The Outraged Liberal, a former journalist and a good one, offers some useful observations on how newspapers can best employ their Web sites. He specifically singles out the Globe, which yesterday published a medium-length, interpretation-heavy story on Gov. Deval Patrick’s speech about his $3.8 billion bridge-repair plan and the cool reception it received from state Treasurer Tim Cahill.
You can like the Globe’s story or not. Mr. O.L.’s point is that the Globe missed an opportunity by not using its Web site, Boston.com, to run the full details of Patrick’s plan (Blue Mass Group did that), or a video of Patrick’s speech (ditto), or the spin from the governor’s office (taxpayer-supported and thus free for the taking).
We’ve entered into what will probably be a lengthy period in which a typical newspaper’s print product will continue to produce most of the profits, even as it shrinks, while the Web site grows and becomes increasingly important to the bottom line. Most newspaper Web viewers read the print product, too. So it’s crucial that the two sides work together.
Among the larger challenges facing news Web sites is that people spend far less time with them than with the print edition. A recent study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism shows that the average visitor to a newspaper Web site spends less than 50 minutes per month, a number that I think is based on flawed assumptions. (I might spend a minute or two per month at the San Francisco Chronicle’s site, for instance, thus pulling its numbers down.)
But there’s no question that news-site editors need to find ways to bring people back over and over, and to spend some time once they’re there. Now, I like Red Sox pet photos as much as the next person (actually, that’s not true), but that’s not going to induce me to keep coming back. I think there are various ways to do it.
You do it through multimedia presentations of some of your best journalism, stuff that holds up well beyond the week it was published, as the Globe does with its special reports. You do it through databases that invite repeat visits, such as the Globe’s gubernatorial political-contributions map from 2006 or, as Mr. O.L. notes, the Herald’s database of state-employee salaries. You do it by inviting a conversation built around your journalism. Boston.com has discussion boards and the Herald lets readers post comments to stories, but the more interesting news conservations are taking place elsewhere, at sites such as Universal Hub and Blue Mass Group.
And you do it be offering deep information on narrow subjects. The idea behind Mr. O.L.’s post is that Boston.com should have been the first place people thought to go to find out more about the governor’s bridge proposal. In this case, if they thought of it, they wouldn’t have found much.