Saturday, February 21, 2009

Newspapers continue to underwhelm; even locally owned newspapers are leaving readers frustrated

I used to work at The Daily Oklahoman, a family-owned newspaper in Oklahoma City. And it seemed to enjoy somewhat of a rise in quality as chain newspapers faltered in content and subscribers.

But a note from a former colleague, Tony Williams, who now lives in Texas, shows even locally owned newspapers such as The Oklahoman are cutting corners when it comes to best serving the readers.

All this means is that the days of newspapers are coming to an end, not necessarily The Oklahoman, but with many others we believed would be around forever. You can't keep cheating the readers and expect them to just continue buying your product. And advertisers are going to seek cheaper, more immediate ways to reach their consumers.

Even the great New York Times is sinking financially. The big news in the coming two years will be the disappearance of a lot of newspapers, and the people of this nation will go on just fine without them.

Here are Williams' comments:

Except for its appearance, which is not bad, the Oklahoman website is just a mess. A total mess.

Slow, mistakes, errors, typos, terrible search engine ... TERRIBLE. Photos with no captions.

The speed of this website would fit right in with the old dial-up service. Never have I encountered a newspaper site, large or small, this slow.

Everytime I check the top headlines, one is invariably OU or OSU sports. That's a TOP headline? Baloney.

Some stories not only don't have any meat to them, many don't have even gristle. Three or four paragraphs stories often leaving you wondering the how or why of the story.

Ed Kelley ought to be ashamed of this. It looks like they don't edit it or even care about it.

In his defense with the simple truth, Kelley, the top editor, does not control the website. It is run by an entirely separate division. He has no say with it.

Within the newsroom, Kelley would make changes to improve content, but as in many newsrooms, there are political checks and balances that the only the people in the executive suites can finally resolve.

So far, they have chosen not to.

Kelley is a good leader, good man and brilliant. If allowed to do as he wants, The Oklahoman would improve substantially from its position now.

CJR did a hit piece on the newspaper earlier this decade, calling the paper the worst in America. That was most unfair and untrue. And I did not particiate in the piece nor knew it was being written.

If you want to look for the worst paper in America, come to The Tennessean in Nashville.

The best prospect for The Oklahoman's future is its capacity to improve and address any complaint. The largest obstacle is the people at the very top who just need to make the commitment and give Kelley the power to kick some butts and replace some dead-wood managers with go-getters who believe in the web and serving the readers first.

And that will bring in more profits than the people in the suites can imagine.

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