When the New Orleans Times-Picayune announced on May 24 that it was shifting its focus to its Web presence, most American media emphasized the decision to reduce newspaper publications to three days a week. In reporting the decision, most U.S. media again demonstrated a truism: Newspaper publishers persist in believing that newspaper publishing is their business.
The Times-Picayune move aligns with the 2009 decision by Hearst to transform the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to an online-only news source, reflecting technological changes that turn all news reporting into multimedia presentations.
It's ironic that major media companies struggle with concepts that a team of Maui high school journalists understood as soon as they were in charge of their school's newspaper. That was reported on April 30 in The Maui News, after the newswriting class of Kamehameha Schools Maui was recognized for its "Best in State" website in the Hawaii High School Journalism Awards program. A blog post on May 3 remarks on the students' vision that they are providing "news" across a multimedia platform encompassing Twitter, video, a website and a print edition.
The students understood each technological venue for dispensing "news." Twitter offers immediacy for essential information. Video production and website content require but also allow more time for production and editing.
Of all the media venues, print is the last in wrapping up information that journalists post first on digital platforms. The students understood that they are in the business of dispensing information as it becomes available, not on the 12-hour cycle of broadcast news or the 24-hour cycle of newspapers.
Based on their announcement of the changing formula for dispersing news about New Orleans, NOLA Media Group demonstrates a conceptual vision similar to the students who produce "Ka Leo o Na Koa." NOLA Media Group President Ricky Mathews said adjusting the delivery systems recognizes "an increasingly wired New Orleans area audience."
That includes an appreciation of the demands of implementation. The KS-Maui students said that they needed to vary content for the different media platforms. That requires planning and time. A reporter on the scene of an event produces a Tweet for the Twitter connections, following up with a story for website posting, a video production, and eventually an even more detailed story for print.
NOLA Media Group redesigned its website to reflect the same processes although it's not clear that the new home page is geared to maintain priority presence for major news stories as they occur. Still, the Times-Picayune already had established links to readers on social media venues Twitter and Facebook, with staff updates providing immediacy that a segment of the readership demands.
Possibly more important for the business of being an information resource, nola.com includes advertising options for local New Orleans' businesses, including a business directory and a "find 'n save" section that amounts to a virtual shopping mall - identifying and providing links to businesses for residents and visitors.
As most news media producers are recognizing, an online presence has a potential to expand the readership base, which in turn expands the potential consumer base for businesses. New Orleans attracted 8.3 million visitors in 2010, according to a New Orleans University survey. More than half were repeat visitors, individuals who might be familiar enough with the city to turn to its main newspaper for current information on elements from weather to crime to traffic, along with the attractions, events and dining recommendations. Nola.com provides more immediate information than a visitor would find on the New Orleans Visitors and Convention Bureau site.
In contrast, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser set up a paywall effectively blocking out potential visitors from turning to the newspaper website for information about the Islands. It's still stuck with the idea it's a newspaper.
* Edwin Tanji is a former city editor of The Maui News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. "Haku Mo'olelo," "writing stories," is about stories that are being written or have been written. It appears every Friday.