The Digital Divide Persists at the Philadelphia Inquirer

I’m a day or two late on this story, but it’s probably to my benefit, since there’s been at least one new blog post that’s shed more light on the situation.

The issue concerns a move by the Philadelphia Inquirer to delay posting certain stories online until the print version hits the streets. The new policy, unveiled in a memo to staff that ended up on the Romenesko Web site on Thursday, also placed certain restrictions on the paper’s reporter/bloggers:

Colleagues – Beginning today, we are adopting an Inquirer first policy for our signature investigative reporting, enterprise, trend stories, news features, and reviews of all sorts. What that means is that we won’t post those stories online until they’re in print. We’ll cooperate with, as we do now, in preparing extensive online packages to accompany our enterprising work. But we’ll make the decision to press the button on the online packages only when readers are able to pick up The Inquirer on their doorstep or on the newsstand.

For our bloggers, especially, this may require a bit of an adjustment. Some of you like to try out ideas that end up as subjects of stories or columns in print first.

(The new policy does not limit the posting of breaking news.)

If you think you’re hearing the blogosphere howling in the distance, you probably are. More on this policy, and a response from the Inquirer, after the jump.

The memo drew sharp criticism from the likes of Jeff Jarvis, who said the policy will kill the paper. “You might as well just burn the place down.” His summary of the policy: “If we keep out the gas stations, we’ll force them to ride horses, damnit.”

While everyone else was in a froth, newspaper blogger Ryan Sholin logged onto IM and asked the Inquirer’s executive online news editor, Chris Krewson, to clarify just what all this means. Krewson was happy to oblige.

On the “signature stories” front:

Let me clarify by saying this will be print-Web simultaneous publishing, never really print first.

We’re honestly mostly talking about features stories, restaurant reviews, big-name critics – but (this is an important change) NOT movie reviews, day-after-the-concert movie reviews or things of that nature.

Also, there’s an argument to be made that a major investigative piece will have a much larger potential audience at 6 am — combined with a strong print push — than if that same long, narrative-driven story is posted at 11 pm the previous night.

And on the blogging front:

This won’t affect Dan Rubin or any other reporter who wants to try out ideas, gather string for stories or columns, crowd-source or anything else.

We are saying, in effect, please don’t self-publish the full draft of your story or column on your blog before it runs in the paper.

And I think it’s in our best interest to know and control when we’re publishing our columns, for all kinds of reasons (some of which are legal).

Not everyone thinks the Inquirer’s policy, however it shakes out, is the death knell for the paper. Newspaper blogger Steve Yelvington takes a more measured approached, one I think I agree with:

Holding routine features, trend stories and reviews seems pointless and counterproductive, but holding exclusive stories for simultaneous publication is not always a bad thing. That’s not the real problem here.

Our job is to serve the public, not advance one medium and oppose another.

A publication plan for “signature investigative reporting” should be one that’s designed to bring the largest possible group of people into the strongest possible engagement with that piece.

That might require holding the BFD for simultaneous publication in print and online. It might require teasing and setting the stage with advance components, some of which might appear in only one medium.

And it might require tailoring the online and print presentations into different, complementary pieces. It’s entirely possible that the print and online components might be completely different with some parts being print-only.

The sort of process that Yelvington describes could be referred to by another name: editing. And it’s an important part of what news providers do. It’s just that now, editors on all sides of the newsroom — and these days that can include video, print, online and audio operations — need to work together to decide how best to package and prepare a story to take advantage of the storytelling opportunities their respective disciplines provide.

If that means holding stories until they’re ready, so be it. Let’s work to deliver the best stories to our readers across all media. Collaboration in that effort is key.

And that’s why this line in the memo is what’s really troublesome (and Yelvington notes this, too):

We’ll cooperate with, as we do now, in preparing extensive online packages to accompany our enterprising work.

Note “cooperate.” Not “collaborate.” Not even “coordinate.” (Note that is even a separate entity from the Inquirer newspaper.)

Inquirer editors, like those at many other newspapers around the country, are still operating across a divide between “traditional” reporting and the strange, new online stuff. Editors have to bridge that divide before newspapers can reinvent themselves in the digital age.


How can print not get it?

The Philadelphia experiment isn’t neccessarily a bad idea


One Response

  1. […] news strategy – Thanks to reader/blogger Simon Adams at Bloggasm for this tip: We noted controversy over the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Web strategy several weeks ago. Here’s a case study of the Bowling Green Daily News, which doesn’t have […]

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