Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Seattlepi.com - The shape of things to come?

A major daily newspaper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer abandons print for an online-only distribution model.

The new operation will be more than a newspaper online, Steven Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers, said. The so-called "community platform" will feature breaking news, columns from prominent Seattle residents, community databases, photo galleries, 150 citizen bloggers and links to other journalistic outlets.


"The thing that should not be missed here is that the P-I is not going away. The P-I is going online," Oglesby said in an interview. "Nobody is happy about the newspaper going away. That's a sad thing. The editorial voice is still going to be here."

About 20 news gatherers and Web producers will stay on with seattlepi.com, plus another 20 newly hired advertising sales staff. The publisher will stick around through the transition period, but does not expect to be part of the ongoing online operation.
Blogs and photo galleries and "community journalists" are all well and good, but the website does not appear to be taking full advantage of the possibilities of an online distribution model. There are links to local stories, links to AP content, and links to syndicated content. There are TV listings and an entertainment calendar. In other words, the site contains everything you would expect to find on a big-city newspaper website.

Comments are enabled on the stories, but there is no real sense of interactivity communicated on the home page. The site has reader blogs, but they are several clicks away, and when you get there, you are confronted with a list of text links in the left-hand column, and thumbnail pictures of "New Reader" bloggers on the right with titles such as "The Hop Scotch Blog," "The Northwest Frequent Flyer," and "The News Chick." There appear to be literally hundreds of reader blogs under dozens of categories. One hardly knows how to begin sorting through them in any purposeful manner.

There is no original multi-media component. Why isn't there a page dedicated to original web video content with a branded custom flash player? Did nobody think of that? Why not, at the very least, a link to a Seattlepi.com YouTube channel? Did they even consider investing in original web video content?

Strike that. There is a multimedia component, after all.

But in order to find it, you have to hold your cursor over the "Photos" tab underneath the header, and then move it down to "Multimedia." Click "Multimedia," and you get to a page with a left-justified column of thumbnail pictures that link to a series of voice-over photo montages. Some of them are quite compelling, such as this piece from a young man who was a victim of a shooting several years ago. Others, like this one about two girls who went to a P-Diddy concert are less so.

This feature appears to be handled by a web producer who records the voiceovers of the subjects and then edits them together with still photos.

As a user of the site, I would like to see more news content expressed in the video format.

Obviously, Seattlepi.com is something new, and it deserves time to find its voice, but so far it doesn't seem to be reaching very far beyond the boundaries of a traditional newspaper website.

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