" either. Frankly, high school students summarize and synthesize information better than the two "editors" on WSB.

The only thing I use WSB for is to gather quick information and advice from other people in my immediate area about local events or services - I do not rely on WSB's reporting to inform me about newsworthy issues or events. I'm much more savvy on the computer and with other news sources to rely on the amateurs at WSB for real news.

The WSB is a BLOG in every sense of the word - a public place for people to post comments and report events - a message board if you will. I see no journalistic value in that - it is merely a community kiosk with two moderators sitting behind a computer acting as a stenographer.

To the contrary, the WSH is and has been a valuable journalistic asset to our community that gathers/reports the news and treats members/businesses of the community in a professional and unbiased manner. There are more people in W. Seattle who rely on the WSH than the WSB for information - that's a reality. In fact, when I talk to many of my friends here in WSB, they've never even heard of the WSB, but they do know and have read the WSH.

It's one thing to want quick information, and another to want information provided in a professional journalistic manner. WSH does that, WSB does not.

Keep going WSH and I will keep reading:) And to WSB - get off your "diva" platform and quit giving yourself credit for unbiased reporting. You have a long way to go before you can take any credit for that. "

Patty wrote on Feb 13, 2009 1:14 PM:

" I see the value of the West Seattle Blog, but I wish that the editor would stop claiming to be an impartial journalist. She used to be a journalist and is now a blogger. I find the West Seattle Blog favors their friends and sponsors much more than any newspaper I've ever read (and I've worked in newspaper advertising for 8 years off and on). Comments and postings strongly favor WSB sponsors and folks they seem to know. For that reason, I can't trust what I read in the WSB. I appreciate the amount of information they are able to push onto their site, but I feel like I'm reading the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce "white-washed" and nicey-nicey version of what really happened. I'll really miss the P-I. "

Russell wrote on Feb 13, 2009 9:40 AM:

" It sounds to me like the WSH has a self-esteem problem. Can the paper give us updates to traffic situations, or keep us posted about real time criminal activity and their outcomes? No, I don't think so. Thats a real service to the community.

And how many Citizen Appreciation Awards has the West Seattle Herald won?

From Seattle Police Department website (http://www.seattle.gov/police/recognition/Citizen/2008.htm):

"Lt. Steve Paulsen [Southwest Precinct] nominated Tracy [Record] and Patrick [Sand] for the work they have put into the West Seattle Blog...Tracy shared her desire to have a public safety connection in the Blog for the West Seattle Community.

The close working relationship with the men and women of the Southwest Precinct has blossomed to where Tracy, Patrick and their staff have been integral to the Southwest Precinct Family...Tracy and Patricks editorial professionalism and reporting 'just the facts' has gained the trust and credibility of the citizens of West Seattle, and the police officers who patrol the various neighborhoods.

Lt. Paulsen believes the department has benefited from this unique partnership in that our citizens have access to West Seattle crime trends, information, and a more 'personal' side of the officers who work the area. The number of hours the two put into making sure the Blog is accurate and up-to-date is astronomical.

In addition to all of that, Lt. Paulsen notes that Tracy and Patrick have been instrumental in bringing the community together in showing appreciation for those who work in the precinct. He writes 'a couple of recent examples have been the first "Officer Appreciation Day" at the Southwest Precinct as well as coordinating a getwell [sic] card drive for Officer Jason McKissock.' He wants both Tracy and Patrick to know how much their efforts are appreciated by the Southwest Precinct."

By the way, at least one of the main contributors to the WS Blog has an extensive background in journalism. Looks like the research department at WSH didn't do its homework.

Having written all that, I will still buy the paper. You just need to chill out... "

anon. wrote on Feb 13, 2009 8:36 AM:

" I second the guy above that wrote: " This comes across as defensive and scared. "

If you all really believe all the claims you make here, the next couple years are not going to work out very well for you. Just a prediction. "

Wally Wood wrote on Feb 13, 2009 8:01 AM:

" As a total outsider (I live in Connecticut), I should probably stay out of this. But as one who maintains a subscription to his local weekly while canceling delivery of the nearby daily, I have strong opinions on the subject.

The daily's problem is that it tries to give national and international news while cutting local reporting staff, so it does neither well.

The local covers our town like a cheap suit. The reporting is often pedestrian (how many great reporters want to work on a small-town weekly for small-town weekly wages?), but if you want to see what happened in town last week, it's there.

From the tone of this editorial and the comments, it sounds like the West Seattle Herald is feeling the heat from the West Seattle Blog. This heat is only going to grow as the Herald's readers age and die. It would be interesting to look at the demographics of the two; how many young peoplesay under 30are actually buying and reading the paper? How many new readers is the paper attracting? And how do these compare to the blog?

While I believe papers like the daily I've canceled have no future, I believe my local weekly will be around for another 130 years. True, television did not kill radio, but radio had to change. If the Herald does not change, I suspect it will not make it. "

Howard Owens wrote on Feb 13, 2009 7:38 AM:

" This comes across as defensive and scared. "

Trevor wrote on Feb 13, 2009 7:16 AM:

" "Professional journalists don't waste your time."

Professional journalists have been wasting my time for years.

Now that the real-estate and automobile complex is dying, alot of publications have been revealed as nothing more than fronts for those industries, with a "staff of dedicated journalists" thrown in at the margin.

