Interview: Chris Krewson on changes at Philly.com and the Inquirer

Last night, I took an unceremonious break from my self-imposed Romenesko diet.

I had seen a stream of tweets and blog posts and shared links about something that sounded crazy coming out of Philadephia.

The word going around, more or less, was that the Philadelphia Inquirer was going to hold stories back from the Web, Philly.com, until the stories were published in print.

Here’s the memo from Managing Editor Mike Leary, as posted on Romenesko, that started all the action.  It includes this:

“Beginning today, we are adopting an Inquirer first policy for our signature investigative reporting, enterprise, trend stories, news features, and reviews of all sorts. What that means is that we won’t post those stories online until they’re in print.”

And here’s a sampling of reaction, from Jeff Jarvis, Steve Yelvington, and Howard Owens.

My own first thoughts?

“With Mark Potts, Yoni Greenbaum, and this Krewson guy I’ve been talking with on Twitter a bit lately involved, I have a hard time digesting this.  It sounds crazy.”

Cut to today, when Chris Krewson, Executive Editor, Online/News at the Inquirer, sat down for an IM interview with me.

The transcript follows:

Ryan Sholin: So a memo from Inquirer ME Mike Leary got posted on Romenesko yesterday. It seemed, well, kinda crazy to folks like me who watch newspaper and online news trends. Can you clarify what types of stories will be held for print-first publishing?

Chris Krewson: Let me clarify by saying this will be print-Web simultaneous publishing, never really print first.

We’re honestly mostly talking about features stories, restaurant reviews, big-name critics – but (this is an important change) NOT movie reviews, day-after-the-concert movie reviews or things of that nature.

Also, there’s an argument to be made that a major investigative piece will have a much larger potential audience at 6 am — combined with a strong print push — than if that same long, narrative-driven story is posted at 11 pm the previous night.

Since I arrived here in November ’07, we’ve tried hard to figure out how people actually use the paper and the Web site. obviously, that’s for different reasons. And we’re just trying to make sure we’re careful about what we do — roughly 75 percent of that will not change.

The other 25 will be us taking more care, making case-by-case decisions, armed by whatever information we have about how people use our products.

RS: To those of us outside the Philly.com/Inquirer/DailyNews world, it’s a little mysterious as to where the divisions are between newsrooms or web/print — can you elaborate on what the structure is like there? There’s a bit of an us/them current that some folks (Jay Rosen Steve Yelvington in particular) picked up on in that memo from Mike.

CK: I can sure try. But keep in mind that unlike nearly every other place in the country, it’s not one paper, one Web site. There’s the Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com, the site for both.

Philly.com has the Web producers, a separate Editor/VP and an executive producer. None of whom work for me.

Each newspaper has its own online desk; ours is focused on breaking news and special projects.

That brings up a whole host of challenges, but that’s why they hired me. 🙂

RS: So in a case like Daniel Rubin – he’s an Inquirer reporter with a popular blog, if I’ve got my scorecard right here – how might the change affect his blogging? Do you see this as a policy change for all your bloggers? Will they be expected to do a little *less* “beat-blogging” as they build enterprise pieces?

CK: Far from it.

As I tweeted earlier, we’re actively encouraging beat reporters to use their blogs.

This won’t affect Dan Rubin or any other reporter who wants to try out ideas, gather string for stories or columns, crowd-source or anything else.

We are saying, in effect, please don’t self-publish the full draft of your story or column on your blog before it runs in the paper.

And I think it’s in our best interest to know and control when we’re publishing our columns, for all kinds of reasons (some of which are legal).

RS: Have there been problems with columnist/bloggers floating full drafts online?

CK: I wouldn’t characterize them as problems, but it’s something we’re now discouraging.

RS: To jump back to the *types* of stories that are going to be held until morning, if that’s a fair characterization of the change, here’s what’s in the memo: “signature investigative reporting, enterprise, trend stories, news features, and reviews of all sorts…” So, trend stories? News features? What’s the benefit in holding those?

CK: Let’s turn that around. What’s the benefit in posting those in full?

I, for one, have been working in online news long enough to know what moves the needle online.

It doesn’t tend to be trend stories or news features, unless there’s some combination of pro sports, sex scandal or crime involved.

RS: That leads to my next (maybe last) angle on this: What spurred the decision? Is this coming from a revenue-side plea, or a negotiation, or a long series of brainstorming meetings? Was this a quick turn based on events?

