The headaches of new media

Posted on August 8, 2006 
Filed Under Uncategorized

[from Editor & Publisher, Aug 07, 2006]
In this piece by Joe Strupp, editorial page editors gripe about their increased workloads, but recognise the opportunities to get closer to readers than ever before.

Some choice quotes:

Gail Collins, of The New York Times: “(Five years ago,it was a quiet time, it was boring.I thought I had a knack for making boring stuff interesting. And the job then was producing just two opinion pages seven days a week.”

In the years that followed 9/11, the Internet explosion dumped a brand-new load of responsibilities and headaches on those who shepherd the editorial and Op-Ed choices — from massive increases in e-mail to new demands for monitoring blogs and Web sites, most of which did not exist five years ago.

“The job becomes a lot more of a management job and less of an editing job,” says Collins, who now oversees an extra Sunday editorial page, five weekly regional pages, as well as a slew of online features — among them the paid TimesSelect services. “The job then was largely about getting editorials together. In the course of a day now, you spend less time working on that. You rely a lot more on the editorial board members.”

Ron Dzwonkowski, of the Detroit Free Press: “People are writing more. I could spend my entire day reading and responding to e-mail.” His mail has tripled since he began in 1998.

Susan Albright, of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, says she receives about 300 emails daily, twice the volume she was getting three years ago. She notes these letters are at least easier to get into print since she doesn’t have to re-type them.

“I think there are new expectations in the public,” she says. “People write to me personally, they take issue with me specifically, and they want to carry on a relationship with me by e-mail. There is an expectation that if they send out an e-mail, they expect you to converse with them.”

Gail Collins: “You get a lot of really nasty, mean, vindictive mail. If those people had to sit down, put pen to paper, fold it, stamp it and put it in the mailbox they wouldn’t be writing.”

Chris Satullo, of The Philadelphia Inquirer: “People used to agree that facts were present in a discussion. Now you get into these ‘fact wars’ with people.”

Dzwonkowski notes the Web’s success in spreading his paper’s opinions worldwide, drawing much more reaction to editorials. Albright says that she often gets more angry e-mail and letters from outside of her circulation area: “We get a lot more from people who don’t read the paper or even live in our state. People say they saw the clip on a blog.”

Joe Oglesby, of The Miami Herald for the past five years, says more attention has to be paid to having correct information in editorials and columns because the online audience is so vast. “There is so much more availability and access to information and opinion,” he says. “What we have on this page has to be specific and unique.” Oglesby admits that more local issues have become the subject of editorials, since there’s so much competition of opinion on broader national and international stories.

Then there are the numerous new online outlets for the opinion-minders, such as blogs, reader forums, and Web-only column space for editorial pages. Online chats and blogs provide readers “a window into how editorial board members make decisions,” says Keven Ann Willey, VP/editorial page editor of The Dallas Morning News, which has had editorial board member blogs since 2003 and has several board member online chats each month. “It has made our editorial fresher, better thought-out, and more representative.” But, she adds, it is also “a tremendous exertion of energy and effort.”

In addition, a growing number of papers, including the Detroit Free Press, Dallas Morning News, and Miami Herald, are starting to put audio or video of certain editorial board meetings online. And at the Star-Tribune, editorial page staffers are beginning to shoot video and record audio of reader opinions in a man-on-the-street type approach that will become a regular Web feature.



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