The first thing that stood out to me about the Seattle trip was how each media model attempts to serve a somewhat different type of audience. All the places we visited compete for similar readers and viewers, they are all located in Seattle after all. But the highlight had to have been how each place recognized the importance of building and audience, not striving for page views.
Before I get to the details of the trip, I want to highlight this idea of audience vs. traffic. It was something I discussed with the publisher and editor of the Idaho Post Register, Roger Plothow, for the legacy media assignment. Plothow guided me toward two posts he wrote that get at the importance of building an audience. If you’re interested: Audience versus traffic and his ideas behind paywalls.
Each visit really deserves its own blog post, but that would get too repetitive. So below are short reflections from each stop.
Yes, I think it was pretty clear seeing those empty office spaces was a menacing sight to any of us about to enter the journalism world. The paper cut down its staff by more than 100 after all. Having such a small staff also affected their news coverage. We saw this in how they frequently talked about how popular slideshows were on their site. They had slideshows of everything from celebrities to cats in Seattle. But what journalistic purpose does this serve?
If it serves anything, I think it’s more entertainment based. It’s a way to drive people to their site but not so great at growing an audience. Now the PI does still have reporters that go out and cover Seattle news. The fact is, they just don’t have the ability to cover as much of it anymore so they have to make tough calls on what to cover and what not to cover. (I can imagine this can be tough at times) The PI has had to switch how they try to reach their audience having moved over to online only. This shows in their type of coverage, yet they still do serve a certain type of reader. Even if it is one that likes browsing slideshows.
Fucoloro’s meeting was a stark contrast to what we went to next, The Seattle Times. This was one guy running two successful blogs. One guy! The content on these websites is very focused. One covers the news for just one neighborhood in Seattle, Capitol Hill, another simply covers biking in Seattle. So how are these blogs maintained? It’s a great example of developing a niche audience. There were enough people that wanted to read about these two subjects, that they can maintain themselves.
Idealistically, and Fucoloro hinted at this, a blog like Capitol Hill Seattle would hopefully be sustained by the community at one point. People can already post on the website themselves, but Fucoloro runs most of the news content and reporting, all while riding his bike. I liked seeing how this can be done. The key is finding something that people want to read about, whether they know it yet or not, and really honing in on that subject. It showed me that something this small can be done, and while you’re still young and have more freedom, it’s worth it to look into trying.
Now the Seattle Times so different than the places we had been before, I didn’t know what to think at first. It was a full-scale newsroom with a large staff and hundreds of full desks. The first question I wanted to find out was how does a big paper like this still appear somewhat healthy? What immediately came across was the staff’s pride in being a family owned paper. I think this is a large reason due to their ability to still be in business. It has allowed them to experiment a little more liberally with new technology and innovations with the new journalism model.
The Times still prints their newspaper. Something I don’t see happening down the road. But what was refreshing to see was the fact they have people constantly analyzing the market. These people are trying to see what prices their readers will respond to. How many people are still reading print and who are those people and how many are only digital. This is work that needs to be done all around by newspapers. If they want to be ahead of the curve moving forward, they need to be able to predict what’s next. Unlike what happened across the industry with the rise of the internet. The Seattle Times showed me they are doing this and might even be ready to thrive in the future of news.
GeekWire was probably my favorite visit. This is because they were a true success, maybe even poster child, of entrepreneurial journalism. It started out as two former PI reporters. They knew there was an audience out there that read their tech articles. The two also knew they were being underserved while constrained by a newspaper’s guidelines. So they created their own website. One dedicated to solely tech news.
What I liked most was their loyal following they developed and the site’s alternative funding model. The events they host throughout the year help sustain the business and at the same time develop a strong GeekWire community. The staggered levels of membership was another interesting idea. It certainly wouldn’t fly at any traditional media outlet. But it’s a great idea. If readers want more perks and want to pay more for those perks offered by GeekWire, then there should be no reason they can’t.
Todd Bishop has a closer relationship with the business side of GeekWire than he would at a normal paper. But he’s shown that this can be OK. There doesn’t have to be a complete separation. Bishop said he would like to completely hand it over to someone eventually, but so far has shown it doesn’t effect his ability to do good journalism at the same time. We can learn all the reporting skills possible, but I’ve always thought we should be taught how to make money from those skills at the same time.
MSN and Amazon
The visit to Microsoft and the meeting with the Amazon employee immediately felt like typical corporate culture. Now this isn’t a bad thing, except for the fact that meetings are the popular form of communication in corporate life. But what I got from MSN News was the idea that they are actively trying to understand how people view their news. What they want to read and how they’re getting to their website. These are all important factors into understanding your audience. Something very important for a big company like Microsoft.
Both MSN News and Amazon know their customers/readers very well. They know how to respond to their demands and give them things they don’t know they want. It’s kind of scary to think they can tell us what we want, but it’s true. The aspect of MSN News that took me some time to wrap my head around was the Rumors section. At first I didn’t like it because it felt like it was a way for them to perpetuate untrue rumors and didn’t serve much of a purpose. But their thinking was that they were actively looking into these rumors so why not share with the reader what they are finding out to be true and false. It creates a level of transparency and is apparently something quite popular with MSN News’ audience.
While all of these places try to serve a certain audience, I learned that they understand the importance to creating an audience. They all go about it in different ways and attract different readers, but within each outlet, they’ve learned their audience’s wants and responded to them effectively.