The always-great John Temple has a valuable post today urging senior-level news executives to stay away from their print editions for a couple of weeks (painful as that may be for some). He suggests that they try relying solely on the Web for a while to get a better idea of how their increasingly digital audience is consuming news and information these days.
If they would try this, I think newspaper executives would quickly see flaws in their offerings and would also more clearly understand the flood tide that is running. I'm not writing to criticize specifically what papers are doing online. Only to say that my experience being outside a newspaper tells me that other executives while they still have a chance might want to experience the world without their newspaper. I believe it would hasten their sense of urgency. I'm not talking about a sense of urgency about revenue. We know that's there in most buildings in this economic downturn. But is it there to the same degree in understanding audience and what's available to people today? Is it there in making sure their offerings stack up?
- Without using search, find continuing, in-context coverage of a long-running local story.
- Similarly (again, without using search), find a comprehensive package of information (even a collection of past stories) about a significant local icon or personality.
- Locate all the coverage and information on the site about a specific local town.
- Starting on a story page (not the home page) quickly find other key information, e.g. the day's top headlines or most-read stories. (Remember, the vast number of readers don't enter your site from the home page, though print-focused newsies obsess about home pages.)
- Find a list of the best local restaurants, or ratings and reviews of a particular kind of cuisine, preferably by locality (extra credit: user reviews). BTW: This is why Yelp is really hurting newspapers.
- Find a local movie listing, or better yet, a local theater listing and review (extra credit: user reviews).
- Find something a family can do for fun this weekend.
- Find any location mentioned on the site on a map—wait, no, you're not allowed to leave the site. No MapQuest or Google maps!
- Using the site's search function, search for a term you know appeared in the newspaper in the past 24 hours.
- Subscribe to your site's mobile alert function (you have one, right?) and see if it's truly useful. While you're at it, be sure to look at your site regularly on its iPhone or mobile version (you have one, right). Is it updated as frequently as the main site?
- Find something in the paper's archives.
- How easy is it to e-mail a story, or print it out, or view it on a single page?
- Find a way to quickly contact a specific reporter, or an editor, or anybody at the paper.
- Find an ad you know is on the site. (This drives advertisers nuts, incidentally.)
- How easy is it to place a classified ad online—or to buy any kind of ad?
- How easy is it to manage your print subscription online?
- Using the site's search function, search for just about anything in the list above.
- Now, try the same searches from Google.