In doing some research for this transition, I happened across an ethnographic study by Chris Anderson, a journalism doctoral student at Columbia University, on the web production work done at Philly.com, the joint site of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News. Here’s the PDF. It’s about 20-plus pages but well-written. Worth your time.
What Anderson observed in Philly was the work done by “web producers,” something he characterizes as an emerging category of news worker. These web producers take responsibility for various “channels” of the Web site, actively managing the placement of stories over the course of the day. One producer is solely responsible for the home page. In addition to managing the placement of stories, these producers are responsible for aggregating related coverage and links to coverage off-site, creating and managing user-interactives (comment boards, polls), and monitoring web traffic trends. The producer managing the home page can sometimes build and rebuild the layout of the page multiple times in a single hour. The layout of the page depends largely on the news judgment of the producer and also his or her reaction to user behavior (what’s being clicked, where is interactivity taking root?).
This model is very familiar to me. It’s not unlike the role of web producer in Wichita. (This is probably not coincidental, since Philly.com was one of the flagships of Knight Ridder’s semi-centralized Real Cities Network, which included Kansas.com.) I think something very much like this is missing at the Missourian: a team of people whose singular focus is keeping our website fresh and engaging. Creating that role here could be one of the keys to building a more digitally focused production team and a more engaging website.
What do you think?