More narrowcasting, please
We had an interesting discussion at work today. Last week editors asked all the print edition features reporters to write some feedback on the paper’s features sections. One reporter questioned whether one online-only editorial feature should be produced for ajc.com, since it is for a special-interest audience rather than a general one. (To avoid naming names or making this a particularistic case, I won’t give further details of who made the comment or what this online-only feature is.)
One of my online producer colleagues knew why this reporter’s concern was unnecessary. We produce that feature for the Web site because we can, she said, and she’s exactly right. In print that feature of specific interest would have to compete for limited newsprint with others of general interest, but with the Web’s unlimited space, we can run it and serve a dedicated audience, even if that audience is only a small fraction of site visitors. In other words, the Web’s lack of overt space limitations is not only — as I also believe — a tool for greater depth. It is a tool for “narrowcasting” to the people who care about a special topic.
These observations about the Web are as unoriginal someone suggesting to an old media publisher that it would be most cost-efficient to print content on both sides of a sheet of newsprint. But if there is such online opportunity for customization and narrowcasting, why do many news sites — including the one I work for — have a broadcast mentality? Our features pages are loaded with celebrities and our front page is loaded with weird news, two things that consistently generate a lot of pageviews. As my boss’s boss correctly points out, television programming is designed to appeal to the widest possible audience because ratings are what matter in that medium. I am not going to deny that the broadcast mentality works online, and it certainly is the easiest online content for news organizations in the “mass” media to produce, but one of the main strengths of the Web is a way to publish to smaller and more dedicated audiences. Learning how to do that may be a difficult transition for traditional mass media organizations to make.