Bakersfield: The evolving newspaper

I’m just now reading my December issue of Quill (the SPJ magazine), and there’s an interesting article titled “The Ever Evolving Newspaper.” The story is ostensibly about changes at newspapers, but The Bakersfield Californian is weaved so tightly into the story, it’s really about

Logan Molen, VP of Interactive for TBC, is quoted and paraphrased heavily, and he says many of the things I might have said if I were in his place (emphasis added throughout).

Reprinting some of the Web-first content in the newspaper brings a whole new dimension to news coverage, Molen said, making it lively and conversational.

It also drives readers back and forth between the Web and the newspaper.

“Online, it’s telling people we want them to be part of the conversation and we are giving you these tools to bring you one step closer to the sources. We want you to share in the mission of the site and our products,� Molen said.

At the Bakersfield newspaper, editors decided to get serious about multimedia, even though no money was allotted for additional employees. Editors evaluated the beats and made tough decisions about what to stop covering and created a department-head-level position for the new products. That sent a strong message that Web was going to be a priority, Molen said.

Bakersfield hasn’t done a lot of in-depth multimedia projects that take a lot of time and effort to build. While that work is important, the newspaper is starting with what Molen called low-hanging fruit that is easier to produce, rather than spending two months on something that might get minimal traffic.

Don’t hesitate to swallow your pride when a new feature isn’t working. Rely on the metrics of the Web that show how many readers visited a certain feature. But ask yourself if it was promoted appropriately too, Molen said.

“Is this a true picture of if readers care about this subject?� Molen said. “If you go through all that and nobody is looking, swallow your pride and move on.�

At Bakersfield, new employees are hired to be journalists, not print reporters. They are expected to write Web bulletins and shoot audio and video. They’re also told they may be working on some new technology that is just around the corner.

“We’re telling our journalists that the world is changing and we need to change with our market,� Molen said.

That doesn’t mean that the time and energy spent honing the craft of storytelling is for naught. The newspaper still values the written word.

At Bakersfield, reporters carry $300 Cybershot cameras that capture lo-fi video but is better than you might think, Molen said.

The downside to video is that most stories don’t have video angles.

Logan probably says it all prettier and nicer than I would, but regular readers of this blog will recognize the sentiment. There are enough commenters here and elsewhere who disagree with this approach, but it’s hard to argue against Bakersfield’s success.

I do quibble with Logan on one point: That print isn’t dying. Specifically, there is this:

The features (mobile editions) haven’t brought an increase in print subscribers, but circulation erosion is not nearly as great as it has been at other newspapers, Molen said.

The graph on this page sort of contradicts that claim.

The question is why has TBC’s circ declined so steeply? Is it because of the print redesign, the superior job Bakersfield is doing online, or some local hidden variable?

Logan talks about driving traffic back and forth between print and web, but I don’t think that is possible. If you’ve already read something published web-first, why would you buy the print edition to read it again? I think taking the best of the digital-first copy, especially the UGC, and printing it enhances the value of the print copy to print-preference readers (for as long as we have them), but I don’t think it creates new readers. But that’s just my guess. I don’t yet have any metrics on that.

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