Today’s news now or yesterday’s news today?

Want to know if your publication is web-first? I have a simple test for your newsroom.

In your daily news meetings, listen for how many times an assignment editor or reporter says, “….we’ll have that for tomorrow.” If this is in reference to anything but an enterprise story from the budget, that’s a bad sign. If it is in regard to any event happening that same day, it’s a very bad sign.

I’ve been on the online side of newspapers for my entire professional career and I’ve seen a lot of culture shifts, but the online deadline of now seems to be the biggest gap to cross. It seems that many reporters and editors are no longer driven by competition to be first with the news. Many don’t think there even IS competition.

With so many newspapers closing up shop in the last five years, many metro newspapers (like the Enquirer) are the only dailies left standing in their cities. In smaller areas, newspapers have enjoyed lifetimes of market domination. With the old school competition gone, some news people have simply taken to early in-office retirement.

Where reporters once raced to get exclusive stories into the next edition before the competing afternoon paper could jump aboard, now they don’t see a good reason to rush when the print deadline is 5 p.m. They ask, “Who are we trying to scoop, anyway?”

As online editor I can only say, “Everybody.”

Just because there’s no other printed daily newspaper in town doesn’t mean there isn’t competition. The Cincinnati Post may be dead and gone, but it doesn’t mean we’re the knight left standing. My paper still has to contend with several TV station websites, a “weekly” business journal reporting daily news online and a robust blogosphere that can (and often do) beat us to the punch.

Putting aside the obvious time implications of true breaking news, let’s look at the day-to-day budget – the press conferences, scheduled events and government meetings. How long after such an event has taken place does it take for your publication to have some sort of news online?

If it is more than an hour before this gets online, you’ve already lost to the competition. If it is leisurely filed at 5 p.m. for the next day’s paper, well, you should probably just pack up your website and head home.

The fact is, it isn’t even just about being first, it is about proving your value in a 24-hour news marketplace.

Readers expect information as soon as something happens. Any gap in time between an event happening and when they read about it from the “paper of record” is time spent looking elsewhere, on Google, Twitter, blogs, TV sites, etc. to find out what’s going on. They aren’t expecting a Pulitizer winner in 20 minutes, just the basics.

How relevant is that write-up of a  late night school board meeting in the day-after-tomorrow’s paper? If we as an industry still exist for the purpose of informing the public, we should re-evaluate our relevance if we can’t even get a basic overview of a government meeting to them within a half hour of its conclusion. For breaking news, the deadline of NOW is even more important.

We as journalists want readers to choose us and, preferably, pay for us – but we need to give them a reason to want it in the first place.

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