Patterico's Pontifications


L.A. Times to Work on Its Web Presence: Good Move? Or Too Little Too Late?

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 12:03 am

You may remember the L.A. Times‘s “Manhattan Project” from this October 2006 post of mine. As the New York Times explained it, the Manhattan Project was a group of “three investigative reporters and half a dozen editors [dedicated to finding] ideas, at home and abroad, for re-engaging the reader, both in print and online.”

When the Manhattan Project was announced, I said:

If I could give the paper only one piece of advice, it would be this: expand the web site. Open up every single story to comments and trackbacks, just like a blog post. For a paper that claims to be looking for ways to “re-engag[e]the reader,” this is a no-brainer.

The Web and interactivity are the future. Stop fighting it and embrace it.

Today, an article in the paper’s business section announces:

Los Angeles Times Editor James E. O’Shea unveiled a major initiative Wednesday to combine operations of the newspaper and its Internet site — a change he said was critical to ensuring that The Times remains a premier news outlet.

O’Shea employed dire statistics on declining advertising to urge The Times’ roughly 940 journalists to throw off a “bunker mentality” against change and to begin viewing as the paper’s primary vehicle for delivering news.

I like the sound of that.

The change appears to have been spurred by the “Manhattan Project” — although that project was apparently renamed in the interim, by someone who realized how dumb it sounded as an initiative for an L.A. paper:

The changes announced Wednesday by O’Shea were driven by a committee of the paper’s journalists who were appointed in October by O’Shea’s predecessor, Dean Baquet.

The Spring Street committee, named for the Times’ downtown address, produced a scathing report that has been seen by only a few of the newspapers top editors and executives. “To put it bluntly,” the seven-page report found, “as a news organization, we are not web-savvy. If anything, we are web-stupid.”

Well, yes, you are.

I’m happy to see the paper is taking my advice about focusing on the Web (I use the phrase “taking my advice” loosely, as I assume it’s only coincidence). But I’m underwhelmed by the specific improvements suggested. The article talks about things like poor staffing, creaky technology, and the paper’s inability to get stories up quickly. There is much discussion of the alleged need for multimedia presentation.

While those may be valid issues, I suggest that the paper take a couple of immediate steps.

One is easy: when you have a story that refers to source documentation, post that documentation in full on the Web site. If you’re discussing a speech, memo, court decision, transcript of an LAPD Board of Rights decision, or other document, post the whole thing on the Web.

My other suggestion is tougher and riskier, but it’s critical: open up all pieces to comments and trackbacks. Every last one.

I know, I know. You’re worried about opening the floodgates. What about spam? What about idiots, nincompoops, trolls, racist commenters, and the like?

Welcome to the Internet.

You’ll have to devote some people to controlling that stuff. The L.A. Times web site is a big operation, with something like 40 times the number of unique visitors per month as my site, and something like 300 times the number of page views I get. If you open all of that up to comments and trackbacks, you’re looking at a lotta spam. I understand.

But if you want interactivity, that’s the price you pay.

The editors are showing some promise, by recognizing the need to open up Washington Post style chats with the staffers. That’s a good step — but real interactivity demands more. Much more. It demands comments and trackbacks.

There is no substitute.

Read the whole article for a perspective on where the paper is coming from — and what it’s overlooking.

Oh yeah . . . by the way, guys: can you finally fix the site so I can read all the articles on my Treo? I mean, there’s no reason for you to care about me– but I guarantee you that I’m not the only person with this issue.

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