Newspaper Publishing and the World Wide Web
An independent list of U.S. daily newspaper Web sites was compiled during June 1997 by cross-indexing five such lists provided by resources located on the web. These resources were:
Editor and Publisher (http://cpudirect.elpress.com/emedia/),
AJR Newslink (http://www.newslink.org/news.html),
Gebbie Press, Inc.( http://www.gebbieinc.com/dailyint.htm),
Newspapers Online! (http://www.newspapers.com/)
Newspaper Association of America (http://www.naa.org/hotlinks/index.html).
This process yielded a final sample frame of 702 U.S. daily newspapers offering web sites. This list approached the possible universe of subjects. Several newspapers were found to share domain names, indicating an organizational and possible administrative relationship between the sites. The unit of analysis for this study was the newspaper, not the web site; therefore, repeated domain names were allowed as long as investigation revealed some substantial part of the site to be personalized to the specific newspaper. However, in order to correct for chance overrepresentation of these domains, items were alphabetized by URL (i.e., web site address). This preserved the natural weighting of the domains found in the sample frame, while remaining agnostic regarding the substantive question of whether the sites were organizationally or substantially independent. No other weighting or stratification was performed. A systematic, random sample of 302 sites was drawn. The final sample included sites from newspapers located in 48 states and the District of Columbia.
Next, each newspaper was contacted in order to determine who was responsible for overseeing web development for the paper. First, each site was revisited to collect the name and electronic mail address of the subject. Information was collected in this manner from 79 newspapers. If the site failed to provide either a usable name or email address, an electronic mail address was sent to the generic "help" contact listed on the site asking them for the name and email address of the appropriate person. If necessary, this process was modified and repeated to account for mail delivery errors, or to provide further information as requested by newspaper web site staff. Information was collected in this manner for 158 newspapers. Each remaining site was contacted by telephone where the central operator was asked for the name and email address of the appropriate person. In order to avoid introducing researcher bias into the sample, each paper was allowed to define "overseeing web development." Most newspapers provided the name of their "webmaster," although a notable number of newspapers had assigned the position an official organizational title, such as "Director of New Media." At this point, 16 newspapers were disqualified from the study (8 could not be contacted either by email or by phone, 1 was discovered to be a weekly, 4 had no webmaster at the time of the study, and 3 papers claimed to have no online product at all). The final sample was reduced to 285.
A personalized electronic mail message, describing the survey and inviting participation, was sent to the personal mailboxes of each of the subjects. After 7-10 days, each subject was contacted again via email, with an invitation to complete the survey online through a web-based form. Each subject was also offered the opportunity to complete the survey in alternative formats of email, postal mail, or telephone. Two sets of follow up messages were sent via email over the next 4 weeks. Remaining nonrespondents were contacted via telephone and urged to participate. Data collection lasted 2 months, ending October 1997. Surveys from 202 newspapers were returned, yielding an adjusted response rate of 71%.
Online Newspapers: A Portrait of the Landscape
What are newspapers doing with new media? In the years following videotex, the question may have communicated scorn, but a quick visit to any of the link services tracking the explosion in online newspapers makes clear that derision is no longer appropriate. In more recent years, the same question likely reflected a genuine desire to know what this new "World Wide Web" was, and how newspapers could use it. For example, a report prepared by the 1996 New Media committee of the American Society of Newspaper Editors focuses on providing an orientation to the web and outlining a newspaper's options for developing an on-line product. The question also may be an inquiry into technological choices being made by newspapers as they develop their sites. Today that might mean the use of cascading style sheets but changes will come tomorrow, when technological development will bring possibilities we cannot yet imagine. As newspapers and web sites move beyond the honeymoon stage, the question increasingly is likely to turn to core organizational issues, such as management, organizational structure, production procedures, and business models. Indeed, ASNE's 1997-1998 New Media committee chose to focus report on the organizational issue of partnerships between newspapers and non-newspaper institutions.
What are newspapers doing in new media? Existing literature, generally, is a collection of lessons learned and best practices. The study presented here complements these individual portraits by constructing a snapshot view of online web development as it was perceived by a national survey of web developers in the third quarter of 1997. The qualities and characteristics of the web sites themselves were not examined. This paper reports the initial results of the survey; a painting of the new media landscape.