Get over yourself. Bloggers who decide to adopt journalistic methods are journalists. Period. "

Kristina Surface wrote on Feb 12, 2009 12:36 PM:

" I have been a subscriber to the West Seattle Herald for the last year. I also read The West Seattle Blog.

Your points offered me food for thought - what is the difference between a local paper and a local blog? The answer is clear: a blog posts news in real time, whereas a paper posts (less) news a week later. Unfortunately, your paper is at a huge disadvantage. Certainly, some blogs (my personal blog included) are primarily nonsense and ramblings, but this is not the case of the West Seattle Blog. On the WSB I find real time news on relevant topics. I was grateful for the school reporting that you distain, and read it with interest. I appreciate the opportunity to learn more, to research the links given...or to ingnore and keep reading another topic when I am no longer interested.

I also appreciate the fact that I don't throw anything away (or recycle it) when I'm done reading the blog, unlike your paper.

The only thing missing from the West Seattle Blog is columns written on topics like bicycling. Still, a small column is not worth paying for.

I will not be renewing my subscription to the paper. I can get the same information, but in greater detail, from a professional reporter at the West Seattle Blog. I am glad to hear that your business is doing so well that I will not be missed, because the one thing that was tempting me to renew my subscription was that I wanted to support a local business. I'm glad to hear that my readership will not make a difference to you. "

Justin C. wrote on Feb 12, 2009 12:01 AM:

" "Professional journalists don't waste your time"

Yeah, but the blogs can use a spell checker, and have a basic sense of grammar. Have you even read your own paper? It looks as if it was written by a 3rd grade special ed class.

Maybe if you had more interest in the community then selling ads, we could over look the half a#s paper that you run. "

Stephen Lamphear wrote on Feb 11, 2009 10:13 PM:

" Perhaps if all the Robinson Newspapers were willing to pay for quality reporters, writers and editors, they would have nothing to fear from news blogs. Newspapers on the cheap are just cheap newspapers.

True, I don't want to read a 3000 word amature blog on a city council decision. Unfortunately, Robinson Newspapers does not deliver capable analysis or investigation in its 300 words on the same decision. Don't pay people and they don't do the work.

Don't fear the blogs -- do a better job than the blogs!

Do that and you have my eyes. "

Mark Vegors wrote on Feb 11, 2009 9:58 PM:

" You forgot that it is much easier to take a news paper to the bathroom. I thought it ironic that the section stating "Online advertising is often simply ignored, especially small square ads with annoying animation or no useful value-driven offer" was surrounding a small and annoyingly animated add. Before slamming others you should make sure you are not guilty of the same "crime". "

Ellen Cedergreen Colgan wrote on Feb 11, 2009 7:45 PM:

" Dear editor,
I think you missed the boat entirely on your blog conclusions!
First, and foremost, blogs and online news sites are the way of the future. They just are. The only reason newspapers aren't obsolete yet is because there are at least two generations of people who aren't entirely comfortable navigating the internet. Once these folks aren't the primary news targets, newspapers will largely be out the door. Community newspapers will only survive if they can attain a greater level of relevancy and timeliness than they currently achieve. This is a given.

Secondly, West Seattle has an incredibly innovative blog which you failed to identify by name. The West Seattle Blog is actually much more than a blog and it defies your article's description of blog downfalls. So much so, that I find it odd that a purported community newpaper, such as yours, does not have your facts straight. WSB, which is, incidentally, run by a "seasoned trained journalist", provides up to the minute news that is accurate and compassionate. The news is personal AND objective: a rare and refreshing marriage of qualities. Forums are available for neighbors to discuss anything from crime in their neighborhood, to opinions on national election results. It's not always pretty, but in a society where there are fewer and fewer places for citizens to engage, the
West Seattle Blog forums are irreplaceable.
A reader of WSB has the choice of reading the concise (usually far LESS than 300 words) summary of a story, or of clicking the link to get in depth information. The in depth information can be skimmed for facts and tone, or it can be read in full. Personally, I find these stories inclusive and encouraging. Where once I felt they didn't apply to me, I find that now they do. And because I care about the school board's decision to close a school that my own son does not even attend, I am that much more invested in my community. I am not only informed, I am engaged.

Lastly, the ads on West Seattle Blog are for local businesses. The sponsors who advertise there are often featured in the news and forum portions of the blog and are clearly engaged in our community. Ironically, I am more inclined to click on an ad on WSB than on any other place on the internet. I am certainly less likely to visit a business based on newspaper advertising.

WSB has done more for the community of West Seattle than most people understand. The people who run the blog do so with sensitivity and dedication that is, in my opinion, unsurpassed by any other news source. During the storms, the coverage was way above and beyond the call of duty. We had up to the minute forecasts and road conditions. Blog staff even offered phone numbers in case community members needed assistance. News that comes in through community members is identified as such. Reporting, however, is done by the "seasoned trained journalist". The combination of the two is what makes the blog so unique. Instead of tearing down our community by focusing on our differences and instilling fear and powerlessness in individuals, the WSB serves to build us up. That is more than I can say for ANY newspaper. "

Joanne Brayden wrote on Feb 11, 2009 6:31 PM:

" While your comments are surely true of some neighborhood websites, those produced by actual news reporters like the West Seattle Blog actually give us the best of both worlds... nearly instant communication, reader input and quality reporting.

What might be missed is the opportunity for more in depth reporting from a variety of reporters.

Wouldn't it be better to take learn from the best of the neighborhood blogs as you move towards an on-line presence than to class and condemn them as as amateur productions? "

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