The relationship between reporters and editors often is about as smooth and stable as a ride on Splash Mountain. A lot of reporters tend to regard editors as people who attend meetings, place casual utterances onto a budget and ask for stories never truly envisioned, or ruin the “voice” in a story, among other things. Editors generally are, through the eyes of many reporters, nuisances or do-nothings — or both.Having occupied both seats (including both seats simultaneously as I do now), I understand why, given their release by Hearst and about a year’s pay in severance, several former reporters from the now-defunct print version of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (P-I) banded together and created their version of journalism Nirvana — a vision of news without the filter of editors imprisoned in ivory towers. It’s like cutting out middle management in, say, the Army, allowing the men and women on the ground to fight each battle without the interference of the generals. Who knows better than the soliders in the trenches, after all?
With my reporter’s hat on, I cry, “Woo Hoo!” But, my editor’s or consumer’s hat pulled tightly over my eyes, I whisper, “Disaster … “
The Seattle PostGlobe got off to such an inauspicious start that at least one other Web site produced in Seattle delayed its launch to avoid a similarly barren and embarrassing beginning. I didn’t jump on the PostGlobe effort the way I did the “new” SeattlePI.com because Hearst had the resources and time to plan a better release. Judging from the product, as well as discussions with those familiar with the way the site came about, it doesn’t appear things are going to change dramatically in the near future, so here I go:
- The site looks and behaves so much like a Word Press or Typepad site, that I have to assume it’s a blog (not that there’s anything wrong with that, in other circumstances), thus making the lead item, as I write, on the “site” (a blog) a, what, double negative?
- The point being that the flow of content is chronological, making the site free of any exercised news judgment.
- News (and other) sites employ content-management systems (CMS) for that very reason — to convey a pecking order of importance, to flow copy to other categories and widgets, and make the mission of the site crystal clear to the user.
- The “site” lacks a search function, another issue with which a CMS could have helped.
- The only line editing that seems to take place is self-editing, which is a little uneven.
- Some smaller nits to pick (that could evolve into symptoms of systemic disorder): Two stories by John Hickey, the Mariners beat writer, appear to have been copied and pasted and posted with formatting, rendering them big globs of type. Worse, no one on the staff seems to have noticed — or cared. Photographer Grant Haller has a nice shot of a skateboarder at KeyArena, but the white balance appears off on a shot of Sounders FC soccer players.
Most critically, both the PostGlobe and “new” PI.com are repeating the error that is killing the newspaper industry. That is, trying to be everything to everybody and, in the process, being nothing to too many people. If I were in either’s shoes, I’d have picked an area on which to focus; the Web is, after all, a destination (and therefore niche) platform. Two of the old P-I’s best business writers, John Cook and Todd Bishop already have brilliantly captured and nailed down technology at Tech Flash and shrewdly aligned it with the Puget Sound Business Journal.
What should have been left to the PostGlobe or PI.com are local politics, watchdog functions, sports or arts and culture. Pick one. And, as I have been advocating for years, they both need to start charging for their niche content.For reasons likely relating to the introduction of this post, a group of former P-I editors and a few high-profile investigative reporters broke off to hawk a regionalized, long-form and possibly non-profit approach. That left the group of reporters seeking to do something else without the usual support system in place. Much of the backstory of the PostGlobe was reported by Chuck Taylor, a former Seattle Times staff, The Weekly managing editor and founding editor of Crosscut.com. As he reports in the post, Taylor once was advising the group for free, but no longer is associated with the project, which is a shame, given his news (and new media) management background.
After making the rounds, the PostGlobe got KCTS, a PBS affiliate eager to get onto the Web in some more meaningful way, and The Seattle Weekly to agree to partnerships. Both contribute to revenue-generation (KCTS kicks in office space), and have modules on PostGlobe.org, but their most important roles are providing the new venture some legitimacy — credibility by association, if it were.
What neither offer is a key missing ingredient — the leadership, planning and vision a hierarchy of editors would provide. When I became an editor, after first being a writer and reporter, I came to better understand what people meant when they described a publication or Web site as well- or tightly edited. More than making sure the grammar or spelling is correct, editors ensure a sense of order that, maybe more sublimely than overt, feed into a reader’s sense of trust.
When a group of former Newark Star-Ledger staffers embarked on NewJerseyNewsroom.com, they included editors in their ranks. They employed a CMS for their site; I’d paid to have one modified but now companies such as JoomlArt offer templated versions, ready made for media ventures. Though I disagree with their generalized approach to newsgathering and presentation, their product is clean, orderly, well-presented and thought-out — very New York Times-like.
Sadly, nothing similar can be said about the PostGlobe. As if presaging this development, self-described “I guess I’m the publisher,” Kery Murakami, a former P-I and Seattle Times staffer, told the Times, “I hope people don’t expect this to be the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on our first day.” An editor would not have had anything to do with such a statement. She or he would have understood that unveiling a flawed product for sale would have been a prescription for failure.