This blog post on creating a digital sports section came across my Twitter feed yesterday and grabbed my attention. I still work for newspapers but there’s that online component as well, and I’m interested in what the future of news is going to be.
So there’s some valid points and not-so-valid points in the original blog that I’d like to address:
— Engagement: I think bigger newspapers are already, to an extent, engaging their readers through gametime chats. I know that the signature papers on the IU beat, the Bloomington Herald-Times and the Indianapolis Star, have chats during football and men’s basketball games. And they can do so because they have more than one writer at each of those games.
The idea that the game story is “becoming irrelevant”? I’m not sure I’m sold on that. The notion that anyone who wanted the score from the game has already watched the game or the highlights? Not necessarily. Applying the same logic, anyone who wants to know what happened at the city council meeting last night was already there. Not so.
— Interactivity: Mr. Timmons has some intriguing ideas for adding interactivity to a newspaper’s website, with prediction pools and interactive graphics, etc. Again, great ideas. But who’s going to develop those, write the code, make sure there are no bugs in the system? As newspaper staffs continue to face cuts, it’s a challenge to find the personnel to make these things work.
— Automation: Maybe I’ve had abnormal experiences, but the idea that parents will go to a website to get stories about their kids’ games is pie-in-the-sky. A telling example: when I was at The Republic, I wrote a story on a physical education teacher who won an award for her innovative teaching techniques. During the interview, she took me into her office. The walls were covered, floor to
ceiling, with articles from the newspaper about athletes from her high school. Would she have printed all those stories off a website?
— Refocus: Here’s a point I agree with Mr. Timmons on — long-form journalism is the way to go. But it’s not the only way to go. The reality is that many newspapers just don’t have the manpower to devote a lot of attention to the online product while eschewing game stories in favor of enterprise work.
Is there room to improve? Of course there is. And I think it’s great to set big goals. But newspapers have to be realistic. Until the online product can become a primary revenue generator, the print product is going to lead the way.