Online editor acquiesced

Posted: November 22, 2009 in Multimedia Journalism
Tags: , , ,

Photo by Jeff Achen

Well, the frustrating reality of dismal online advertising revenue has forced my newspaper to eliminate its online editor job description. That means me.

Fortunately, it’s not a layoff, but a simple shift in job title. I’ll be integrated back into the print news operation to cover one of my community newspaper’s various beats. Most likely that means coverage of a community similar to my job description two years ago before being promoted to online editor.

The back story

I’ve always tried to push the multimedia envelope in my reporting, ever since starting as the Apple Valley editor/reporter at Thisweek Newspapers in 2005. We had no online editor at our paper in that time. But, I demonstrated a talent and interest in video and online in particular and in Jan. 2008 the then-president of my publishing company created an online editor position along with an online sales position as a sort of “experiement” to see if this new dynamic online duo could create multimedia content and related multimedia ad products to boost online revenue. It was an exciting time. We took our very lame web site and revamped it, adding more video, interactivity and improved design. Within the first year the sales person’s duties shifted, eventually to include some print advertising sales (sucked back in…) and before the year was up the sales position was eliminated. I continued to work on adding content to Thisweeklive.com, including the addition of audio podcasts in Spanish, Sports podcast, and TV show/Video podcast. I also pumped out at least one feature news video per week and worked to update the web site’s home page daily, something that was woefully lacking prior to me becoming online editor. I also lead a social media campaign to get our news out through Twitter (@Thisweekmn) and Facebook. I like to think my biggest contribution was simply being the point man for Thisweeklive.com. I think newspaper web sites need a point man (or woman) the same as any print edition has an editor. It’s someone to watch out for the paper, take ownership and make it his or her baby. Thisweeklive.com was my baby.

A teaser I created for the launch of Thisweeklive.com
in April 2008. Oh, I was so young, so full of hope…

It’s been a good run

Over the past two years, I’ve enjoyed the innovation and creative enterprise my superiors have allowed me. I’ve always been treated like a professional and nurtured in all my efforts. But, alas, the amount of money we make online remains the same as the day we started this “experiment” and the company president who appointed me has moved on. How long could I continue to goof off in my online office, creating videos and podcasts, posting daily stories and frequently asking for new cameras, software or audio recorders before they realized the online office was only producing news and not $$$? Well, they realized it and it’s a luxury this community newspaper has decided it cannot afford. Instead, we’ll beef up our coverage of business and try to spread the multimedia production out among the rest of the staff.

Though I won’t be online editor anymore, Thisweeklive.com remains committed to multimedia coverage of our communities and timely updates to our news web site. In fact, look for a redesign to debut this spring. I will also continue to host the TV show/video podcast. We’ll also maintain our Twitter and Facebook accounts. We hope our online audience will not see a difference in the online offerings with me “back in the newsroom” so to speak.

Lucky fellow

I’m lucky to still have my job and fortunate to be able to continue experimenting with multimedia. But, somehow this all feels like a hit to online journalism. My supervisors will tell me not to think of it that way. Maybe they’re right.

What do you think? Will online revenue ever support online journalism?

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Comments
  1. Bill Roehl says:

    Will online revenue ever support online journalism?

    It depends on what you consider “online journalism”. MinnPost, The Deets, and many others have shown that you can raise money in interesting ways to give people the news they want. While you’re familiar with MinnPost I’m sure, The Deets ran an interesting experiment which asked people to pay (micropayments) for another City Pages article. He raised ~$76 after fees.

    My website pays for itself and some more of what I do but I am no journalist nor will I ever be one. I can happily leech off the work of others for much of my content while taking the time to concentrate on one or two in-depth posts a week. I have found myself spending more and more time going to meetings, watching meetings, and digging through public paperwork/records as the website’s revenue has grow but it’s easy for me–I’m only one person.

    I am disappointed in my own attempts at raising more ad money online. I am no salesman nor am I a journalist and my geek skills can only get me so far. I have a few more tricks up my sleeve (as I’m sure you do as well) but at what point will journalism degrees require not only a much larger concentration on business education but also computer skills?

    Perhaps once everyone is savvy to the needs of the business side as well as the computer in addition to being great journalists already, then online journalism will be supported by online revenue more than it already is.

  2. Fotografi says:

    Content for free seems to be the mantra of the on line journalism. Good contents need a lot of money to be produced and so?
    What do jou suggest?

  3. Matt Perkins says:

    There is no question it is a hit to online journalism. But it all comes back to the business model. Is a newspaper and it’s invaluable Web site seen as a public service or a private enterprise?

    I know, this is where I always lose people with my argument, but I feel strongly that public ownership of newspapers is a necessity.

    Is your community willing to pay additional taxes or fees to fund a newspaper which serves as a local political watchdog, a protector of public interests and a hometown source of entertainment? Or, are your community’s businesses willing to pay to compete for advertising attention in your print and online editions?

    Sorry to hear about the position cut, Jeff. What you were doing with that position, and what you were promoting other ECM locations to do, is in part the future of journalism from a content standpoint. But if the business model fails to adapt to a general public which is demanding adaptation, there is nothing you or any other journalist can do. The business of news is news, not advertising.

    Can you say “government funding?” I beg anyone reading this to please read “The Reconstruction of American Journalism,” authored by former Washington Post exec Leonard Downie.

  4. jeffachen says:

    But if the business model fails to adapt to a general public which is demanding adaptation, there is nothing you or any other journalist can do. The business of news is news, not advertising.

    Unfortunately, I think the business of news can no longer afford to be limited to the practice of journalism. We (journalists) have to consider the best use of resources as well as the type of content in the context of profitability (read “our survival”). That’s what drove this editorial decision to eliminate the online editor title and create a new business editor position for our much more profitable Dakota County Tribune Business Weekly. Moving me back into the newsroom is a move to “redeploy” editorial resources. I understand it, even while I mourn the loss of the position.

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