Q&A - by on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 0:16 - 12 Comments

Q&A: Monica Guzman discusses the new, online-only Seattle Post-Intelligencer

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer announced yesterday that it was ceasing production of the print edition today, but that it was also forming a new team to run an online-only version of the P-I.

It will be a new site, with a new vision. About 20 editorial employees and 20 advertising employees with run this new operation. They will attempt to remake what the P-I is:

We’re going to break a lot of rules that newspaper Web sites stick to, and we are looking everywhere for efficiencies. We don’t feel like we have to cover everything ourselves. We’ll partner for some content; we won’t duplicate what the wire is reporting unless we have something unique to offer; we’ll continue to showcase the great content from our 150 or so reader bloggers and we’ll link offsite to content partners and competitors to create the best mix of news on our front page.

We wanted to ask one of our favorite beatbloggers, Monica Guzman, what these changes would mean for her and the new P-I. Guzman will be staying on at the P-I and keeping her popular blog, The Big Blog. I also asked my network on Twitter what questions they would like to ask.

“The editorial staff will all do everything – write, edit, produce, take pictures … it won’t be your typical newspaper newsroom,” Guzman said.”

Without further ado, here is our extensive Q&A on the new PI.

Q: First, what was it like today for the staff staying with tomorrow being the last day of the print edition?

A: It was hard. It was really hard. Speaking for myself here, there’s something clearly exciting about what we’re about to do, but to look around and see the people, the passion, the talent that won’t be with us as we kick it off was painful.

Q: I realize that the closing of the P-I has been a reality for awhile now, but what was it like today when the news finally came down? What was it like when people found out that print was ceasing but the Web was staying?

A: People had an inkling that the print would cease and Web might stay for more than a week, since news about provisional offers to Web staff broke early. So that wasn’t a shock. What today brought was closure, a deadline, an end to all this swirling uncertainty. I can’t speak for everyone, but once Oglesby made the announcement, my heart started to beat fast and didn’t slow down much for the rest of the day. There was a lot to process. It had been such an emotional roller coaster the last two months, I was sure I was all cried out. But at about 1 p.m., I burst into tears talking to my editor.

The site is exciting, no doubt – but there’s nothing easy about saying goodbye to all these people who have made the P-I so great. I still get nervous talking to some of them ’cause I’m such a small-time rookie runt next to so much talent. Why are they leaving and I’m staying? It doesn’t make sense.

Q: What was it like for those leaving?

A: You’d have to ask them. One person I talked to said she was glad to have some closure, and was on her way to a nearby bar to commiserate with other colleagues.

Q: Are all 20 editorial employees from the P-I and what are their backgrounds?

A: As far as I know, all 20 are from the P-I. A handful are columnists, another handful hard news reporters. A couple were editors. Cartoonist David Horsey is staying on through Hearst, and we have one photographer – Josh Trujillo

Q: This is an online-only operation. Do all these journalists have the necessary Web skills to thrive on the Web?

A: Does anyone have all the necessary Web skills to thrive on the Web? If anything, we come with different specialties, and we’ll learn from each other what we need to become more well-rounded online journalists. I’m pretty excited about being trained on a high-end camera to take high-quality photos.

Q: You mention that you’ll be getting new training. How will your role be changing? Will The Big Blog still exist?

A: The Big Blog will still exist, so my job will resemble what I’m already doing. I can’t say I know how it’s going to change otherwise. This is an experiment, and an evolving one, so I can only guess that my job will change quite a bit, by increments, as it goes along.

Q: Can you give us a vision of what this new, online-only Seattle Post-Intelligencer look like? What’s it new mission will be?

A: For that I have to defer to what its executive producer, Michelle Nicolosi, wrote about it today: http://www.seattlepi.com/business/403794_newseattlepi.com16.html. She puts it really well.

Q: What role will beatblogging play on the new P-I Web site? Will you have more beatbloggers on the new site?

A: Hmmm … good question. I’ve always advocated for more engagement with readers, a fuller use of what the online medium and the blogging format allows – so I hope some of that can happen here.

Q: Will staffers be utilizing social media and two-way communication like you do? Will that be required?

A: My sense is that that’s one of the tools staffers will be able to experiment with. Don’t know what the policy will be regarding use by each staffer.

Q: This brings me to a question that Howard Owens submitted. @howardowens asks do P-I staffers understand that the Web is different? Transferring newspaper journalism to Web won’t work.

A: Good question. I think so. I think a lot of journalists understand that, no matter where they are, more and more. It’s not just about mindset; it’s also about what your organization allows and enables you to do. Since the P-I site is in large part an experiment, innovation and new thinking will, I think, not only be tolerated but encouraged.

Q: I think that answer dovetails nicely with another question from Twitter. @lectroidmarc asks now that you’re not tied to a print product, how will the P-I change its approach to the web?

You’re completely free now that you don’t have the print product. What does this freedom mean?

A: I think the next couple months will be all about answering that question. We’ve never been in that situation, so we can’t know! The hope, I think, is that we take full advantage of that freedom where it serves our readers.

