Today, I thought I’d do a little round-up on some of the things that caught my attention during my morning web perusing. To begin, here’s something that raises an interesting point. When I got my first job in this industry, I had a more hard-line view on the separation between editorial and advertising than I have now. Reality is what changed my mind. Now, I have no taste for advertorials, and very little taste for selling ads right beside articles about that business. But, as this article seems to show a public dislike for, I have no problem with taking article suggestions from advertisers or businesses.
To me, it always made as much sense to appear responsive to advertisers as much as to readers. That doesn’t mean I’d even considering selling editorial space, but advertisers are people, too. They live in the same communities, encounter the same situations, and sometimes, they have suggestions for articles that are pretty good. As an editor, I’m open to suggestions from anywhere I can get them. I’m not arrogant enough to think that I know everything about everything, and I’m reasonably sure I can recognize when someone is suggesting something strictly self-serving.
If the article in question was an obvious informercial for the advertiser, then I can see questioning the credibility of the paper, but to run an article that’s timely, affects nearly everyone, generates some advertising and helps set up a nice working relationship with an advertiser; I was under the impression that was what we are supposed to be doing out here. The notion that editors and advertisers can’t co-exist or, god forbid, actually coordinate, is absurd. And just because something advances both of your purposes doesn’t mean you are selling out.
On to my second point. In case you haven’t noticed, pay walls are being erected all over the place as struggling publications grasp at any and every attempt to squeeze a dime out of thin air. Personally, I think they’ll ultimately prove a failure and counter-productive, but some aspects of pay-for-content do make sense. Just not complete, hard pay-walls unless your point is to minimize your audience and disconnect them and your content from the open internet.
Anyway, here’s a little discussion on some of the moves being made in the paid content direction. The part I find pretty interesting, and honestly, it’s something I never even considered before, is near the bottom. A plethora of pay walls can make life much more difficult for public relations people. It never occurred to me that these kinds of things that get placed in publications and on websites all over the place could be in for some trouble if they’re locked behind pay walls and can’t be linked to or shared outside of the paying network.
Normally, it annoys me when I see publications repackage press releases and present it as original work. I think it’s lazy. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing useful coming out of the P.R. world, if you can clean up the self-serving stuff and present the raw information. And don’t slap your byline on it, either. Rewording a press release doesn’t mean you wrote it. Anyway, I expect this kind of stuff will not only continue in the future, particularly with lower newsroom budgets and fewer reporters, canned material will look even more attractive. But now, that material will not be widely disseminated, instead stuck behind various paywalls and the publications in question will actually be selling access to that work. Complain about aggregators all you like, but this is pretty much stealing. Before, it was allowed due to the implicit understanding that using the material led to exposure. Now, not so much. I think the P.R. folks ought to hold out for a cut of the online subscription revenue. If there is any, that is.
Part three. Tom Boswell is a nationally-famous baseball writer for the Washington Post, but apparently he has a little problem editing his own copy. Possibly, he got spoiled back in the days when the Post had a number of copy editors to take care of all those pesky typos. Not anymore. And when a story of his about a late-finishing World Series game the other evening ran in its first-draft-like form, bunches of people wrote and called in to complain about the mistakes and lack of professionalism.
Okay, so deadlines are tight, and quality control has declined, but come on. How hard is it to use spell check? Lord knows I’m not the best proof-reader who ever lived, but to have so many mistakes in one column that readers actually complain in numbers? That strikes me as being a bit lazy, counting on others to clean up your work for you, which is no longer possible.
This is, however, part of a larger problem within the industry. The cutbacks haven’t just removed layers of quality control in the editorial areas, but also in production. Graphic designers are no longer in the office, less reachable and more distant, fewer people are involved in basic tasks like proofreading ads, double checking layouts, proofing finished pre-press pages and so forth. It’s easy to spot a typo in a headline or in an article, but no one can tell that an ad that was supposed to run was left out, or ad placement is wrong, or color was wrong, etc. These mistakes are being made all over today, and while typos are embarrassing, these kinds of mistakes actually directly cost newspapers money they can’t afford to lose. Quality control is something few people notice until it’s gone, but it’s just as important in production as it is in proof-reading.
And finally, I have a double point on this one. The first is obvious. We’re spending how much to secretly monitor employees hand washing practices in hospitals?!? Boy, that stimulus is really getting things done. These people work in hospitals, for god’s sake. Are you honestly telling me that they don’t have enough common sense to wash their hands when necessary? And we have to drop 100 large to secretly spy on them? We can’t just put up a sign, or make ’em watch a video? And we wonder why health care costs so much.
Anyway, my other point is the quality of the article. The above linked one was on the Minneapolis Star Tribune website, and it is (of all the horrors) an A.P. wire service piece. Why people in Minnesota would give a damn about Maryland hospital employees washing their hands is beyond me, but it’s there anyway. This one, however, is original reporting done in our own state by our largest newspaper, The Baltimore Sun.
Notice a difference between the two? The Sun piece gave almost no information other than a couple minor facts and a quote or two. The piece in Minnesota, on the other hand, was a much more thorough article, giving a well-rounded look the policy. So, our own local paper gave us peanuts and a newspaper site in Minnesota had the filet mignon. Wonder why newspaper sites aren’t keeping or holding traffic? Maybe they ought to actually cover the stuff that happens here rather than pay it lip service and let that local traffic go elsewhere. That might be an idea.