Wednesday, February 15, 2006

How old is too old?

I made a quick visual survey of your front pages today and noticed that almost all of them had a story with a headline like Cheney Victim Has Heart Attack.

But didn’t nearly everybody in America – or at least the ones smart enough to read newspapers – know that the day before they saw your papers? As I recall the news arrived here before lunch. It was on cable and all over the internet immediately. It was on all the netwoirk news shows. And for those who missed all that, it was the lead item on Letterman, Leno and The Daily Show, too.

One paper took a slightly different tack: Hunter’s heart attack/ adds to glare on Cheney. That advances the story into the new day and seems much more appropriate to me.

One editor expressed concern that stories where we rely on wire or Washington reports often don’t offer choices to make that feasible. What’s your experience? Should we have handled this story differently? If so, did you have the tools to do that?

9 comments:

  1. this comment moved form post above:

    Anders Gyllenhaal said...

    I think we run into all the same problems when trying to push these stories forward, which is one of the goals we've set for the Star Tribune in its remake. As a rule, wire stories have yet to adopt this notion in any significant way. Even having established this as a goal, we're constantly fighting the temptation to fashion stories around the strongest event in the news, which tends to lead the piece back to the original thrust.

    But as we've made some progress on this, I've noticed an interesting thing. Readers are seem to be appreciative of this push, and I've yet to receive a complaint from anyone outside the building.

    One byproduct has been that it can be harder to give the front page a hard-news feel when you're sometimes substituting a forward-looking lede for the news summary. One of the complaints about this paper's remake has been it's less newsy. Again, though, that's a complaint that seems to come more often from within the building than from out.

    Anders

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  2. This is a pretty active conversation with us. We're looking for national/ world picks that move the story forward so that we're not just telling people the heart attack happened, but taking advantage of what newspapers do well in going to the meaning and impact. Those choices aren't always available -- sometimes nobody is writing the angle we want.

    Unlike Anders, I have gotten push back from readers, not just older readers either, who look to us to learn more about a story they have heard about on TV or radio. The theme to these complaints is that we're putting unimportant stories on page 1 instead of major news. I have to say that in a couple cases I've agreed, but those were stories that were not all over other media the day before.

    W e've talked about the fact that the task is much more difficult than simply saying stories that have been on TV for awhile can't be on page 1. Readers are looking for more on the Cheney story, the Hamas story, etc., than they've picked up in quick snippets of broadcast news. (News junkies are the minority, not the majority). But whether we expand our report on page 3, make local connections, look for fresher angles or break down the story for context and perspective, we have to do more than simply report the 18-hour-old headline.

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  3. This is a pretty huge problem, imho.

    Since I'm on the West Coast, I hear a big D.C./world story on NPR the first thing in the morning, then it's in my RSS feed for washingtonpost.com while I'm drinking my double espresso, then I read a thousand comments about it in Fark.com, then I see dozens of stories moving on our wire for the Web site all day long, then I see it on CNN when I get home.

    When I get the paper off the doorstep the next morning, there's the story with a first-day hed using the vanilla AP story that probably moved midafternoon with no new info. This happens with news, sports, features, etc.

    As newspapers, we need to treat big "early" stories as second-day stories. Our desks need to spend more effort looking for versions that will be fresh and go beyond what TV reports.

    Fortunately, we still have the edge on local stories for the most part, but that, too, will go away in the not-too-distant future.

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  4. I think you might qualify as one of the media junkies Mel mentioned, Andy.

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  5. This topic goes to the heart for all of us. Two things seem equally clear to me: With every passing day, 18-hour-old news presented as fresh stuff in the next morning's paper is a loser; and also that it's possible, in trying to push the story ahead, to end up with an even worse result. (Example: "Reaction mixed to State of the Union.") As Anders indicated, the temptation is to be pulled back to the news development because often the other choices seem slight by comparison. (What's the reaction? It's divided. What's ultimately going to happen to this proposal? Honestly, nobody knows.) A couple of thoughts about moving forward.

    1. It's possible to come up with terrific responses to this dilemma. Today's Times story on Bernanke, and the 3 ways he was different from Greenspan, might be an example. On any given story, some good thinking and fast reporting can make the problem go away.

    2. The SacBee is leaning toward analysis, on big stories anyway, as the day-after A1 approach. The reader's heard the basics already; let's put it in context.

    3. Alternate story forms can provide both a fresh approach and the flexibility to accomplish more than one thing. (A recent example for us was providing a highlights package on State of the Union. A 1-minute read that included the facts plus a bit of speech trivia.)

    As Mel suggests, one problem with all of these is that when you move away from the news development, there are many ways to skin the cat and not everyone will agree on the preferred method. (Insert paid ad here: Some papers find that early calls to the McClatchy Washington Bureau can give them the next-day approach they prefer.)

    Closing thought: The search for a next-day angle brings us closer to the fundamental questions about our objectivity traditions in newspapering vs. the appeals (and perils) of point-of-view reporting. Grist for another day...

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  6. Here's another example of a problem (and a solution).

