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.

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

  1. great post; hard to believe they are still in the starting gate. but: the problem with comments isn’t just spam, or even scatology. it’s libel and defamation.

    lbo (f86e7d)

  2. One more thing that the LAT and others need to do immediately is to drop that stupid “registration” requirement in order to read their website.

    Why should I have to register? I know, I know, it’s ostensibly a demographic measure for advertisers’ purposes. Baloney. When somebody picks up a copy at the 7-Eleven, are they required to fill out the form before they’re allowed to read the paper?

    Whenever I click on a newspaper’s website and I get the registration filter – “It only takes a few minutes…and it’s FREE !” – I just move on.

    Quit hiding from the public and come out where we can see you. What are you afraid of, LAT?

    Bill Schumm (33ab73)

  3. LA Times Vows to Screw Up Earlier…

    They’re calling it streamlining. Others may call it getting the bias and errors out faster….

    JammieWearingFool (59ce3a)

  4. The truth of the matter is that no one east of California reads the LA Times yet the eds and reporters love to compare the paper to the New York Times, Washington Post etc. They tried printing/delivering for free copies of the LAT on Capitol Hill (do they still do this?) and it cost a bundle, but no one read it. Therefore, the paper needs to focus on local stories instead of living in denial by trying to break these national/international stories. When lawmakers and the country’s powers that be want news, they look to the eastcoast papers because that is where they live. The west coast paper is rarely taken into consideration unless it is specifially a california story.

    Maggie May (7b074b)

  5. Bill, you are exactly right. Registration is not only a nuisance, it’s usually described in a patronizing way as a means of better serving you, our valued reader, or some other such nonsense. These things are decided by clueless marketing droids. (I work for a paper with clueful marketing droids, so we have no registration.)

    In the meantime, I suggest you hie thee hence to, which provides registration passwords (free sites only). There is even a plugin for Firefox that automates the process.

    The other thing you can do is give phony identifying information. I bet some marketers are wondering why their publications are so popular with nonagenarian Albanian women.

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  6. The Times story in the business section about their new approach was interesting. However, it’s been my observation during a long business organization career that any organization that appoints a corporate officer–whether a Sr. Vice President or an “Editor” for Innovation is usuallyabout as dead and lively as a dinosaur and is just a step or two ahead of the Bankruptcy courts.

    So it’s looking like Sayonara time for the Grey Lady of Spring Street– I won’t miss those lying weasels much. They haven’t been a serious newspaper for donkey’s years.

    Mike Myers (4d9a65)

  7. Bradley…Thanks, I’m familiar with bugmenot, but it’s the principle of the thing that I’m fighting. I don’t think we should have to go through the “log in” maneuver everytime we want to see a news article….there are just too many papers to mess with. For instance, if something that I find interesting happens in Des Moines and I want to learn more about it, or the later follow-ups that never get covered nationally, then I will go to the Des Moines newspaper website to read about it. I’m willing to put up with a couple of accompanying ads there because I know that somebody has to pay the freight. But it’s too much of an inconvenience to go through the sign-up process 100 times a month.

    Let me point out a success story, then I’ll quit rambling on and on: I am an auto racing fan and for many of us the Indianapolis Star is the “newspaper of record” for auto racing. It was one of my bookmarks. Suddenly one day last year they threw up the registration filter. I moved on. Apparently a few thousand others moved on too, because a month later the registration was gone. And I’ll bet a lot of their readership is still gone.

    ’nuff said.

    Bill Schumm (33ab73)

  8. The LA Times most viewed article now is: Key tapes said to exist in Bush case

    Nearly everyone who clicks on that thinks this is President Bush, but it is Reggie Bush the football player. Sure, criticizing headlines is a cheap shot. But somehow I think they are proud of themselves for this. After all, it is the Most Clicked Article!

    Wesson (c20d28)

  9. Here’s my favorite quote in the paper today, in their article on how global warming affects the wine industry. Well actually it is FICTION, since it “could be the new reality”. Good grief, where do they find these clowns?

    It’s not science fiction. A growing number of climatologists are warning that by the turn of the next century, such a radically altered wine map could be the new reality.

    Wesson (c20d28)

  10. Nothing but a house cleaning, top to bottom, can cure the bias that results in “news” we have to question at every word.

    NOW THE REAL CURE: Here these clowns sit in the middle of Page Sixland with Paris living down the street and Lohan next door and they have zero gossip. They should be page 666 with almost no effort at all, other than telling the (gasp, panic) truth. Yes, I know it’s low class. But then what the hell is lying? I think their main problem is that they seek approval in all the wrong places–the mean streets of Bel Air, the tough bars in Brentwood, the murderous Hollywood Left Hills overlooking the Valley and Santa Monica. They don’t give a rats ass about the working people in Torrance and that won’t change.

