Calame, Exiting As ‘NYT’ Public Editor, Raises Questions About Web

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By: E&P Staff

In his farewell column on Sunday as public editor for The New York Times — Clark Hoyt takes his place — Byron C. Calame thanked a lot of people and pointed out some of the good measures taken by the paper. He also raised a variety questions about the paper’s future on and with the Web.

Here is an excerpt. The entire column can be found at www.nytimes.com.
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How The Times deals with two major strategic challenges will determine the quality of the news readers get in the years ahead. The challenges, which also face most other newspapers, are lagging advertising revenue and the transition to the Web.

Generating the revenue to pay for the news staff needed to maintain The Times?s high quality is the most serious challenge. With advertising revenue from the print paper weakening in recent years, the hope was that growing revenue from advertising on the Web site would pick up the slack. Unfortunately, as The Times reported April 20, the paper has ?decided to reduce its 2007 guidance for Internet revenue growth, suggesting that the transition from a print advertising model may be a long time coming.?

The transition of the newsroom?s center of gravity to the Web, crucial to the future of The Times, is making notable progress. But the steady push to completely integrate its print and online news operations to support the rapidly expanding Web site raises questions about what will constitute top-quality journalism in the online world of deadlines every minute. A pilot project under way in the business section seeks to truly integrate the print and online operations on a 24/7 basis. In a vital step forward and a distinct plus for Web readers, the pilot tests the idea of making the editor of a core news department of the print paper responsible for the coverage online as well.

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The Times?s effort to do more with the same size news staff, and do it 24 hours a day, requires workload decisions that can affect quality, especially in editing.

Editing lapses, among both the so-called backfield editors who shepherd and shape stories and the copy editors who pore over articles detail by detail, have been a recurring theme in my columns. Often the problem was that, even on non-deadline stories, editors didn?t have enough time to spot problems and ask questions. A major part of the paper?s ?Reinventing the Newsroom? pilot project involves getting reporters to file stories throughout the day for more rapid posting on the Web. In theory, spreading out the flow of stories that used to arrive right at the evening print deadline could give editors more time to make articles better. I worry, however, that the combination of having to update stories appearing on the Web and continued financial pressure to maintain current staffing numbers could leave both the quality and the theory bruised.

Doing more with the same size staff of reporters also has implications for the quality of the reporting. Times reporters are now being trained and pushed to quickly prepare video and audio supplements to their articles for the Web version of the paper. With the expanding commitment to get stories online as soon as they are good enough to post, The Times will have to work very hard to keep the time pressure from eroding the quality of either the stories or the supplements.

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