Good writing is in large
part good planning. That truth also applies to good Web publishing.
In an effort to stake out
territory on the Web and to keep rivals from sucking up potential online
advertising revenue some existing publications have instructed their
Web teams to merely put the print publication on line. Putting up everything
that's in a printed edition (known as producing "shovelware")
misses the point and potential of publishing on the Web. There's already
way too much information available on the Web; what's needed is more information
with a clear sense of audience and focus.
Before any existing or startup
publication begins a Web edition, the publisher and staff should answer
Who is our audience?
Many online publishers have not answered this question the fundamental
one. Instead, they're publishing just because they can. More than one editor
has told me that she was ordered to "Put the paper online." In
a time when printed versions of newspapers are losing readers left and
right, what sense does it make to offer the same thing in a harder-to-get
package? Instead, newspaper publishers and other would-be Web publishers
need to define a particular audience they want to reach, then design the
site to reach that audience. While many newspapers say a key goal of their
online editions is to reach young people who don't read printed newspapers,
they fail to offer that audience much different online. HotWired media
critic Jon Katz notes in American Journalism Review:
"Most newspaper Web sites are ugly, clunky,
present unoriginal, outdated information and reflect corporate traditions
that emphasize tepid opinion, stuffy writing and middle-of-the-road banality.
That's not what people go online for. Young people, especially, like strong
point of view, attitude, graphics, in-depth pop culture coverage all
the things that newspapers won't do."
What can we do online that we can't
do on paper?
When Publisher Jake Oliver began thinking about the online edition of the
Afro-American newspapers, he had more than a hundred years of coverage
of the black community at his disposal. So one of his first decisions was
to create an online Black
History Museum. The section offers features on the first black combat
pilots in America; Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player in
the major leagues; black advertising from the 1920s and 1930s; reports
from Afro correspondents following black troops during World War II; and
others that continue to draw lots of visitors to the site.
What can we do differently than
the bazillion other online sites?
I remember telling a friend that there were hundreds of newspapers on the
Web, and she responded, "Why?" With easy access now to the CNN,
New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press and other key sources,
why would a reader try to find information about major news stories anywhere
else? Bill Skeet, chief designer at the Knight-Ridder New Media Center,
addressed this issue in a posting to the Online News discussion group:
"But what of smaller newspapers? ... If you
strip away the wire content or syndicated material ... or anything not
indigenous to their brand, what do you have left?
I'd say you have a product that is particularly at risk on the web because
on the web there are competitors or at least alternative sources for most
of these types of information."
What do we have the resources to
produce and keep current?
When a Web staff of five was put together at the Rochester, N.Y., Democrat
and Chronicle, they knew they couldn't do everything. Exploiting one of
the editors' experience in sports, the team decided to concentrate primarily
in that area. Because the newspaper in nearby Buffalo home of the Bills
football team did not have a Web site, the D&C team decided to
set up a site for Bills
fans. The Bills pages drew more than 200,000 visitors per week half
the total for the entire D&C site.
What services can we provide to
Information is everywhere on the Web. Do a search on the most specialized
topic and chances are that you'll get hundreds or even thousands of hits.
What Web users want is specialized information and service. For instance, Arizona Central offers visitors a searchable directory of more than 250 golf courses in the state; a guide to dining in the Phoenix area; customizable television listings; ALT.,a
place for teens and young adults; and much more.
Anyone can create a Web site.
But only by taking the time to think about these questions can you be sure
that you'll create one that people will actually want to visit.