    Duke (2d4db0)

  11. I agree Mike Meyers–the writing is on the wall. And I give any open comments/linking to sources policy a week before they shut it down. They famously ignore reality now; what will change about their un-serious partisan bias when it’s presented online and actually challenged? Will Gregory Rodriguez’ racism, or any of the paper’s retro, sophomoric uber-liberal views, change because they are on the web?

    In all the posts here about “why I canceled the LAT” I don’t believe a single poster mentioned it was because they were print only. Just like the OCR’s The Post, this is rearranging the deck chairs.

    Patricia (824fa1)

  12. Few things pi** me off more than someone deleting my comments, and I’d strongly suggest that the LAT not get in the job of policing its comments in that way. If they do that, there’s no guarantee that the comments you read haven’t been sanitized of critical information. They should go to a registration system before comments can be made and then ban commenters who abuse the system in clearly defined ways only having to do with actual abuse. Trackbacks are certainly a spam possibility, but those can be held in moderation and then approved just as long as it isn’t spam and not because of the viewpoints expressed.

    TLB (0c89cb)

  13. An obvious starting point for the LAT to revamp its image is to report the facts, be objective not selective, and report ALL the news.

    We don’t care about the reporter’s opinion. And we hate that the reporter always shows what his/her political leanings are in their reporting.

    rightisright (2fce83)

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

    Pat, that’ll be the day!

    Stu707 (5b299c)

  15. “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.”

    You’re not, dude. I used to work for AT&T Wireless and then Cingular as customer support and level 1 tech support.

    Treo’s are so wildly unsupported for anything useful that I feel sorry for you. They were the most useless device this side of inexpensive LG phones, but at least the latter wasn’t supposed to be able to do anything.

    I would have strongly urged you to not purchase a Treo, and instead invest in a Blackberry with a proper Blackberry voice (possibly including push-to-talk) and data plan, if you had asked me.

    Then you’d be able to read your articles.

    Not trying to “rub it in”… more offering hopefully helpful suggestions for your next upgrade path. The Blackberry Pearl with a trackball is a good choice.

    Christoph (4aae13)

  16. Hey, what’s wrong with “Manhattan Project?” It’s not like that was a New York thing… and we are talking about the Los Alamos Times, aren’t we?

    Oh, we aren’t?


    Dan S (8771d0)

  17. Remember, the internet is the main competition of newspapers today.

    TruthProbe (b0f421)

  18. The reason the LAT has jumped the shark has much more to do with their consistent “We hate America” liberal “news” articles than their presence on the web. Reading the LAT has become too much like listening to Air America and we know how well they are doing.

    RH Robinson (98959d)

  19. Patterico, you recommend that the Times ought to do the following;

    “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.”

    But my good man Patterico, if the Times were to actually provide the transcript, that would inhibit their ability to hide facts from readers, as well as inhibit their ability to successfully take things out of context in order to promote their agenda.

    Desert Rat (ee9fe2)

  20. HA!! No LA Times website, no matter how much effort they put into it would be worth my visit, for one explicit reason, they lie and they cheat. They lie through omission, distortion, and flat out deliberate falsehoods that they know are.

    They attack anything conservative, anything Republican, anything Christian, anything traditional American and anything pro-American in the WOT. They support US enemies, they give them aid and comfort. They uphold socialism, illegal immigration, any Democrat no matter how awful and do their best to cover up the crimes of their political pals for which they prostitute themselves.

    They wouldn’t get me to visit their website if they offered to PAY ME 100 bucks a month. No, not even for a $thousand.

    Send them to trashcan where they belong.

    Ron (6a1290)

  21. the times will let you look at approximately two articles before demanding that you register, but if you clear your cookies and files, then you can look at approximately two more…

    assistant_devil's_advocate (2a711c)

  22. Whether it’s a stylus on a clay tablet, a quill pen on parchment, or a keyboard and the internet, the poor product that the Times produces will eventually sink it.

    Crap is, after all, crap.

    heldmyw (a999cd)

  23. I understand that the main thrust of this blog is to rail against the LAT, but after a fashion, I’m pretty sure the entire world now knows what a crew of schmucks you poor LA folks have to deal with.
    Who cares?

    paul from fl (967602)

  24. Now that they use words like “savvy” the LA Times will be saved!

    joe rockhead (311363)

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