Q: When you go into work tomorrow, will you feel any more free? Will you feel different?

A: You know, I’m not sure it can be that sudden. What happened today hurt. A lot. Even though I knew it was coming. I can’t know for sure, but I’m betting it’s going to be a more complicated process. But I’m a special case; I haven’t written for the paper since June 2007, so I’m not as attached as other reporters. For them, the difference might be more striking.

Q: @mathewi asks what are some of the new things the P-I is planning to do online that are different than existing paper sites?

A: The site will have columns from people in the spotlight – like former mayors, governors, a former police chief, etc. It will also link to content from other news sites probably a lot more than newspaper Web site readers are used to.

Q: This next question from Twitter is one of the big questions: @eyeseast asks how will relationship with readers change? Are staff open to a changing relationship?

You have a chance to make a new bargain with readers. A bargain newspapers weren’t willing to make.

A: Very true. Again, I can’t say for sure what the plan is, ’cause this is new, and I don’t really know. I think it’s becoming more and more clear, though, that that’s one of the things readers want, and one of the things that can help make journalism better – forging a stronger, more engaged relationship with readers, thinking of them as active collaborators, not members of a passive “audience.”

“Are staff open to a changing relationship?” I guess we’ll find out.

Q: @rsylvester asks how will the P-I’s tradition of investigative reporting carry over with a smaller staff?

A: I really don’t know – but that’s a big question. One of the biggest. I have no doubt we’ll do the best work we can. Time will tell how it compares to what the larger P-I did.

Q: @jayrosen_nyu asks will Hearst management be sharing key data of all kinds with staff?

A: That’s something I’ll have to ask myself! I know it’s helped me plenty to see real-time data on my posts, so it’d be a great idea.

Q: I gather that Hearst’s ability to share data will be critical to the new PI. I think you need to know what users and advertisers like. You’re going down an unfamiliar road.

A: Indeed. Here’s hoping for the best!

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  • rjh

    Monica seems nice and all, but all she does is link to other stories, make innocuous comments and ask what people think about it, put it on Twitter, etc. Now she’ll have a small fraction of the previous P-I content to link to. Yes, it’s interactive and gets people posting their opinions, of which there is no shortage. But my God, is this the future of journalism?

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  • Julie

    Who, currently, duplicates wire copy unless they have something new to add? That’s not “breaking” a newspaper rule and it’s certainly not innovation.

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  • http://seattlepi.com/bigblog Monica Guzman

    rjh – “Is this the future of journalism?”

    The future of journalism is what we make it. What I do, which includes original reporting but is also what you say — gathering, moderating and analyzing conversation — can be a complement to what journalists have traditionally done, depending on their beats and the time they can dedicate to talking to readers. It can’t be a substitute.

  • http://virtualjournalist.wordpress.com Anthony Salveggi

    @rjh — There’s a reason why Monica is one of Beatblogging’s favorite bloggers — she’s able to establish a conversational tone that engages local readers with issues or stories they would care about. True, she will have less P-I content to link to, but that will hopefully lead to a greater engagement with the local community and original reporting. And if more readers can offer their knowledge, opinions and concerns, that can indeed lead to better journalism.

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  • http://www.patthorntonfiles.com pat


    Journalism is changing, and Monica is helping to show us how it can change for the better.

    She mixes in original reporting with link journalism and community building. All three of those are vital pillars in the future of journalism.

    If you think just producing content is enough to succeed on your Web, you’re read wrong. The Web is a two-medium, and people want more than someone talking or writing at them.

  • YellerDog

    The first thing they need is a have a good site designer to do a major unclutter job.. Way to much information in too small a space. Too many links in tiny font sizes. You can still make a site look similar to a newspaper the way HuffPo does. A site needs to be laid out so you can intuitively know what’s going on without sorting through a lot of fine print. There are of course many ways to do it. The “West Seattle Blog” is a very simple site that does a good job. I’m sure the P-I needs more than that but they have to get to web 2.0 basics. A newspaper has a certain elegance of design that took hundreds of years to perfect. Just throwing a lot of stuff on a web page doesn’t work any more than it would have on a printed page. Lets start with a “Front Page” to begin with and well defined section tabs rather than trying to put links to everything on the Home Page. Most people understand how to read a newspaper and will get the same concept on line. This is exactly why I was still willing to pay for the paper rather than get the information for free on the web. The P-I paper itself went through several re-designs over the years. Create a nice clean site the evokes the PI brand and user-ship will go way up.

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BeatBlogging.org was a grant-funded journalism project that studied how journalists used social media and other Web tools to improve beat reporting. It ran for about two years, ending in the fall of 2009.

New content is occasionally produced here by the this project's former editor Patrick Thornton. The site is still up and will remain so because many journalists and professors still use and link to the content. BeatBlogging.org offers a fascinating glimpse into the former stages of journalism and social media. Today it's expected that journalists and journalism organization use social media, but just a few years ago that wasn't the case.

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