U-T San Diego runs 2-week-old online story on front page

San Diego Free Press

When Doug Porter read the distinctive lead in a story on today's front page of the U-T San Diego, it sounded so familiar, he thought it had been plagiarized, he writes. But no, it was simply recycled; the paper originally published the story online on June 19. "That’s one way to save money, I guess," Porter wrote.

Here's the unusual lead, written by Steve Schmidt, whose voice mail says he is on vacation until July 9:

"Fresh from the freaky-but-true files: Michele Scott and Andrew E. Kaufman are both writers. Both specialize in thrillers and mysteries. Both are on Amazon best-seller lists. His initials are AK. She often writes under the name A.K. Alexander."

Hieu Phan, an editor with the news organization, explained by email:

As for the time difference between online and print platforms, U-T San Diego believes we are a multimedia company that is online first. So we typically (there can be exceptions) publish stories online when they are ready, then run them in print either on the next day or later.

Two weeks is a long lag, homepage editor Tom Mallory acknowledged by phone, usually it's just a day or two before pieces published online appear in print. But "it's a nice timeless feature, there's no pressing timeliness to it."

Gordon Murray, who designed the front page, concurred. "Sometimes feature stories that are posted online take awhile to appear in print, because news pushes the feature back. There is limited space in the printed newspaper, but not so online," he said by email.

In a larger sense, the gap was a result of a publishing strategy that has been working for the news organization, Mallory said: "Our publication for the newspaper and the Web are not on the same paths."

Instead, reporters and editors work on a story, and "they will publish it to the Web when it's ready, and they will offer it up and schedule it for the newspaper; but we don't view the fact that it already ran online as damaged goods."

U-T San Diego is practicing digital first journalism.

"We've never had a reader complain about this -- that a story appeared on the Web on a Tuesday and in the paper on a Saturday," Mallory said. That may be because the two have separate audiences. "I think if you draw two circles, they intersect a little bit."

Make that three audiences, if you count mobile separately. "We've found it's best to align our iPad app more with the newspaper than the desktop Web," he said. "It's a more 'sit back' experience."

This is not reverse publishing, Mallory said. "Paper to Web is reverse publishing; Web to print is the way God intended it to be."

The story that appears on the bottom of today's front page, "Jamul Writers Discover They're on the Same Page," was first published online June 19. The story is published twice online, once with a July 5 publication date and once with a June 19 date. That's an artifact of the publishing system that separates newspaper stories from Web stories, said homepage editor Tom Mallory by phone.


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