In 2005 when Andrew Donohue and I took over Voice of San Diego, we settled a lot of issues. We decided, for instance, that we would only cover something if we thought we could do it better or different than anyone else.
That was a core principle that led us to be hyper-focused yet always different. It served us well.
But one of the things we never quite figured out was our rhythm. Were we a daily news system, an hourly one? We took weekends off but some days we published many different interesting stories. Others, we might post just one. And it might have been something we had to rush to get done.
We decided that we would try to produce one good thing every day. A nice idea, but it never really worked out that way. We ended up with a major tension between doing investigative work and trying to get something good posted every single day.
Now, Voice of San Diego is approaching the 10th anniversary of its launch, Feb. 9, 2005. We have decided to shake things up a bit to mark it.
That week, we’re going to re-launch Voice of San Diego. There will be a new website. I know we’ve switched a lot but we finally got a grant and some professional help to fix some deep problems.
Support Independent Journalism Today
Here are 11 suggestions for developing impact, reach and a legacy…
Who is your audience? Your name says it’s everyone who lives within your reach. But no media outlet is all things to all people. It picks an audience and reflects their needs. The UT markets to faith, family, flag and football San Diego. Because of its affiliation with NPR and the likes, KPBS markets its news to liberal minded professional San Diego. City Beat is for the greater North Park area hipster and those who aspire to be. Who is VoSD for?
Start marketing yourselves to your intended audience. Posting an ad that says “We need $25,000 in 24 hours,” is not marketing. Marketing includes figuring out attention getting and sustainable ways of attracting readers, which assumedly leads to more donors. It demonstrates your value. VoSD thinks its product speaks for itself. It doesn’t.
The “conversation” doesn’t work. Just because technology enables reader comments, doesn’t mean you should. VoSD should accept that it’s some form of an online news publication and not a new age platform facilitating democracy. If you do the first one right, the second will follow; plus, editorially pandering to the “conversation” affects how you construct stories, repeat and recast stories and then do stories about reader reaction to stories. You’re talking to yourselves.
Cover the how and why, not the what, when and where. This lays the groundwork for long form journalism, which is non-existent in San Diego and a niche you can fill. It will lead to fewer but more interesting stories. It will attract the kind of engaged reader you crave, make you unique and position you as a clear alternative to other local media.
Start publishing real editorials. VoSD needs an institutional voice, otherwise it’s not a journalism business or brand. Stop hiding your opinions behind sporadic blogs of individual writers. In today’s New York Times media industry reporter David Carr says in a story about disruption in the newspaper business that the “Times will always be bigger than any one individual….” Take his advice and turn VoSD into something more than a mom & pop shop. San Diegans deserve more than just the crassly partisan opinion of the UT framing every debate.
Pick some story categories and stay with them beyond the reporter of the month. It seems that whenever a staffer resigns or is fired, so goes the subject they cover. It also seems some subjects or reporters just disappear; sometimes with comment, other times without. Inconsistency erodes your credibility as a source for information.
Publish a professional product. Stop using the same photographs over and over. Use photographs that relate to the story. Use interesting photographs. Caption every photograph you use. Stop using charts that look like they were made by someone new to Excel. Take down the member photos that have been on your home page for years. Reader submitted opinion pieces are called by four names: commentary, opinion, voices of San Diego and Fix-It. Pick one. Attention to detail brings a level of professionalism that increases your credibility.
Speaking of reader opinion pieces…These were once frequent, now one or two show up every two or three weeks. What happened? And how come few people of any importance publish opinion pieces on your site? Plus, what about the good writers who already write for you? The weekly sports guy disappeared. So did the guy who wrote about the start-up world, and the soccer mom. There are also frequent commenter’s who put across interesting ideas on subjects about which they know plenty. Turn them into contributing writers.
Become a place where local academics aren’t embarrassed to publish. Every week the best print outlets in America publish pieces from scholars, across all disciplines, written in easy to understand English, not academese. Nothing like this exists in SD. Is there really no market in SD for intelligent writing on subjects of local interest?
Give creative writing San Diegans a place to publish their work. Great print media outlets also publish poignant personal pieces written by everyday citizens about their everyday lives. Where does writing like this show up in San Diego, if at all? Give these writers a place to speak.
Make winning a Pulitzer Prize a top priority. There is a prize for an enterprise your size. Wining will be a game changer and give you instant credibility and fame. Getting there will yield stories that attract readers, donors and talented employees. There are winning stories in San Diego. Go after institutions, ideas and individuals that are considered beyond reproach.
Here's my suggestion, hire "@Arizona Bread" to do everything above. As a former resident of A.F.C. I was unaware of the existence of VoSD until seeing it on SanDiegoRadio.org
Seriously, the problem isn't your schedule. You need new, credible contributors, and a focus on relevant news without the repetitive stories on "stories". Is this about VoSD, or you?
@James Weber Trolling me, James? *blush*
I'm hoping that the changes will bring about a greater emphasis on in-depth investigative reporting on what's happening at city hall and the county admin center.
All good except for the failure to say sayonara to our walking cliche, Sara the Liberal. But what the hey--every so often a wannabe 1975 retro-feminist makes me feel nostalgic.
I'm enthused about these changes and look forward to the new approach by a terrific group of journalists.
One of my mentors once told me that I spent too much time working in my business and not enough time working on it.
All the Best on working on VOSD