    When the Seattle Seahawks play during the regular season, I:

    -- Read pre-game analysis pieces on SportsTriCities.com, TheNewsTribune.com, ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine and the Tri-City Herald print edition.

    -- Watch the pe-game shows on ESPN, Fox, CBS, etc.

    -- Watch the game on TV.

    -- Keep my laptop open during the game so I can follow live stats via ESPN.com (for this and all other games going on around the league).

    -- Take my laptop outside during halftime so I can get some yardwork done.

    -- Get alerts on my BlackBerry whenever there's a score in the game.

    -- Watch the post-game show.

    -- Catch the live post-game press conferences online (if available).

    -- Read post-game analysis and study the stats on ESPN.com.

    -- Read the AP story that gets posted to SportsTriCities.com after the game.

    -- Watch Sports Center for the highlights.

    -- I do all of this while getting other things done in my life.

    By the time my newspaper hits the doorstep the next morning, I probably know as much about the game as any fan. YET I will read the story in the Herald if it's something I haven't read yet online (usually, we're good about picking up the Tacoma beat writer's story) because it has fresh analysis, quotes I couldn't get anywhere else, etc.

    If the paper simply runs the vanilla AP story or even the first-lede writethru, I become disappointed, even despondent, and feel ripped off.

    Am I that much different than any other sports fan or news junkie? Probably not, sadly enough.

    Read this article from Wired. This chronicles how ESPN is going to turn Monday Football into a five-day event next season. This is a model for how we should surround big stories (sports and otherwise) with information for our readers.

    Here's what we will do this fall for high school football games:

    -- Write pre-game stories in the print edition that talk about matchups, injuries, stats, etc.

    -- Blog some insider stuff that didn't make it in the paper.

    -- Set up pre-game polls and forums so fans can argue about who will win and who will lose.

    -- Post a pre-game video show with our sportswriters and interviews with players and coaches.

    -- Run a live scoreboard during the games.

    -- Shoot video and have 20-25 clips with post-game interviews online by 11 p.m. (an hour after the game ends and 20 minutes before local TV shows one highlight and a score from the game).

    -- Write a post-game blog item on the game, perhaps with some pressbox chatter the fans won't hear anywhere else.

    -- Have a story in print/online the next morning, promoting the blogs, forums and videos.

    -- Sit back and watch the fans break down the games in forums.

    With this much coverage of a local high school football game, do you think we have marginalized other media? You bet, but more importantly, we have surrounded our readers with multiple forms of information they cannot get anywhere else.

    You might think I'm a bit nutty to put this much effort into local high school sports, but apply this to any story your reader cares about.

    Pre-1994 status quo doesn't cut it anymore. Our readers expect more, and if we don't give them more, they won't be our readers for much longer.

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  7. Ken Robertson5:10 PM

    We're using a lot — make that LOT — of AP's ASAP content that takes a different point of view or different approach and breaking out bits that give such stories a different feel, trying to add/redo with local or regional content.

    And we've putting a lot more of the older stuff inside unless we can find a way to make it fresh by finding a new approach.

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  8. We approach a lot of Eastern/morning-breaking stories with a second-day approach. Or we choose something altogether different and move the early breaker inside. AP moves optional leads on some of those stories, which helps occasionally -- anything to distinguish it from the version that's been running on every Web site in the world all day long.

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  9. TV also learning new tricks:

    Digital Media:

    “NBC Universal’s Winter Olympic Games website (NBCOlympics.com) is attracting 55 per cent more visitors than it did in 2002, according to research from Nielsen/Net Ratings. During the week ending 12 February, the NBC site attracted some 2.3 million unique visitors and has so far attracted more than 167 million total visitors. Comparatively, the official ‘Torino 2006’ website attracted 748,000 visitors during the week ending 12 February.

    “... According to Jon Gibs of Nielsen/Net Ratings, the NBC site has attracted more visitors by providing a more interactive viewing experience, including more on-demand video content than in previous years.”

    Columnist Rick Maese in the Baltimore Sun:

    “Study after study suggests that the prime demographic, 18- to 34-year-olds — especially men — spend more time online than any other group. Doesn’t it make sense that they’d move from their spreadsheet window to their Internet browser and check out Olympic results during the course of their workday? Or they might have watched some streaming video on their cell phone? Or listened to Bob Costas’ daily podcast through iTunes?

    “So why in Kwan’s name would they tune into even three minutes of NBC’s 418 scheduled hours of Olympic coverage when they already know that Norway stomped the Americans eight hours earlier?

    “It’s something the network has struggled with. Officials at NBC seemed resistant to embrace the Internet during the 2004 Games in Athens. But 1 1/2 years is an epoch in the world of computers. This time around, in addition to a half-dozen channels, NBC is covering the Olympics in as many ways possible. Online, they have more streaming video. They’ve also created the youth-targeted site, OffThePodium.com. On mobile phones, users can get regular updates, and also download national anthems from around the world as ringtones.”

    Ann Oldenburg in USA Today:

    “To help boost Web traffic, NBC worked out a deal with Disney that resulted in an NBC-logo link to the NBC Olympics site being placed on the home page of ESPN.com, one of the top sports websites.”

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