Monday, January 30, 2012

Newspapers' reverse-publishing idea flawed

Newspaper production teams scored a big win when technology allowed for stories entered into a print publishing system to be sent automatically to their online CMS. No longer did they need multiple employees to copy and paste text from one medium to the other. And everyone gets the same content, be it online or print.
So the concept of reverse publishing, or publishing stories first online that will later be sent to the print product, will only improve things, right? Not quite.
The feeding of stories from print to online on an automated basis worked for a Web 1.0 world. This technology was a crutch for newsrooms to limp into online journalism.
But as most of us know by now, you can't change how folks use the Web by vomiting print-centric stories online. The two mediums are used in a different manner: 1,000-word stories don't translate into bytes.
Granted there are steps that can be taken to make those print stories amenable on the Web. You can break them up using subheads or with multimedia such as photo galleries, audio, video or interactives. But unless you're hacking paragraphs off that story, it's still going to be a problem -- users don't read long stories online (unless it's a really relevant story to that user).
So why would we want to employ a reverse-publishing model when it doesn't address the problem of not producing content appropriate for the medium?
Most newsrooms have separate print and online staff with some, such as The Roanoke Times, utilizing a combined newsroom. I think that although print and online newsroom staffs need to be merged, there needs to exist different responsibilities for each medium.
Online content producers should concentrate on collecting and disseminating information for that medium. Things like breaking news, database creation and multimedia should be their raison dêtre.
The print content producers will be deployed on stories that play well on paper. Examples of this are long-form storytelling and in-depth perspectives of issues. This will not be the inverted-pyramid approach to the previous days' news.
I'm not suggesting that the online team shouldn't produce content that is in-depth. To the contrary, much of their content will require an approach similar to the print content. It will be disseminated for the Web however.
A newspaper that employs this theory probably won't be able to produce a daily newspaper; a weekly would suffice. And that's OK. This makes sense with the media audience shifting from print to online.
So the only positive benefit to using a reverse-publishing model for newspaper content is perhaps the cost-savings associated with one system into of two. Though I think this would quickly be negated when you consider the complexity of such a system, and the size of the IT staff required to support it.
I think this method would improve content for both print and online while taking into account the wants of both the users and journalists alike. What's not to love?

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