News Organizations Should Not Be Online

Monday kicked off a new semester, and I started by challenging the students in my online news production class with this statement: News organizations should not have a Web site.

The statement picks up on a session I led at last summer’s N.C. Press Association‘s Newspaper Academy. In a time of tight budgets, news organizations must be focused on delivering their core product, service or experience. Everything they do must be justified — including having a Web site. Unless a news organization can clearly state why they have an online presence, they should drop it.

The students’ responses focused on the Web as a platform for competing on breaking news and for reaching audiences — especially young people — where they are. My goal for the semester is to help them see that online journalism is a wonderful tool for telling more memorable and relevant news stories, and not just about 24/7 distribution.

Make your anonymous argument after the jump — can you articulate a clear, rational, viable reason that your news organization should be online? Or make your public comment for attribution here.

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6 thoughts on “News Organizations Should Not Be Online”

  1. “You’re wrong. Almost every news organization should have a Web site because …”

    … our core product is not a newspaper. Our core product is INFORMATION, not the medium by which information is delivered.

  2. Ryan, I’m finding it hard to answer your interesting question while using the phrase “news organization.” Doesn’t it seem safe to assume that more than half of “news organizations” in the U.S. are now unpaid volunteer operations that distribute only on the Web?

    I don’t think it’s a trivial point. Your implication that newspapers (and maybe local radio and TV stations?) are the only “news organizations” that count (and the only ones that will count in the future) has been widely shared by legacy organizations and has undermined their strategic thinking.

    I also think you’re implying that “Web site” means “a frequently updated page of recent news, most of it written in the style of newspaper stories.” I can imagine a lot of news organizations (including the one I’m starting this summer) that have Web sites, but not *that* sort of Web site.

    That said, I definitely agree with your premise that businesses should not produce anything at a loss unless there’s a good business reason to do so.

  3. Hm … interesting question.

    I guess one way of attacking it would be to try scenarios where one thing or the other — either the physical newspaper or the timely content — is removed from the equation, and see which does better.

    When we present the timely content without the physical newspaper, through a Web site, we find that there is still demand for it. If we presented the physical newspaper without the timely content — say, by trying to give out copies of a paper from last month, full of old stories and ads for sales that are already over — would anyone take it?

    Probably not a perfect analogy, though. Hm. I’ll have to think about that.

  4. Here’s another analogy.

    I have a part-time job a few nights a week at a J.C. Penney store. Fifty years ago, if you asked J.C. Penney what its “core business” was, the answer probably would have been brick-and-mortar department stores. But now catalog and online sales are a huge part of the business, with catalog departments in the stores and signs everywhere encouraging people to use the Web site too.

    At some point, J.C. Penney probably faced a choice: “Given that mail order and the internet have the potential to pull some business away from brick-and-mortar stores, do we make a point of NOT having a Web site or a catalog, for the sake of protecting our brick-and-mortar stores? Or do we decide that our MERCHANDISE is our core business, not the medium we use to sell it to people, and consequently expand into any medium that seems like it might help us move that merchandise?”

  5. (I probably shouldn’t have lumped mail order and the internet together that way, since the one preceded the other by decades, but you get the idea…)

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