Andy Bechtel’s Edit Desk blog conducted an email interview with me about New Raleigh. Mr. Bechtel is a journalism professor at UNC Chapel Hill.
I wrote my response while down at the beach on vacation. I was reading Clay Shirky and hanging out with my buddy who is studying for his PHD in psychology. He was reading BF Skinner and we jabbed about tribes and group psychology most of the week. Shirky is advancing my thoughts about modern publishing and what it means to run a publication today.
Q. What is the purpose of the New Raleigh site?
A. New Raleigh informs a downtown audience about what is going on with downtown businesses, city government, persons of interests and cultural events. The site reaches an audience that wants a discriminating opinion on local current events and insider information on the different people and factors affecting the growth and evolution of the city.
Q. The Triangle has a crowded media market. How does New Raleigh fit in with heavy hitters like WRAL.com and newsobserver.com?
A. New Raleigh is the largest independent publication in Raleigh. We often break stories weeks before the “heavy hitters” and are often driving the conversations that both of these outlets highlight on their own Web sites or other formats. WRAL has gone so far as to show our site on their newscast multiple times, referencing conversations or articles on our site, but never our logo or name. The News & Observer isn’t much better — referring to our content as “essays on the Internet.” If we are significant enough to be part of their stories, we deserve proper citation. When our stories are more blog-like based around those outlets’ stories, we are sure to provide proper links back to the source material.
I think our rapid growth and strong influence has intimidated the old media outlets. Our focus on local content and the fact that our staff is integrated into the communities that they are writing about — those are tough things for those outlets to duplicate. Clearly everyone is strategizing about what’s next, but what I don’t see much of is an understanding of what’s now. Any media outlet should have a cohesive strategy for using the tools that information consumers are using. What I see from the big outlets is a lumbering effort at tech that is already passe.
Q. How does headline writing and story editing work at the site?
A. We have a basic strategy for headlines. Writers generally will suggest one, and then we may revise it based on our internal style. Longer stories are usually edited by one or more editors with our software managing that process and draft system. We use a variety of online tools to communicate throughout this process.
Q. Everyone’s trying to figure out how to make online journalism profitable, or at least sustainable. How does New Raleigh plan to thrive in the coming years?
A. The first thing we are doing is not trying to follow any of the existing models. I do believe in the possibility of a sustainable market-driven model for local news production. I see everyone trying to preserve the old models, and while I would hate to see the N&O die — in many ways they already have, as they have lost so many and so much of what made it great. Others believe in a non-profit or donation-based news format, but to me, this is a Band-Aid for a sliced jugular.
New Raleigh has worked to build a strong audience and the type of information network that can help us inform our audience. As we refine our processes and build new offerings, all of that is in an effort to create something new that can be monetized without sacrificing the traditional tenets of journalism. So while we strive to have the same standards of traditional news, we are also throwing out the costly or inefficient processes that are killing them.
You are going to see New Raleigh grow and adapt as new forms of media evolve. I think you are going to see opportunity in things like these nascent networks like FriendFeed and Google Wave that was previewed a few weeks ago and other new communication like it. Keeping an open mind to new platforms has got to be the key to survival. With the rate of change in information technology accelerating, assuming that things will stay the same is the worst way to survive.
Edit Desk Interview