Thursday, January 25, 2007

Webifying the LA Times

Blogger Patterico has some wise advice for the Los Angeles Times about how to improve its Web presence. The Times announced yesterday it will make the Web the primary means of delivering news.

Better late than never, I suppose.

A full 10 years ago, I asked the editors of the mazagine I then worked for, Computer Retail Week, whether we should be writing for the Web first. I never got a definitive answer, as they were struggling with that question themselves. But that was understandable a decade ago. It's a wonder the LAT held out this long before making a Web-first commitment.

Patterico urges the Times to go far beyond just getting stories on the Web quickly. He wants to see the Times make much broader use of Web technology, by posting relevant documents mentioned in a story and ---- painful as this may be ---- open up all the stories to comments and trackbacks.

He writes:

I know, I know. You’re worried about opening the floodgates. What about spam? What about idiots, nincompoops, trolls, racist commenters, and the like?

Welcome to the Internet.

You’ll have to devote some people to controlling that stuff. The L.A. Times web site is a big operation, with something like 40 times the number of unique visitors per month as my site, and something like 300 times the number of page views I get. If you open all of that up to comments and trackbacks, you’re looking at a lotta spam. I understand.

But if you want interactivity, that’s the price you pay.

Precisely. If the Times is serious about interactivity, it requires people to manage it. Idiot savant Michael Kinsley botched the experiment when he was running the editorial pages. He didn't put enough resources into monitoring Web comments, which were posted without moderation. And then he got in a snit because antisocial types began posting goatses. That's something any experienced Web hand could have told him would happen. Sadly, that debacle confirmed the misgivings of anti-Internet fossils at the Times.

If the Times is really clueful, it will also heed Patterico's plea to make the site fully compatible with his and other mobile devices:

Oh yeah . . . by the way, guys: can you finally fix the site so I can read all the articles on my Treo? I mean, there’s no reason for you to care about me– but I guarantee you that I’m not the only person with this issue.

Given all the corporate turmoil the Times is going through -- including the menacing prospect of being acquired by Rupert Murdoch -- I wonder if the Times' executives can keep their focus on this project.

I wish the LAT all successs in its Internet project.

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