Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Can Katich Save The News-Press?

So now that he is no longer "associate editor" what will Scott Steepleton's role be at the Santa Barbara News-Press?

Well, he won't be a mere "reporter." I've learned that Steepleton will retain his position of City Editor, which is what he did in addition to his role as Associate Editor.

Neither Steepleton, or his wife Charlotte Boechler, who works in the features section of the paper, were at work on Monday.

Late on Monday afternoon I was passing by the bagel shop located in the Mesa Shopping Center. I grabbed a News-Press that had been left behind in the shop and looked at the masthead on page two. Indeed Scott Steepleton's name had been removed. It listed Don Katich as "Director of News Operations."

A little over four months since he was hired by the News-Press to "integrate news gathering operations for all of the Ampersand media platforms," Katich has now been placed in full charge of the paper's newsroom.

One can only wonder whether the plan by Wendy and Arthur was to ease Steepleton out all along. Although he was the top editor of the paper until this weekend, in the two-plus years he held that post, they never gave him a title which would indicate that he was the captain of the ship. Instead Steepleton was always saddled with the modifier "associate" in front of the title, editor.

Katich has a tough job ahead of him. From what I've heard, he possesses all of the personal skills needed to succeed. The real question is whether Wendy will let him.

The newspapers that survive these difficult times will do so by striking the right balance between a web presence and a print edition. But all of the evidence indicates that Wendy is unwilling to commit to succeeding in the Internet age.

What does it take for a newspaper to leverage the Internet in order to survive?

1. Trust. Take this example. (And this is only offered as an example of what is possible.) On Sunday I attended the press conference at the Doubletree where the SBIFF announced the winning films. I had my laptop with me and the room was equipped with WiFi. Those of you who follow me on Twitter were alerted on your computers or your cell phones as to who the winners were moments after they were announced. Before I left the room, I updated my blog with a complete list of winners. All within 15 minutes of the conclusion of the announcements.

The News-Press didn't carry the story on its website until the next day. The same day it appeared in the paper.

A News-Press reporter could have easily done the same thing that I did. They could have posted a story directly to the paper's website from that room. No editors, just post directly to the web. But that means that McCaw would have to trust the reporter who was assigned to report the story. And trust has been a scarce commodity around the News-Press for sometime now.

In the Internet age, news is not something that a newspaper can gather, hold hostage until the next time the sun rises and then release it only to those willing to part with the 50 cents necessary to purchase the paper.

The big papers are posting stories to the web as they are filed.

2. A willingness to partner. Not only do I Twitter, but so does the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal, just to name a few of the larger organizations.

Here locally, the News-Press is the only news outlet that I can think of that doesn't allow links to its stories to be posted on Edhat. That's where more and more people in this town who keep up with the news go to find the news.

The point is, news organizations are constantly looking for outlets, other than their own websites, to promote themselves and to reach new readers.

By all appearances Wendy prefers to go it alone.

3. Control. Of course control is what the News-Press soap opera is really all about. McCaw had one of the best editors in the business in Jerry Roberts, but she refused to leave him alone and let him do his job. There's no evidence that Steepleton was left alone to run things as he saw fit either. Will the situation be any different with Katich in charge of the newsroom?

I doubt it. McCaw would rather be at the helm when she rams her ship into an iceberg rather than hire a skilled captain to navigate a stormy sea.

* * *

Almost exactly one year after The Daily Sound laid off a number of its columnists (including yours truly) the paper announced it was eliminating its Monday edition.

Publisher Jeramy Gordon wrote that the decision not to publish a Monday paper was one of several options they considered to cuts costs.

Back in May of 2007, Gordon told me that the day of the week with the highest readership was Wednesday. So my guess is that Monday was chosen as the day to go dark because it had the least readership, or may have been the hardest day to sell to advertisers.

Of course, the Daily Sound isn't the only newspaper looking for ways to cuts costs. You've probably already heard that the LA Times is laying off another round of employees and is eliminating its California section as a separate section for local news.