Wednesday, 23 July 2008


The crux of the debate in our newsroom, as I'm sure is the case in newsrooms across the world, is what our core product is.

At the moment, of course, the printed product is what our whole operation is geared around, and so this is seen as the core. And I'm sure it often comes across that I'm trying to push towards the web being our core instead, but that really isn't the case. Instead, my notion of what our core is, and what I am trying to protect, is reputation.

Despite carpings from our critics, I believe the our paper enjoys the best reputation in our area for newsgathering. Yes, people sometimes get starry-eyed when our stories get picked up by the nationals or the Beeb - but they get angry when we DON'T pick them up.

But to maintain this reputation, you have to move with expectations. For years, our readership has respected our print deadlines, and understood why we don't report something which happens on a Thursday night until the following Friday. But that's changed.

Today, we got an angry email from someone demanding to know why we weren't covering a serious incident which had happened last Thursday. The reason was, she was the first to let us know, and I'm very grateful she did.

But because of the way we work at the moment, I still can't tell you, or her, or anyone else what it is, even though that goes against almost every instinct I have. So, we are in the ridiculous position that we have been tipped off because someone has upbraided us for failing her expectations - but we are doing nothing to meet those of every other person who witnessed something of the incident and wants to know more. Chances are they don't know about our print deadlines - and why should they care? But the more we do this, the more potential readers are going to give up on us.

Now, of course, we are doing this to protect the "core" print product, and if that is the main priority, it makes sense. But in the long term, with circulations falling at nearly every title in the country, plus a near-certain recession on the cards, it's time to examine closely at what we try to make sure we've still got once we're out the other side.

Web evangelists are often accused of trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater, by cannabilising print or sacrificing in-depth analysis for speed. I think, with a bit of thought, it's definitely possible to avoid the latter. But the way I see it, not throwing everything you have online is truly infanticide - and the baby, or core, in question is reputation - not paper.

1 comment:

Steve Lawson said...

there's a vital element to this that is going to be key to how 'serious' media adapt to life online - the big problem you have is that you can't, because of both your reputation as a paper and the law that surrounds proper journalism, just print rumours, hearsay and unqualified first-person accounts of stories. You HAVE to fact-check, research and corroborate in a way that bloggers don't... it's rare that anyone would take the time to sue a blogger over a story, but more common place for a newspaper, and even the threat of litigation could damage that reputation.

So you're caught between the expectation that the internet knows everything immedately, and the need to tell the whole story in a 'proper news' way.

That's a really tough one to balance, and the paper than manages to get the timing right, to find the facts, and also educate their readers to understand that they can come to you for the FACTS to clarify the rumour will be the paper that wins...

Maybe the print edition will eventually become a 'best of' compilation of that day's or week's stories as published on the web...

It's a tough call, and it's great to watch what's happening with papers like yours and the Birmingham Post, taking local news seriously...