If it sometimes seems like The Boston Globe is still a print-first, digital-later news organization, editor Brian McGrory agrees.
Despite success in selling digital-only subscriptions and the hiring of several digital-first journalists, McGrory wrote earlier today in a message to the staff, “too many of us — editors, reporters, photographers, graphic artists — think of just print too often.”
McGrory’s renewed emphasis on the Web is good news for customers (like me) who pay for Sunday delivery of the print edition and read it online the other six days. And though McGrory doesn’t mention it, I hope the change in mentality he’s looking for is accompanied by some improvements in the Globe’s digital platforms.
Just a heads up that, starting today, we’re moving the morning and afternoon meetings up by 30 minutes, to 10 and 3 respectively — a small change that is part of a larger effort to make us quicker and more nimble on the web.
The goal is, as mentioned before, to get everyone to think as much about our site as we do the paper. We are already in a very good place. It was this newsroom, in large part, that made boston.com the traffic monster that it is, built on the quality of Boston Globe journalism for the better part of two decades. We did it all over again a few years ago with the launch of bostonglobe.com, which already has more digital-only subscriptions than any metropolitan news organization in the country. Those subscriptions are growing at a clip of 200 to 500 a week, and page views were up in March by more than 40 percent over last year.
But we can do better – and we need to do better.
To that end, we’ve already brought in several digital-first writers, to such great effect that we’re looking to bring in several more. Evan Horowitz, Alex Speier, Steve Annear, and James Pindell have allowed us to live far more in the moment online, rapidly pushing webbier (sorry) stories that allow the site to look less like a digital reflection of that morning’s and the next morning’s print paper. Of course, virtually the whole room has been picking up the pace for years, led by the bullet-fast reflexes of Mike Bello, Martin Finucane and John Ellement in Metro.
Still, too many of us — editors, reporters, photographers, graphic artists — think of just print too often. In this view, the web is something that’s extra, an additional place to post print stories. This has to change, not overnight, and not even self-consciously, but gradually and naturally over the next few months. So if all goes right, the morning news meetings will allow for more time to be devoted to what we’re planning to publish on the site through the day. The afternoon news meeting will focus not just on the print front page, but the digital homepage through the evening.
We’ll look to reposition some high-profile editing talent to give stories a front-page-quality edit not just from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., but all through the day, allowing us to post our enterprise work from morning to evening. This may involve putting a senior editor on a devoted editing day shift, and another on an evening shift, so that the front page desk is essentially a 16- or 18-hour a day operation. David Dahl will be toggling back and forth in that role this week, supporting Chris. We’ll look to put more firepower in the pre-dawn hours to get us off to a quicker start. We’ll reallocate copy-editing resources so that the site is as carefully edited as the paper. We’ll commit far earlier in the day to running enterprise stories, whether we’re sure they’ll make the next morning’s front page or not, in the name of keeping the site fresh and lively.
All of this is predicated on each and every one of us breaking free of the rhythms that have been prevalent in this newsroom and our industry for the longer part of forever. The idea is to be part of the constant conversation that is taking place on the web – and in fact, to drive it.
Again, we’re already doing a great deal of this. Reporters are filing breaking stories immediately and effectively. We’re putting enterprise work on the site in the evening. We’re rolling out magazine stories and Sunday features through the week. And we’ve even splashed some Sunday projects on Thursdays and Fridays, with great success. More, please.
Allow me a moment here to say what this doesn’t mean. First and foremost, it doesn’t mean that we should work longer days. In fact, let’s demand the opposite. If we’re starting earlier, we’re finishing earlier. True success means that we’re getting rid of the tidal wave of copy from 5 to 8 p.m. My own belief is that far too many of us spend too much time in this building, to the detriment of ourselves, our families, and our work. Great journalism emanates from real life. Real life is that thing you see when you’re not under the glow of fluorescent lights on Morrissey Boulevard. One idea worth exploring is to stagger some shifts in the name of a steady flow of copy, with some editors and reporters working early and others coming in later. We’ll look at options in the coming weeks.
It doesn’t mean that we’re going to ignore the print paper. Lord knows, people dig deep for their subscription, and we will give them everything they pay for, including something fresh most every day. It doesn’t mean we’ll put out a mediocre paper on Mondays because we’ve spent all our enterprise through the prior week. In fact, editors will be encouraged to tuck stories away for this purpose.
In sum and in short, what we’re looking for is an even fuller, more vibrant, ever-knowing site for the hundreds of thousands of people who turn to our work every day. We’ll be more present in the social space. We’ll be even more robust with newsletters. We’ll let data inform our decisions, though never dictate them. And yes, we’ll continue to put out a world-class newspaper every morning.
I’ll keep you updated as more structural changes get made. More important, I’m eager to hear your ideas.