That was my message last week when I spoke at the annual meeting of City and Regional Magazines here in this charming city on the banks of the Mississippi River. In fact, many media folks beyond magazine editors are blowing it.
I encountered magazine editors and publishers who bemoaned the state of publishing today. Advertising is down. Circulation remains stagnant. Costs are rising. It's impossible to fully embrace the Web.
Huh? Give me that last one again.
Here's a rundown of their gripes:
Their writers don't want to write exclusively for the Web because it isn't as glamorous as a glossy magazine.
They have a hard time devising easy-to-navigate sites.
Their publishers won't commit funds to the Internet business.
They don't know what kind of content to publish on their sites.
Hogwash. There is no excuse for magazine editors and publishers to be uneasy about the Internet. They talk as if it's some strange, exotic instrument that nobody quite understands.
At the conference, Mary Helen Tibbs, panel moderator and astute editor at the host Memphis magazine, instructed me to give the audience a dose of "tough love."
Here are my eight simple rules to ensure success on the Internet:
Have an attitude
. If you have a good time presenting the content on the Web, your audience will likely enjoy reading and using it.
Make it easy to read
. It doesn't matter how much great stuff you pile on your site if people can't find it, don't know where to look or feel overwhelmed. Readers should be able to navigate your site easily.
. The Web offers you an enormous opportunity to reach and keep readers as long as they feel part of your "Internet experience" (not to be confused with the Jimi Hendrix Experience). On the Internet, a person can read a story, watch a video, listen to an interview and, presumably, work up enough of a reaction to send a comment. Building a of readers and customers is a big step toward success. Interactivity is the magic word.
. Know your audience. These are curious, busy, easily bored people. Don't be afraid to entertain them while you inform them. The Web shouldn't have the tone of the Nuremberg Trials, after all. People like to see creativity and wit. Heck, by now, the public all but demands on the Web. Let them down at your peril. Reading a Web site should not be something akin to doing geometry homework.
Maintain an identity.
Your site should stand for something and reflect the tone of your magazine. If your magazine is sarcastic, your site should be sarcastic. If you intend to come across as highly intellectual on newsstands, do the same on the Web.
Live in real time
. Refresh your front page at least once an hour. Your readers exist in real time and so should your site's most important component -- or else you will look dated and inconsequential.
. Accuracy is key. When you print an error, correct it as quickly as possible and make it clear to readers that you have done so. If a factual error appears in a magazine, it must stay there until an editor can print a correction in the following issue. The Web is more nimble.
. Don't make every single headline the same size or feature the same, endless black-print-on-white-page style. You have an opportunity to look different, as well as to present an alternative style of journalism to your readers.
Again, if you have fun creating a Web site, the readers will have fun. I promise.
What is the best-looking Web site out there?
The coverage of (presumably) the final stages of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign was as subpar as the media's performance throughout her odyssey. I read very little analyis about her end game. Some stories were one-dimensional, asking just a single question: Will Barack Obama pick her to be his running mate? Most journalists were content to stick to the hackneyed formula of playing up her feud with Obama, as if the electorate should somehow be surprised that they competed so ferociously for votes. Rivals for the nomination are supposed to hate each other, make trumped-up charges and sling mud, right? That's politics. But journalists don't have to fall for it.
"Mr. Friedman, the media may have turned against her later, but Hillary Clinton benefited for years from favorable attention that may have been unwarranted. She benefited from the media's two major failures -- failure to question her assumption of inevitability, and failure to question her claim to years of relevant experience. What was the basis of this inevitability, and was it based upon more than the Clintons' hold on the Democratic Party? The super-delegates certainly did not rally to her as she expected; were they looking for reasons to rid themselves of this control? This would have made a compelling story."
-- John W. Hicks
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By Jon Friedman