Going deep and narrow online

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.

10 thoughts on “Going deep and narrow online

  1. BosPhotog

    Dan, The Herald fire vid link should behttp://bostonherald.com/news/regional/general/view.bg?articleid=1085709thanks

  2. Anonymous

    EB3 hereI swear to God Dan, no matter what is said in this thread I will not post another here. I promise. I owe you that.To me the web newspaper should link to every document, photo, testimony, statistics, reports, or anything else that makes it very easy for others to easily acquire and read or save the data and facts which form the basis of the story or opinion. There all sorts of things referred to and relied upon in media stories that are now easily accessible for anyone interested. Newspapers should be the clearing house of that information in conjunction with the reporting. A ramp up of Freedom of Information requests will result in a new paradigm. Not to mention documents from public companies. A top shelf Smoking Gun. More academic. But crap too. There is so much that can be done with relayed links that someone interested in the topic would enjoy looking into and years from now armchair historians can spend all day clicking through your links. And your advertisers are all over the screen.Wouldn’t it have been great if Dan and I could go on line and review trial testimony of the Wedge case.OK, bad example. That puppy needs to be euthanized. But get the point?

  3. Anonymous

    Dan,Why do you think the Globe doesn’t let people post comments to their stories,like the Herald?Also,It looks like the N.Y.Times should have accepted the offer from Joe O Donnell & co.(I think it was $500 mil.)I think they would have trouble getting $400 Million today.What do you think?Thanks

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 1:51: I’ve been told by insiders that the Globe’s computer system literally does not allow for comments. I have no idea why and have not investigated further. I do know that it allows comments on its blogs.Maybe from a pure business point of view, the Times Co. should have taken the money and run. I’m glad it didn’t. Good grief, Barnicle would be managing editor by now.

  5. Anonymous

    One of the things I like best about a news media’s web site is the ability for them to provide timely updates to stories, unburdened by the publishing time for their next print edition.

  6. Larz

    Web sites, schleps write. Tomorrow it’ll be nukuler-powered lap-dancing huckleberries. There will be (is) a shakeout in the media. I just pray that good reporting and sensible commentary survive.— Larz

  7. mike_b1

    EB3 is right.* And it’s the ivory tower nature of the mainstream dailies that keep them from recognizing such possibilities. We in the trades have been using such models for years: We take our print versions — whose specs most folks over 30 prefer — and use them as a entry point to the unlimited space on the Web.Dan, further to your point about the website metrics, you are absolutely correct. The way bots, spiders, etc. are set up and counted by sites, they raise the number of hits (and yet decrease the amount of time spent per user).*Wow, hell really didn’t freeze over.

  8. Jerry

    No question the Globe does not take full advantage of the way the Web links help folks to drill down further and further to the basics. Even while reading the Patrick bridge-repair story in print I looked for a teaser box that would steer me to the full text of the report, and of course did not find it. In the long-long ago the Globe might have run excerpts from the report, just as it ran excerpts from presidential speeches, major court decisions, etc. The Web makes it so much easier to provide these connections that it’s amazing today’s news media (print or otherwise) don’t do it more often. Smoking Gun ‘s entire business model is built around this.

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