Friday, October 19, 2007

Is The RCJ Shooting Themselves In The Foot?

The Rapid City Journal has made some major changes to their online presence to the joy of some and the scorn of others. Unlike when the other major rag in South Dakota, the Argus Leader, underwent a similar transformation, I actually like the new look and format though other than a few new graphics and a color change, the underpinnings are not that different. Finding items is much easier with the new menu setup though what you can't find is what is causing most of the problems, at least with some.
As a commenter pointed out, I read the typos and tribulations blog and found out what was up. Why couldn’t find the local columnists and the Letters to the Editor? Because they removed them, and they aren’t coming back anytime soon.

What the heck is the idiot editor thinking?
I thought a lot about this including reading the Rapid City Journal's response to the "Opinion Page" criticism over on their Typos and tribulations blog
a) Letters to the editor are products (and byproducts) of the print edition. Have an issue with the something you’ve read in the Journal? Write a letter and we’ll print it in the Journal. If you have an issue with something on the Web site, you can post a Rapid Reply or discuss your concerns on our blogs. Two different venues for readers’ opinions.

b) At this time, we cannot ‘turn off’ the Rapid Reply function on certain stories on our Web site. And we don’t believe it’s appropriate that Web site readers can post anonymous comments blasting our letterwriters by name, letterwriters who at least had the courage to put their real names to their opinion.
Lord knows traditional print media is going through major changes with the advent of online news sources and as the New York Times has discovered, charging for some of their online content hasn't been too successful. So what are some traditional dead tree outlets doing? As is the case with the RCJ, they are only teasing readers with their online content by leaving out some of the more popular features from the web.

I find their public excuse about the anonymous comments to be a bit over the top as there are many ways to combat that issue without having to resort to leaving the opinion pages off the web, sort of like cutting off the nose to spite the face, so why don't they just come out and say their real reason? The opinion pages are what many online readers enjoy, the regular news that is posted online for the most part can be found just about anywhere as it is a mixture of AP wire reports and news covered by other sources so they believe that leaving out the opinion section will boost the readership of their "dead tree" edition.

While that may help in a somewhat small way (how many local readers can you gain from an area with under 75,000 people?), you will end up losing some readership from those living out of the area that like to keep up with the happenings around Rapid City from all around the country and in turn you could end up loosing online advertising revenue. Will that make a big difference? I have no idea and I am sure the powers that be over at the RCJ will be watching closely and will tweak their content accordingly.

It will surely affect my readership of their paper, I had them on my daily morning read through my RSS reader and while I will still have some of their feeds in my reader, the lack of opinion columns will affect how much attention I pay to it as most of the news is covered elsewhere and considering I live East River, the off line version isn't an option. That is too bad as the editorial board from the RCJ had just started making a name for themselves with some of their recent columns especially in regards to the Hildebrand-Tewes embezzlement scandal involving Chad Schuldt and they were the only local media outlet that had the cajones to question the silence that was coming from the Tim Johnson camp during his recovery.

So now we have examples of 3 different online models. KELO TV puts even more content online including video from their newscasts than you would normally find broadcast over the air, the Argus Leader that is pretty much a carbon copy of the dead tree edition, and now the Rapid City Journal which aims to tease you with their online presence in an attempt to get you to buy the hard copy version. Is one of these models better than the other? I guess we can watch these 3 and find out because as MySiouxFalls.com found out, being a media company in the internet age isn't the easiest and if you don't give your readership what they want, there are thousands of other choices out there that will.

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