Three initial themes find support in the survey results. Together, the themes make clear that new media within newspapers remains very much an evolutionary process. The organizational traditions of the newspaper business are not carrying over into new media development. A significantly different culture is emerging. While it is beyond the scope of this study to analyze the causes of this situation, there is clear evidence that adaptation, change, and evolution are accepted as basic organizational norms among new media developers.
Theme 1: From the standpoint of web developers, "We're not where we want to be." Contrary to popular perception, a significant percentage of web developers have been with their newspaper organization for several years. While 50% indicated an employment period of 2 years or less, 33% had been with their organization for more than 5 years. In terms of staff, 60% of the sites had 0-1 full-time employees working on the newspaper's web site, and 61% had 0-1 part-time employees working on the site. One respondent remarked,
Given that a web site represents the newspaper to an entire Internet community, this is a remarkable finding. In contrast, approximately 10% of the respondents indicated the greater than 10 people worked full-time on the site. Newspapers generally either had no plans to change the number of staff (46%), or planned to add staff (41%). Newspapers may be unaware of the effects of insufficient staff. A respondent made clear the opportunity cost of this decision:
Supporting a possible increasing acceptance of newspaper presence in new media, none planned to decrease the number of staff.
Very few respondents indicated strong satisfaction with their web site. Over 50% hold that their site needs both to show more technical sophistication and to be more useful to people. Less than that were willing to state they were satisfied with their web site overall.
Theme 2: "We're not sure where we're going."
As one respondent put it, "What we are finding out with our web site is this: everything we think tends to be wrong." Only 40% of the respondents indicated their site was guided by a clear mission statement. While newspapers are typically careful about the direction of the print product, the majority of newspapers are not providing a vision to guide new media development.
Related to mission is role definition. Web development involves editing, publishing, and designing, but developers are divided on whether they perceive themselves as heirs to any of these (Table 2).
Theme 3: "At least we're moving, which is often difficult in our organizations." For developers, the constant in the new media environment is change. Innovation and adaptation are important qualities. Newspaper organizations are not consistent in providing support in this type of environment. While respondents generally perceived their organizations as open to creativity and innovation, web developers generally expressed dissatisfaction with specific internal relationships and availability of resources (Table 3). In addition, 69% of the respondents indicated that there were not sufficient technical resources available for web development (3% provided no resources at all).
Several comments from respondents identified a frustration with procuring support from "management:"
If it doesn't make money, management doesn't really care about it around here. ;-)
In implementing the web site, it was like pulling teeth when it was presented to management. They still live in the dark ages and aren't eager for change and progress.
Senior management is uninvolved in new media development within a substantial number of organizations. Over 40% said that senior news executives were not involved with the newspaper's web site. One-quarter claimed that senior news executives were not aware of the daily content of the web site. On the other end, however, 30% said executives always were aware of daily content, and 21% said executives always were involved.
Conclusion: A New Landscape?
The difficulty faced by new media managers was stated well by one web developer:
- A newspaper web site must reflect the core values of the print product but must succeed as a unique product. Branding must deliver the message to the viewer that this is a product of the print edition but not a mirror . . . Information must be organized logically. And all content must be edited to conform to the standards and values of the newspaper . . . extending the print product's credibility to the on-line product.
The results of this national survey of web developers suggests that new media presents us an ever-moving landscape. For the foreseeable future, the web will be a medium that is in constant change and requiring near-constant adaptation. The rapid pace does little to facilitate reflection or planning, but demands movement and action. Web developers struggle with these demands, yet possess a working vision for what a web site should be.
What are newspapers doing in new media? In the next iteration of this question, newspaper organizations might do well to turn to the question of how well they are providing an environment that matches the unique demands created by the medium. To what extent is management frequently communicating expectations for new media? Has management provided the resources necessary to fulfill those expectations, recognizing that success is improbable without a minimum threshold of technical and human resources? Has management acknowledged and responded to the unique challenges created by the different organizational structures of new media? It may be that the next challenge for newspaper organizations in the area of new media is not to develop products, but to find ways to guide, support, and develop employees who will have responsibility for the newspaper's presence in the new media landscape.
Newspaper Publishing and the World Wide Web
People in the newspaper industry have not agreed on a single term for what happens when a newspaper sets up a site or a "page" on the World Wide Web. We use the broad term "Web site" to refer to the material a newspaper has put on the World Wide Web for the public to view. We're only concerned with newspaper web sites, not web sites in general.
All Results in this survey are reported in % of valid responses, except where noted. Highlighted text did not appear on original survey