Newspaper websites are wasting money by failing to automate online production tasks even as they face pressure to cut staff.
This was the charge levelled last week by US web editor Tom Rouillard at City University’s NetMedia 2001 Conference.
Rouillard, interactive news director at the McClatchy Company’s Nando Media division, said too many journalists had become "web monkeys" who did little but transfer print newspapers to the web.
They spent too much time coding in HTML and assigning page templates, leaving themselves little time to work on new ideas.
"I have heard horror stories about operations with 2,000 HTML templates for one website and others that have thousands of web pages that need to be updated by hand," he said.
Many website staff lived in fear of redundancies or had already been laid off and they could not hope to improve their sites while struggling simply to put the paper online.
"If your employees are working on trivial technical tasks rather than working on things that really count, then you need to change that. No newspaper would survive if it spent 80 to 90 per cent of its resources to print the product. Don’t forget – we’re journalists first and web geeks second," Rouillard said.
Chairing the NetMedia session, Guardian Unlimited editor-in-chief Emily Bell said that her company employed 20 to 30 "web monkeys" to update its website overnight with newspaper copy. Many of these were City University students who were not paid well, she added.
Bell said The Guardian had decided early on not to automate the transfer of newspaper copy to the website because it would lead to a loss of flexibility.
Meanwhile, Rouillard said that McClatchy, the eighth-largest newspaper company in the US, made its limited internet budget go further by centralising its web operations at its Nando Media subsidiary.
Nando, which produces its own news and sports websites, also provides website hosting, internet publishing software and rolling web news to the company’s 11 daily newspapers.
Nando cuts corporate deals for weather reports and e-mail services. It will make special sections for major news stories, such as elections or sporting events, available to newspaper websites across the company.
By Guy Campos