Reinventing the Newsroom

Tallahassee’s Print-Only Experiment

Posted in Digital Experiments, Long-Form Journalism by reinventingthenewsroom on September 25, 2009

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

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 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 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.”

10 Responses

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  1. Chris Clonts said, on September 25, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    To not run it online because “Sunday traffic is bad” is to ignore the other six days of the week.

    Why not put it up Friday and build buzz when folks in cubicles are still visiting the site? Or have it be the centerpiece on Monday, when folks are coming back from the weekend?

    There is no rule or reason that the content must run concurrently in each medium, especially if, as Gabordi agrees, they’re two different audiences.

    And it won’t increase or reduce sales of print. And it’s really difficult, if not impossible, to measure the impact of the anecdotal “readers feel ‘rewarded’ for supporting print”.

  2. Stacey Singer said, on September 25, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    Interesting. Can’t wait to see how this experiment works.
    Maybe it goes up on the web AFTER it wins a big award? Maybe this is the entree to paid content.

  3. Stephen said, on September 25, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    Brilliant. Put it online Monday, or Wednesday. Let it be talked about for a day or two, then play it big online and let people read it again. Or for the first time if they heard about it from someone who saw it in print.

    They are totally different mediums, with an overlapping audience. Finally, someone living in reality. Print is not dead, and people expect different things out of print and online. It’s about time someone tried to give each audience something a little different. This isn’t Salon – it’s a local newspaper.

    It’s not about rewarding anybody. It’s about respecting your audience(s) and giving them a reason to pay attention to ALL of your products.

  4. DODLY said, on September 26, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    i really like your blog its very nice information.

  5. TwittLink - Your headlines on Twitter said, on September 26, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    […] Tallahassee’s Print-Only Experiment « Reinventing the Newsroom […]

  6. Perry Gaskill said, on September 27, 2009 at 3:03 am

    Good for Gabordi. Right or wrong, he sounds like an editor who can wrap his head around the issues instead of: A) standing like like a deer in the headlights waiting to be roadkill on the information highway, or B) wandering around the newsroom mumbling, “Money. Must…have…money…”

  7. print | Happypixel said, on September 27, 2009 at 11:49 am

    […] by Happypixel on September 27th, 2009 at 06:36pm Tallahassee’s print-Only Experiment « Reinventing the Newsroom Gabordi says he’ll be very focused on how customers %26mdash; both Web and print %26mdash; […]

  8. […] An Update on Tallahassee Posted in Digital Experiments, Long-Form Journalism by reinventingthenewsroom on September 30, 2009 On Friday I wrote about the Tallahassee Democrat’s experiment in making its investigative story about Wakulla County’s sheriff a print-only feature, supplemented by online areas where readers could get a summary of the story, discuss it and read supporting documents. (See the original post here.) […]

  9. Michael Andersen said, on October 16, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    My employer, a family-owned suburban daily (35k) outside Portland, Ore., has been doing this once a day for most of the year. We don’t put the articles on the Web after they run; they just vanish.

    Selection of the “print only” story seems to be based on whichever story most strikes our top editor’s interest that day. This often means that it’s an article with broad, rather than narrow, interest — the reverse of the WSJ’s standard of keeping niche-y content behind the pay wall.

    The system drives some of us reporters crazy, because our stories have less impact and sources often assume they didn’t run at all. Reporters who think this whole Internet business is a bad idea like it.

    Circulation losses have only accelerated, but of course there’s no way to know what effect, if any, our experiment has had on circulation.

  10. […] spoke with Bob Gabordi, the Democrat’s executive editor, back in September, and found him to be thoughtful about his craft and his business. And every experiment in paid […]

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