Ghost of Midnight

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Gannett morphing newspapers toward web

Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2007 by No comments yet

Jeff Howe has an upbeat piece in Wired magazine (7/24/2007) about Gannett’s big changes to bring their newspapers into the internet age.

By March 2006, the pieces were in place. The Web was to become the primary vehicle for news, with frequent, round-the-clock updates. The newsroom would be rechristened the Information Center, while traditional departments like Metro and Business would give way to the Digital and Community Conversation desks. Photographers would be trained to shoot video, which would be posted online. Investigations would no longer be conducted by a coven of professionals working in secret. Instead, they’d be crowdsourced — farmed out to readers who’d join in the detective work. Gannett papers would also become repositories of local information, spilling over with data about everything from potholes to public officials’ salaries. “We must mix our content with professional journalism and amateur contributions,” read one of the PowerPoint slides prepared by Gannett execs. “The future is pro-am.”

Howe goes on to look at several of the new features… mom-focused online social networking, public info databases, “Get Published” areas, etc. At least one of Gannett’s 85 dailies is finding success with one piece…

When cincyMOMS [the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s mom’s social networking site] launched in late January, Mitchell was responsible for seeding its discussion areas with posts and moderating forums. After 12 weeks, the site — a blend of forums and user-generated photos — was receiving 40,000 pageviews a day, and demand for ad space was outstripping supply. Initially, cincyMOMS was projected to bring in $200,000 its first year; it made $386,000 in half that time.

Gannett hopes the popularity of cincyMOMS is a sign that a long-lost demographic is coming back to the fold. Only 27 percent of young women read a daily newspaper, and the proportion in Cincinnati who read the Enquirer is even more anemic. Visitors to cincyMOMS may not be more inclined to pick up the print edition of the paper, but as they flock to the Web, advertisers are happy to follow. And more than half of the cincyMOMS advertisers are new to the Enquirer.

The long Wired article offers some interesting insights into our local Gannett outpost, the Burlington Free Press. Its rate of change has been nothing short of remarkable over the last year given its reputation. It’ll be interesting to see which, if any, of these new offerings survive and thrive.

Of the thousands of messages coursing through Front Porch Forum locally, occasionally someone will reference a conventional Free Press article, perhaps with a weblink… that’s great. Besides that, the only other mentions I can recall are when Free Press employees have plugged the paper’s new web features to their neighbors… oh, and some traditional customers are calling for some kind of neighborhood action to protest lousy delivery service lately. And some comments about a recent cost-cutting dust-up about eliminating free parking for the paper’s well-regarded reporting staff…

“While people are angry,” said one veteran journalist at Vermont’s largest daily newspaper, this week “the prevailing mood is one of disgust.”

Times are changing.

Posted in: Citizen Journalism, Front Porch Forum, Local Online

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