The News Ecosystem

Let me start off by saying that analytics are extremely convenient, yet super confusing and unreliable at times. That is definitely one aspect of online projects that I need to learn more about.

Therefore, we are going to discuss the news ecosystem and the ideas and elements that must go into startups in order for them to succeed, an important topic to any journalist entering this new digital age of news and media. With so much competition going on between different news outlets online, it’s hard to gain and keep a readership without understanding the qualities it must have in order to survive. Innovation is key to any news startup. What most outlets fail to do is incorporate all digital elements into their final product, as in they post the same news stories in the same format online as they do in print. What’s so exciting about that?

One unique aspect of the Internet is it’s ability to “interact” with its viewers. Rather than sitting a reading a newspaper at the breakfast table, the reader now has the power to choose what stories they want to read. They can comment and interact with other readers through online forums or comment boxes. They can “like” articles, share them with friends and family, link them to their personal blog or website. The list goes on…and on. Yet, most news startups fail within the first few months of production. As Mark Briggs points out in his book, Entrepreneurial Journalism, they fail to understand the importance of audience engagement, building trust and embracing the diversity of voice.

Again, I’ll point out the problems with the Demopolis Times, the news site of my hometown paper. Let’s just say, it’s struggling. The first thing one notices is the lack of organization. There’s an ad here, an ad there, an ad everywhere. Half of the news stories that are featured don’t even have a photo and half of the links don’t even work. Sidebars and Footers are cluttered. The only thing the site has going for it is that bright blue navigation bar. At least they figured that out, but, the pages it takes you to are even worse than the sites homepage. Then comes the BIG issue. The fact that they don’t produce any new information or attempt to work with other sites. The stories that are published online are the same stories they publish in the paper. Then comes the problem of audience engagement, as Briggs points out. Include links to “what others are reading” or encourage comments and feedback on posts. Ask the writers to start up blogs and include links to those blogs on the site. There are so many advantages (and disadvantages) to producing news online. All it takes is a little hard-work, a lot of time, a couple of trials, and a big ole dose of innovation!



  1. George Daniels · February 12, 2012

    Sarah, from your comments about the Demopolis Times, it sounds like Boone Newspapers might want to bring you on staff as a web editor. Let’s remember that our small, community newspapers are under-staffed and probably ill-equipped to have a stellar web presentation. They are utilizing a “shovelware” approach because that’s all that is do-able with a shoestring staff. Is it realistic to ask an overworked reporter at a small daily (who may also have two or three other roles at the newspaper) To add a blog to his/her responsibilities? What would that blog look like?

    There are some realities at small publications that one has to take into account.

  2. Kristy Shaulis · February 12, 2012

    Great post! I really enjoyed the way you talked about the Demopolis Times. Although my hometown paper might be a little bit bigger, it definitely falls prey to the same problems you pointed out, and I think you offered some great suggestions as to how to improve the conversation that newspaper attempt to engage readers in. Although the “greats” of the newspaper world (The New York Times, the Washington Post, the St. Pete Times) often have the resources to hire people who really understand the web world, the majority of small town newspapers are much more unfamiliar with the web, and so I think that’s one area that is often dealt with in a more misguided, “brute force” way. As we go into the business as part of a new “tech savvy” generation, that’s one thing I hope we can get right. Good job!

  3. Katie Wood · February 13, 2012

    I think you’ve pointed out some serious issues that a lot of small community newspapers face when it comes to online content. The thing is we are learning how and what makes news sites work and how to optimize and track readership. Think about the resource that we are becoming.

    I could totally see you taking the skills that we are learning right now, and post-graduation busting into the Demopolis Times and ‘saving the day,’ in a sense by utilizing your newfound skills to update and upgrade their site into a viable news source.

    Even if that doesn’t happen the fact that you are now able to point out the flaws in a news site, and are able to think about viable ways to improve the site is a skill that will be valuable no matter where you end up post-grad. Which, when you think about is really exciting.

  4. Michelle Darrisaw · February 13, 2012

    Great post Sarah! I totally understand where you’re coming from with the hometown newspaper, at least yours has a website. I think you bring up some interesting points to consider, especially with site design and content. Readers don’t want to read the same news they can get in print, and I don’t think some formats and content work well for the web. Why would I read something online versus something that I can physically touch, fold, and come back to later. Some of the things you bring up fall into the “creative” concept we learned about in Mark Briggs’ book, in terms of advertising. Online news sites should incorporate more digital elements. I think what brings a story to life is packaging and the use of multimedia. Basically, some news sites are struggling to present stories in different ways that users can interact with and read. As you pointed out, it does come down to innovation, site design and navigation, and audience engagement. I think content could be added into that too, but if the content isn’t presented well, then that’s a problem as well. Maybe you could start some hyperlocal site or blog to fill the gap that the Demopolis Times is struggling with.

  5. christicowan · February 13, 2012

    Sarah, great use of tags! You pulled out some of the best key words to get people here to see your post.

    Also, I like your specific example of what The Demopolis Times is not doing and how it could improve its website.

  6. ehilkert · February 14, 2012


    I like how you mentioned The Demopolis Times, especially succinctly summarizing the paper by writing, “let’s just say they are struggling.”

    A certain small-town newspaper in Alabama also a website that seems lacking, although the paper itself has a great reputation. I agree that these sites would benefit from incorporating their audiences more, but I wonder if resources play a major role. We know national newspapers are headed more and more to the online forum, but where are small-town newspapers at? Maybe the dynamics for small-town newspapers forces them to pour all their resources into the physical paper and don’t have much to offer on their websites as a result. At any rate, I agree that small-town newspapers would attract a larger audience with a better online site.

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