WUNC radio reporter Dave DeWitt has a good media story today on how the local newspaper squandered its head start on the Web. WRAL is beating The News & Observer as the area's leading online news site -- in fact, DeWitt reports, "The Triangle is one of the very few places in the country where a local TV website gets more visitors than the website of the largest local newspaper.
DeWitt reports that WRAL is succeeding in large part because online readers want crime, traffic and above all, weather, all of which a TV station -- this one in particular -- does well. It doesn't matter that The N&O actually posts more content throughout the day.
"In the end," DeWitt says, "the power lies with the person who searches for the news they want during their lunch hour or before they leave work to go home. And more and more, that person is choosing a quick check of I-40 traffic over a well told story."
Perhaps. Much of the conventional wisdom about online media regards online audience as a collection of "users" -- people seeking specific information and quick hits, not deep reads, and certainly not narrative.
Frankly, I don't completely buy that, and it's not just because I want to give readers more credit. It's true, we all "use" the Web that way. But people still also want to understand the world, know what's going on in their local communities, and waste time at work. True, a lot of people are content to watch video of snow falling, but many, many people want to read something interesting.
Back to the local news competition: As DeWitt notes, The N&O had an edge in the mid-1990s when it rolled out nando.net. So how did it lose that edge? Well, it didn't help that it got bought by a big newspaper chain in 1995. McClatchy is struggling to catch up now because, like other newspaper companies, it wasn't very forward thinking back when it could have headed competition off at the pass.
It's no coincidence that WRAL remains locally owned by Jim Goodmon's company, Capitol Broadcasting (which also owns Fox 50). Goodmon is willing to put resources behind his stations, and he knows the market better than the corporate owners of his competitors. Remember, WRAL is also beating the other local TV stations that aren't locally owned. Few local network affiliates are in this country, which again has something to do with why the Triangle is a special case.