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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Can't we all just get along?



The previous two posts to this blog asked the questions, will the cloud save journalism, and is old (traditional) media dead?

I’d like to expand on this discussion by recounting the experience of a friend of mine who joined the San Francisco Chronicle a few years back to head up the “traditional” newspaper’s new online department, dubbed www.sfgate.com.

At first, she describes, “everything went well.” The traditional print side of the business didn’t fully respect, nor fear, the upstart online editors and reporters, so they simply went about their business as usual.

But soon, the online part of the paper started scooping the print-version of the Chronicle on important local stories by virtue of being able to distribute the stories electronically, i.e., instantaneously. Suddenly, the stories that would have been fresh and exciting in the morning paper were old news.

And, because some of these young, hungry online reporters were willing to get out of the office and actually talk to people, they were coming up with stories on their own that were being missed by the print version.

“Soon, our daily editorial meetings were becoming very contentious,” my friend told me. Rather than working together to provide a comprehensive view of the news – immediate and top level via online and more thorough but a little later in the print version – the two sides of the organization were locked in a ferocious battle.

“The print guys still owned the bulk of the advertising dollars,” my friend said, “so we (the online team) were always playing second fiddle.”

After a couple of years of doing this tiresome dance my friend had had enough and decided to strike out on her own.

“I knew that there was a market for an online paper in San Francisco, so I decided to start one of my own,” she told me.

Using her own money, she started the fledgling www.sfappeal.com online paper focused exclusively on local stories. “It was a lot easier than I thought,” she said.

She hired a few reporters and paid them by the stories they wrote. There weren’t any printing or distribution costs because she set up the entire operation in the cloud. She pays only a few dollars a day to have her entire enterprise housed on computers, as she puts it, “somewhere out there.” And the online ads she sells cover her costs and allow her to stash away a little for herself.

She went on to tell me she doesn’t have physical office space because she’s found that when people don’t have to go into the office they find their way onto the streets where the news is being made. As a result she gets better content and is now getting 700,000 unique visits to her site every month.

This is not to suggest that traditional newspapers, or magazines, are completely obsolete.

The way we look at it here at 3Point is akin to a pebble in a pond. The initial pebble, in this case the story in traditional media, often makes a small splash, but the ripples it causes, the tweets, the blog posts, and the online news stories expand out to cover a great distance.

Slowly these two forms of communication are finding a comfortable working relationship and will together serve to keep us apprised of the important events that occur around us each and every day.

That’s why, as Jim put it yesterday, “we believe in the intersection of traditional media and new media.”

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