Tallahassee’s Print-Only Experiment
On Sunday the Tallahassee Democrat will run a story by Jennifer Portman about Wakulla County Sheriff David Harvey, who’s been in office for more than 30 years. Portman’s story draws on months of investigative work, will run at around 120 inches, and be complemented by a number of documents available on tallahassee.com.
But Portman’s actual story won’t appear on the Web site. It will be print-only.
Bob Gabordi, the Democrat’s executive editor, calls that an experiment, one that came out of brainstorming with editors about how to keep the Sunday paper special.
It also takes traffic numbers into account. “We generate a tremendous amount of traffic for a market our size,” Gabordi says, but adds that traditional Sunday takeout stories like Portman’s “get minimal traffic.”
Gabordi may be in for a buffeting from Web-first circles, but he’s no Luddite: He chatted amiably about reactions he’s received in comments on his blog and via email and Facebook, and about the Democrat’s use of Facebook and Twitter. (Tweets from readers who use the #noles hashtag during Saturday’s FSU-USF game will be posted on the Web site’s front page.) And it’s not like tallahassee.com is ignoring Portman’s story: Besides those online documents, Web readers will get an executive summary and a place to discuss the story.
“We’re trying to take advantage of the strength of each of those mediums,” he says.
Gabordi says he’ll be very focused on how customers — both Web and print — react to the experiment, and will be digging into the numbers for Web traffic and single-copy sales. (Though the Seminoles’ game will make measurements difficult.) So far, he says, one Web reader has complained about being taken for granted, while a number of print readers have thanked the Democrat for rewarding them for paying for the newspaper.
“I didn’t realize it was going to get this much attention,” he says, adding that since long-form stories have had limited success, the risk isn’t that great and the experiment is worth trying.
I asked Gabordi if he was worried about Portman’s story not being able to spread online via links and email, and he called that “a fair question — it’s going to require us to do more thinking on that.” (In a follow-up email, he added that he thinks the Democrat is “a very local organization” both digitally and print in terms of news.) Asked if there were plans to put the story online after its appearance in print, he said “that has been the big question here — I’m not certain about that. If we get some calls or requests for it we’ll certainly do it. But I don’t think we will, quite frankly.”
His prediction isn’t just about the lack of traffic for long-form stories. Rather, it’s that he thinks Web readers have different expectations about what they’re going to get from a story, and will be satisfied by what tallahassee.com will offer.
“I believe that in some ways you’ll be as equipped to talk about that story as a print-only reader,” he says, adding that “I really firmly believe [Web and print] are still separate audiences. There’s some overlap, but they’re mainly separate audiences. We’re just trying to find new ways to satisfy each of those audiences’ demands.”