George Loesch, the outgoing VP of sales and marketing for the outgoing Interstate General Media, ripped into the editorial strategies of the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com. Quite spectacularly, I might add.
In an email to his colleagues obtained by the Philadelphia Business Journal, Loesch went in on the old-world tactics of the newsroom, which, at this point, is more of a concept fancied by ink-stained scriptuals than an actual thing:
Nixon is no longer President, and we need to re-invent and transform ourselves. Market research and Inquirer Customer satisfaction scores of the paper were consistently below average. There is an enemy called average, and I expected more from the newsroom and improvements to the product. More relevant and compelling content. The status quo and aiming for mediocrity is not journalistic excellence. If our Inquirer product was a soup, it would have been taken off the store shelves. As I’ve said, ‘not enough chicken in the chicken noodle soup’, and our readers told us that. Confront the brutal facts. The newsroom leadership despised me. Many others in the newsroom respected me, and inspired me to push for change and make a difference. Tried to bring accountability, performance and measurement to the newsroom.
We could do one of two things: Hold on to our current recipe and watch our business fade away OR transform and deliver on what our customers’ expectations are. Holding on to the protocols of a legacy news model and to the quasi solo ‘church and state’ views of the newsroom against the influence of business concerns is not a forward thinking strategy. However, the vision to transform and deliver on our customer expectations, and institutionalizing a customer centric culture, innovate and evolve products while focusing on a transition to digital over the strategic horizon, an innovation and transformation strategy could stabilize and grow the company.
He has two main points, as best as I see it:
1) Storytelling. Although the papers may still drive the business, stories should, at the very least, be written with an equal focus on their web versions. Certain conventions – like the inverted pyramid (the most important stuff at the top), quoting, short headlines, images above stories, and few blockquotes, charts and interactivity – are in place because of the medium itself– things printed on giant reels of newsprint. But the web is a blank canvas, and modern outlets – like Quartz, Medium, Vox Media properties and others – take advantage of this by telling stories and passing along information in unique ways. Even The New York Times is doing this with some degree of success. But the Philly papers and Philly.com still, for the most part, just throw a bunch of (awkwardly formatted and sometimes unedited) text up there as if online is an afterthought. With many experienced and talented reporters, there should be a focus on having them tell stories on modern platforms. A good start, and something talked about by Philly guy and tech (Apple) writer John Gruber of Daring Fireball in his latest podcast, would be incorporating tech folks and engineers in the newsroom. Those people shouldn’t be an afterthought or just make and fix the sites, but they should be part of the process of creating content. This New York Times interactive baseball fandom map, with data from Facebook, is a good example of that idea at work. I can assure you that the person or persons who wrote the story didn’t program the map. Another example: this brilliantly laid out SB Nation piece on the XFL.
2) Money. Buzzfeed gets a lot of shit, but their (sometimes sponsored) lists serve two purposes. The 2 Qualities of Buzzfeed Lists: 1) they’re very entertaining and 2) they drive page views and revenue to fund high-quality pieces like this one about gay teenagers. Maybe Philly.com has tried to do this, but their execution has been terrible and there’s little evidence that they’ve used the more eyeball-heavy stories to pay for quality pieces. And the Inquirer and Daily News websites are essentially a non-factor. Not everyone wants to read 3,000-word stories, and not everyone wants to read Top 14 Reasons Spousal Bowel Movements are a Good Thing. A healthy mix is best. And so is a regular BM schedule, of course.