I want great journalism to stick around. I don’t care whether big news outlets like New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal are the source of that journalism or something new and better. What I do know is that Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira is asking the wrong questions about how news outlets compete with the likes of Gawker and Huffington Post in the online space.
In a piece titled either How Gawker Ripped Off My Newspaper Story or the Death of Journalism (Gawker Edition), Ian Shapira outlines the effort he put into writing a story about business coach Anne Loehr and the subsequent “theft” by Gawker in a blog post.
The major complaint Shapira has against Gawker is that they reference too much of his story in the Gawker article. I tend to agree with the issue of quantity, but find the suggested solution of requiring Gawker (or anyone) to pay to reference more than a certain amount of a story to be a solution that only lines the pockets of lawyers who do the prosecution on violators.
The reason Gawker works is because they neatly summarize things few people want to spend their full attention on. Most people don’t have time for the full in-depth story. We want quick news hits that allow us to comment and move on to the next thing. Better Solution: Washington Post should build a better Gawker. WP could be giving people the full Shapira article and simultaneously be running their own Gawker competitor, extracting the best parts of an article with a link over to the full deal. Shapira could even be the blogger that summarizes his own article in that context, possiblly including a juicy tidbit or two that didn’t make the editor’s cut.
Overquoting on Gawker’s part resulted in too much of Shapira’s followup dedicated to a discussion of revised copyright laws, which is a misguided solution to the problem. Instead of focusing on how to crack down on the length of quoting, Mr. Shapira ought to be asking what Washington Post and others big news outlets can do to attract more of the audience that opts to start their news day at a Gawker or Huffington Post type outlet. As the guy who covers the Millennial generation for WP, Shapira might even be the guy who can find the solution to competing against Gawker.
A good starting point would be a comparison of the barriers to reading created by Gawker vs. the barriers to reading created by the Washington Post. In the case of Gawker, the Web reader has no barriers, you just hit their page and start reading. With the Washington Post, at various points in navigating their site, reading is interrupted to attempt forced registration. This interruption in reading implies that the primary business of the Washington Post is to collect user accounts, not display ads on as many pages as possible. If the Washington Post can’t give up the nag completely, then at the very least they should allow me to skip it and keep reading or rely on registering people when they comment (which is what Gawker does).
Another issue that leaps out at me is figuring out how newsrooms can make better use of technological advances. Example one: Shapira complains about an abridged biography that took him 3,000 words of note to acquire. While I’m sure some fact checking is in order, I got the same info reading the about page on AnneLoehr.com. A little advance research on the Web can save hours invested in gathering a story. Example two: Shapira reports spending four hours transcribing Anne Loehr’s presentation he attended as part of his research gathering. One word here: Outsource! When I need a transcription, I send my audio to CastingWords.com or something similar because I don’t have the time to transcribe. If my little one-person operation can afford that, surely Washington Post could be getting a discounted rate on transcriptions in bulk. The Post reporters could be spending that extra time engaging with readers in social media outlets or creating the blog summaries of their articles.
Another complaint in the article about Gawker is the failure of referring links from site’s like Gawker to prevent layoffs and contraction. That’s not Gawker’s fault. Just like classified advertising used to be a major source of revenue that supported journalism at newspapers, the new model needs a new sugar daddy. In my 5 things to drive online newspaper revenue I propose that newspapers need to get serious about being the source for online travel information about their geographic locale. When I search online for travel info, the local paper is never the best source of information, despite travel being one of the best paying online ad categories.
To summarize: If WP wants to beat Gawker, they need to:
1) Consider readers first by reducing nag screens
2) Embrace technology to create a more agile staff
3) Adopt an aggressive effort in travel to drive online revenue