CK: I do not know that for sure, having heard internal rumors that I’m loathe to spread because I do not know the truth of them. I do know that we’ve been talking for a while (and again, I’ve been here 8 months) about what makes sense to post, and what doesn’t. I’ve not officially heard of any one “tipping point.” But there was definitely little lead time (read: 2 hours, for me) that the memo was coming.

RS: So if there are “sides” here, and it seems like there are, this was a “news side” decision, and not a “Web side” decision?

CK: That’s a fair characterization.

RS: I think that answers a lot of what’s out there. Philly is obviously getting torn to shreds in the journo-blogosphere right now. Anything you’d like to add, or respond to here?

CK: Well, the beauty of Romenesko is that it gives you a look inside newsrooms at other places, some large and messy.

It’s important to remember that when you’re reading a memo, you’re looking through a pinhole, and maybe not seeing all kinds of things.

And many of those blog posts would have benefited from … more reporting. You, for instance, are the first to contact somebody in the newsroom to comment.

Which, you’ll notice, I’ve done. At length.

So, with that said, thanks to everyone for the interest. You’ll hear more in the days and weeks to come about how it’s going here.

RS: Thanks, Chris.

Thanks to Zac Echola and David Cohn for throwing some quick questions my way in the middle of the interview.

So there’s some insight, if not necessarily all the answers to what’s going on in Philly.  If you have unanswered questions, feel free to ask them here.  I’m sure a few folks involved in the decision will be watching, and hopefully they’ll jump into the thread to answer what’s left out there.

15 Replies to “Interview: Chris Krewson on changes at Philly.com and the Inquirer”

  1. What nerve. This kid actually contacted me for a comment. Via Facebook, of course. Keep it up. Old school, new school – let’s hear it for those who try to break new ground, not just break more wind.

  2. I think Leary has the right idea. We all have this urge to get our stuff onto the Web today. But the dead tree paper — as troubled as it might be — still brings in a lot more ad revenue than the Web version, as in orders of magnitude more money. It’s the organization that collects the news and carries the budget for the news staff. So there should still be some distinction. The Web is great for murders, accidents, disasters, fires, weather stories, traffic, and routine government news stories (the stuff everybody will probably cover anyway). You can get it out first online without doing any real harm. But I think there’s still a case to be made for saving the good stuff for the people who pay for it. You certainly don’t want to tip off the competition (mostly TV and radio today) by posting something important eight hours befor your paying customers get a chance to see it.

  3. @ Mike H: Hmm. If you read the interview, you’ll note that “tipping off the competition” has nothing to do with it. (And it shouldn’t.)

    No one is talking about holding breaking news until morning. The goal in Philly seems to be to run print and Web simultaneously when there’s an investigative/enterprise/feature story, especially if there’s an online element that should be out front on the Web when the paper hits doorsteps.

    So if it’s about differentiation, it’s about coordinated differentiation, not about running things on the Web at a random hour and in print the next morning.

    Part of me guesses that the issue has as much to do with their Web CMS as it does with any sort of high-level strategic decision-making.

  4. Ryan, I’m curious with regard to this: “So if it’s about differentiation, it’s about coordinated differentiation, not about running things on the Web at a random hour and in print the next morning.” What do you think? You’ve spent some time in Philly, or at least talking to people there– do you think this is coordinated differentiation? (personally, I have my doubts, mostly regarding the ‘coordinated’ part.)

    Also, you and I should chat — I’m wrapping up fieldwork for my doctoral dissertation on local news production, and Philadelphia is my case study. Would be great to hear what you’ve been up to.

  5. @ Chris A:

    I haven’t looked into it much further than the conversation with Chris Krewson that you see in this post.

    The “coordinated differentiation” riff is coming from my own experience as a reporter, editor, and trainer: If your “Web-first” strategy is to just put text stories up on the Web before they hit print, you’re not gaining much.

    If, on the other hand, you’re floating ideas in a beatblog and finding sources and developing angles by posting little chunks of news or quotes before your full story hits print, then you’re using the Web as a reporting tool, not just a publishing platform.

    And lastly, if you have multimedia, interactive elements to your story that complement the text, you want those out front when the story hits doorsteps, so when you tell readers to “Go to newspaper.com for more” it’s easy to find, right away.

    What level are they at in Philly? I’d be interested to read your thesis to find out… 😉

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