Monday, April 14, 2008

Just When I Thought It Couldn't Get Worse

Nearly two years ago the Idaho State Journal introduced blogs to their website. Not blogs in the typical sense of people signing up and then being the master of their own space, but blogs where the powers that be at the Journal would post recent opinion or community pieces and then open the opinions for comments. My guess is they felt that those then commenting on these pieces were in fact bloggers. Chris at unequivocal notion points out the fallacy in this, much more effectively than I ever could, so I will leave this particular point to him. I will add that in my morning discovery of what a mess the Idaho State Journal now is online, they have added a section called the JHub for "blogging" and social networking. Now instead of only posting what the Journal decides worth of "blog post" status, everyday southeastern Idahoans can post whatever they want.

Okay, it has always been a bit of a mess without permanent links and all sorts of organizational issues. The Journal would include an excerpt of an opinion piece in the print edition and would direct the reader to the ISJ blogs, but the directions never told you which blog category (ISU, Community, 116th, Ian Fennel (the editor), or any of the others), so unless you knew exactly which category the piece fit in, you had to hunt. Plus, if you were writing an opinion piece, you could never be certain if it would appear in print or in the blogs. Additionally, there was always a strange search system for obituaries. Maybe it is just me, but when I go looking at the obituaries it isn't because I'm looking for a specific person it is because I want to know who has died. Searching for people I don't even know causes a bit of a hang up!

Today the Idaho State Journal online is nothing like it was a few weeks ago. My first reaction was, okay, maybe they're improving the system. Then I noticed the top stories: "Huge crowd expected for Pope," "Abuse case goes to court," "Obama questions Clinton," "Blanchett gives birth to son," and "Carter visits Israel." The only one of these stories that carries any local interest, albeit minimal, is the FLDS abuse case in Texas. Then I looked to the other top stories hoping it was just the photo montage of the top five stories that wasn't focused on Pocatello or Idaho. Nope, the other stories Kenya gang protests, Spears in a minor accident, and a handful of statewide news pieces (the celebration of Gooding turning 100 and the jury pool for the Duncan trial). The front page isn't so helpful, there has to be hope somewhere, right?

No. The rest of the Journal online is hit or miss. Some Sports information, next to nothing on local sports. Some community links and the ever present 24/7 webcam perched atop the Journal headquarters in Old Town Pocatello, obscured by the rundown, boarded up Kwikee Mart sign.

Back when the revamped the ISJ homepage and added the blog section, they matched the site with the new color scheme of the print edition. It was a nice connection, something the current website lacks (among a list of other things). The website was never perfect and I doubt anybody at the paper would claim it was, but it was so much more helpful than the current site.

Now, for those of you interested you can subscribe to the e-Journal. The options for subscription include a subscription to the print and online edition, print edition only, online edition only, you're in the military and would like a free subscription to the online addition (valid military email address required), if you're an annual EZpay customer they'll give you your log in information immediately, or you can pay by the day ($1 a day or 7 days for $3). The idea of paying by the day to look at the online edition is ridiculous. And why aren't their options for other groups that might want or need the benefit the military receives?

Access to the online edition of the Washington Post is free to anybody who registers. Why can't a local paper do this? If people already have a print subscription to the Journal they aren't going to be looking for it online. If people don't have a print subscription, there is probably a good reason, and they can't justify getting an online subscription to a paper they didn't want in print in the first place. In terms of revenue, I doubt a free online service is going to make or break the paper. If they are worried about revenue, they might think about investing in some staff writers and actual news coverage. Just a thought...

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