"Not eating chard. That's what all those weirdos eat at their stupid picnics on the Hungry Ghost lawn." -Nina

March 04, 2008

Part I: Daily Hampshire Gazette Gets Redesign Online, Adds Blogs Because Blogs Will Save The World, Haven't You Heard?

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton's venerable daily paper, has redesigned their website, and added blogs. (!)

The redesign is a welcome improvement, as the two contrasting photos below show. And the blogs have the potential and promise any clean slate does to create a beautiful painting. The photos below are screen caps of the old and new design of the Gazette online. The left one is the old look, with the new design in the photo to the right. The new design is similar to that being used by more forward thinking, up to date news organizations, and a design which is used by many. It allows easier access to information, a more pleasing aesthetic, and greater ease of use.

The old design of the online Gazette was, quite frankly, clunky, awkward, poorly designed, and full of advertising which went out of it's way to obscure content. It was a horrible site, and made you work to find any content aside from the most visible first news item or two.

Jim Foudy, Editor of the Gaz, wrote a letter to their readers explaining the change, and you can read that here, courtesy of Goggle's cache. In cache, because as many of you know, unless you are a paid subscriber to the Gazette's daily paper, you are not allowed access to their site online. As much of an adorably ill-informed decision that is, it is one universally abhorred by all except for the one individual at the Gazette who no doubt must regard it as brilliant. For context, in conversation just the other day with a friend, whom I had sent a link to an article in the Gaz, he responded in exasperation, "dude, are you fu*king kidding me?! You can't read the Gazette online unless you pay?! WTF! They must be the only paper in the world that makes you pay for online content! Will you please just save me a copy of the newspaper?"

Actually, the Wall St. Journal also requires a paid subscription. But apples to apples, I do believe I once read that nationwide (though unable to locate a link to the source), only 22 local papers require a subscription to read content online. Whether memory serves me correctly or not, if any local newspaper, while crunching the numbers, finds a model of financial benefit that shows a financial gain for the organization by charging a relatively small number of local or regional users for content online, -restricting advertising revenue which drives the business- as opposed to offering the content to the entire world for free, -expanding advertising revenue- you really just have to let them run with that. Having a discussion about it would most likely be akin to trying to get a pitbull to give you the steak he has in his mouth, by verbally promising the dog that if he does relinquish that steak, he can have six more that you have in a bowl just over yonder.

With that said, not only did the Gazette get a redesign, but they have also started a stable of blogs. I for one will be anticipating two of them not yet launched. Paychecked, from Managing Editor Larry Parnass, which from it's description seems could be a bold and audacious one, and one which will be exciting to watch if only to see what stories are and are not told. The blurb on the blog notes it will "monitor[s] how the Valley economy is treating working families. ...It is our economy that must sustain the people who make this region special. Well, can it? Where and when will new jobs come? What will they pay? Who does an economy in transition most benefit?"

The second blog that will be eagerly awaited is City Desk (also not yet online), by City Editor Laurie Loisel, and will be a blog about Northampton. Laurie's column in the paper is one I look forward to reading, as it is the closest thing the Gazette offers to original and unique community reporting by a staff member, with a personal touch that is engaging. Her blog should become a great companion to that column, and if maintained and produced with the same effort as her column, will become a go to source of interesting, unique, and original community news.

When is Dan Crowley going to get his 'Intrepid investigations' blog?

From the page online at the Gazette which lists the blogs, we find that they now have six blogs up and running, though Jim Foudy did note in his letter to the readers that, "Once we get the drill down we'll be putting out a call for community bloggers." Listed below are the blogs they currently have, with links you can't use unless you are a paid subscriber, as well as brief descriptions of -including the two aforementioned blogs, paychecked, and city desk, which are not yet launched. However, the URL's for the two were included in the source code of that page, which I discovered accidentally, and I have included them below.

01062 by Valle Dwight. http://gazettenet.com/beta/blog/01062
I'll be adding to the noise out here in the blog-world, this time with stories about Florence. I'll write about people, places, things I see, and odd things that are not in the least bit newsworthy. They're just Florence.

The Editor's Blog by Editor Jim Foudy. http://gazettenet.com/beta/blog/editors-notes [EDIT: Link fixed] The Editor's Blog examines our work as journalists, change in the media and discusses the news and the way news affects our communities. Editor Jim Foudy hosts the blog, which also includes postings from other Gazette editors.

High School Sports Blog by Mike Moran and Jim Pignatiello http://gazettenet.com/beta/blog/hs-sports
You'll find "deleted scenes" from both writers that are interesting leftovers from a feature-type story that didn't make it into the big story, as well as sidebars and/or notebooks from covered games.

Paychecked by Managing Editor Larry Parnass. http://gazettenet.com/beta/blog/paychecked
Paychecked monitors how the Valley economy is treating working families. It is written by Larry Parnass, the managing editor for news at the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

UMass Sports Blog by Matt Vautour. http://gazettenet.com/beta/blog/umass-sports
Gazette UMass beat writer Matt Vautour shares his thoughts in this blog about the Minutemen and college sports.

