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News now, craft later

January 27, 2009

This is the fourth part of my “First Year in Journalism” series of thoughts. This is the second part of my “First Year in Journalism” series of thoughts. Also see: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.

Before I start talking about the value of frequent updates in the next leg of my long-delayed “First Year in Journalism” series, let me avoid any presence of irony/hypocrisy by pointing out my previous post (it and the accompanying Kris Krug link are actually pretty good primers to this post).

Right; now that that’s out of the way…

I don’t know how many times the phrase “the Web site isn’t the print edition” has to be uttered before traditional print writers stop trying to win Pulitzers and just post raw news to the Web. At the same time, though, I get why writers have such a hard time grasping the concept. They’re professional writers — they want to craft a gripping and clever narrative that sucks you in and leaves you salivating for more. It’s in their blood.

Only problem is — you guessed it — the Web isn’t print, and readers would much rather have their news now than have their news well crafted. It’s a Web/print dichotomy that Jason Preston has aptly characterized as “lean back” versus “lean forward” reading (Web content is the latter). People don’t kick their feet up to take in a lengthy investigative news piece on the Internet; at least, not that often. Usually what they’re looking for is a split-second, ADD view of what just happened (look no further than Twitter’s popularity and emergence as a breaking news source for proof of this).

I’d like to say there’s a middle ground here, but mostly, writers just have to get over themselves; produce content for the Web right now and clean it up later when it’s time to write the print edition.

On the comment thread to my last “year one” post, Jason Molinet was critical of this strategy:

Being a New York sportswriter for most of my life, I can attest to the burnout that creeps in. No set schedule. Constantly chasing news. Noon deadlines and midnight deadlines. Weekends. Six- and seven-day work weeks during busy months. This business already demanded your attention 24-7. Now editors and publishers are asking reporters to do even more.

To which I say; OK, better yet: Let the print edition evolve online. If a car flips over on the freeway, post a quick update/”Tweet” (Headline, quick sentence/graf, more information coming) and fill in quotes, photos and video as they become available. Once your print deadline comes up, you should have enough copy to either hone to perfection, or just drop in an InDesign box and let the copy desk hack away at.

And if this “evolution” idea seems like too much work, link out — you’ll still be serving your Web users by pointing them to someone who does have the time for it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2009 1:20 pm

    thx for the link. :) good thoughts….

  2. paulbalcerak permalink*
    March 3, 2009 3:07 pm

    Happy to link, and thanks.

    I’m curious: Do you take a similar approach to your photo work? I don’t want to suggest that your Flickr stream is substandard or anything (quite the opposite, actually), but you do seem to upload pretty fast (i.e. during NY Fashion Week). Do you post photos there with the intent of them being bits and pieces of a greater whole, which will eventually be edited to whichever extent you deem necessary?

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