A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

The LA Times' Tries to Get Healthy

Recently word got out that the Los Angeles Times is using it's own investigative reporters to help chart the future of the newspaper both online and in print.   According to the New York Times, the LA Times "is dedicating three investigative reporters and half a dozen editors to find ideas, at home and abroad, for re-engaging the reader, both in print and online."

The LA Times came across our report on the features of newspaper websites and got in touch with us to pick our brains about our findings and the sister studies performed in other countries.  Erin and I spent an hour or so discussing how to create more compelling newspaper websites with LA Times' reporter T. Christian Miller.  It was a good and interesting conversation and I think the project is worthwhile.  I'm interested to see what they come up with.

While Erin and I most definitely are not experts on the newspaper industry overall and do not presume to know how to fix the LA Times, we do know a little bit about newspaper websites from putting together our report.  We advocated for many of the concepts we outlined in our post, 9 Ways for Newspapers to Improve Their Websites, as well as some of the ideas readers submitted in response

One tidbit from the discussion really drove home for me how difficult it is for newspapers to create effective web versions of their stories.  Miller mentioned that most reporters write their articles in Microsoft Word and then send them off to someone else to publish to the print and online editions of the paper.  That process explains why newspaper content can seem so flat and un-networked. 

When I put together a blog entry, writing the words is really only about 2/3 of the task.  I typically also:

  1. Insert links to other relevant blog entries/newspaper stories/web content in appropriate spots.
  2. Send trackbacks to the blogs I decide to link to, if applicable. 
  3. Insert links to older, relevant content from our own blog.
  4. Find a picture/photo to include so the story isn't a huge, ugly block of text.
  5. Choose what categories on my own blog I want to publish the story in and where on the homepage of our Bivings Group website the post should appear.
  6. Pick the search engine tags I want associated with my entry.

Basically, for me the writing and posting process are one and the same.  That process ensures that every post is written for the web, tagged with the correct meta information and thus has a chance to travel and be read. 

I think newspapers do a disservice to their own content by presenting such flat content.  And I don't think sites like Techcrunch or Engadget have these kinds of issues.

If reporters and editors figure out ways to effectively link up and categorize every story they post the way bloggers do, that would be one small step in the right direction I think.  It won't save the industry, but it'll make their websites a little bit better and the stories a bit more engaging.

Note that Doc Searls has some great thoughts on how to improve newspaper websites as well (scroll down a bit on the page).