View from the Cube by Director of New Media Gerry LeBlanc and GazetteNET editor Don St. John. http://gazettenet.com/beta/blog/view-from-cube
This is where tell you what's new on GazetteNET and any other musing that may or may not be relevant.

City Desk by City Editor Laurie Loisel. http://gazettenet.com/beta/blog/city-desk
"A northampton blog" as Jim Foudy noted in his letter.

Campus Currents by Kristin Palpini. http://gazettenet.com/beta/blog/campus
Higher education is so much more than what happens in the classroom. Look for breaking news, tasty tidbits, cries and whispers from the hallowed halls of the Valley's colleges and university.

This new direction the Gazette is going in is welcome, and I for one will be excitedly awaiting all the new content and material to be produced. As Jim noted in his letter last week,
"Blogs by our staff members will be primarily for reporting and providing context and background on the news or, in the case of my Editor's Blog, information about how the paper works and why we do what we do.

We're journalists, whether in print or online. What we bring to community dialogue is primarily information and context. With the Web awash in personal opinion, we believe our journalism has special value and we will work to maintain those standards on the Web."

That last sentence is interesting, as it illuminates the divide professionals in the news media can sometimes perceive between the work they do, and that of what others might be doing alone with or without a degree in journalism, or without the support of a newspaper. Most certainly, there are stories and issues a local newspaper could cover in a way that no citizen could, with resources an individual will not have. And no question about it, the Gazette should pursue that angle. That is indeed a special value.

Many reporters in this business are doing such outstanding work that adds tremendous value to a community, large or small. In North Carolina for instance, The Charlotte Observer recently completed a six part series entitled 'The human cost of delivering poultry to your table.' It was a thorough and fearless investigation for facts involving one of the largest poultry plants in the state, the government agencies which regulate and oversee it, and the powerful and influential people who populate both. Joshua Micah Marshall is another example that comes to mind in light of recent events. For the last seven years he has been writing about national politics online at his blog, Talking Points Memo, and was recently awarded the George Polk award for
"legal reporting for coverage of the firing of eight United States attorneys, critics charged under political circumstances. The 'tenacious investigative reporting sparked interest by the traditional news media and led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales'"
Many others, whether locally, regionally, and nationally, are out there investigating stories, uncovering hidden news, highlighting community members in engaging and informative ways, telling the stories that many won't or don't tell. They do so with a yearning for the truth, and with intent on speaking for those who can't, shedding light on where it is dark.

I imagine that many at the Gazette feel this way about the work they do locally, and though surely many of them might go on to do this kind of work, not many of them could currently lay claim to producing a "journalism [that] has special value". With the exception of a small few, Dan Crowley comes to mind, Laurie Loisel as well, most of the content produced at the Gazette holds little value aside from the value you can attribute to reciting or regurgitating news. This is not to take away from what the Gazette is doing, nor to slight the staff. Clearly though, I feel what the Gazette does as a whole falls short of unique, original, and informative journalism. It falls short of engaging and informing the community in a way befitting the only local newspaper in town, with all the resources it maintains. Without a doubt, the editors and publishers of the Gazette understand that there are stories out there that are powerful, engaging, and important to a community. They know full well the accolades they could warrant, and the information they could share with the community. It would only take a green light to the staff, and a commitment of resources, to bring them to print; yet it appears a conscious effort is made not to do that.

In the letter to readers that Gazette Editor Jim Foudy wrote explaining these new online changes at the Gazette, he declared he understood why this redesign, and the addition of blogs, was necessary for the paper. He wrote, "Recognizing that a lot of our readers and potential readers are increasingly using the Internet for news and information, we're taking our community soap box to the Web."

Confusingly, the Gazette was already on the web. Ironically, in response to seemingly being confused about the fact that the Gazette already had a "community soap box [on] the Web" and as of yet having no history to speak of that shows that a utilization of existing resources will be used to create and publish valuable and worthwhile news for the community, a quixotic strategy seems to have been developed that takes a very long and winding road to a place they might not even get to before they run out of gas. Sadly, even with a recognition "that a lot of our readers and potential readers are increasingly using the Internet for news and information" any new and great journalism to be created will be placed along with the rest, behind a paywall, where all seven thousand paid subscribers can access it.
"The real problem, Mr. Newspaperman, isn't that your content isn't online or isn't online with multimedia. It's your content. Specifically, it's what you report, which stories you publish, and how you publish them to people, who, by the way, have very different individual interests. The problem is the content you're giving them, stupid; not the platform its on."
The above comes from Vin Crosbie writing at Corante "a trusted, unbiased source on technology, business, law, science, and culture that’s authored by leading commentators and thinkers in their respective fields...that help decision-makers better understand their industries and the world around them."

Part II of what clearly started to become a rambling and unreadable treatise on why I use the Gazette to wipe my ass will be coming tomorrow, as it occurred to me that it might not be the best idea to publish the whole six thousand words all at once, ostensibly on the new design change (with blogs!) that the Gazette is rolling out.

UPDATED:: Part II is here.

LABELS: daily hampshire gazette, media