Why does the Chronicle have a website?

First: This is not a rhetorical question.

Second: Yes, I know it’s a little late in the game to be asking this question, considering that the Chronicle has had a website since at least 1996.

I ask the question out of genuine curiosity. I don’t know what’s causing it, but I have been starting to think more strategically lately. I’m the Chronicle’s Web Editor, but I’m not sure I know exactly what the paper wants to do with its online presence.

You could argue that the Chronicle’s website is meant to inform the public, but if that’s all it was for, then why do we sell ads on it? Obviously, making money plays some part in the equation. How big a part? Where is the line between news and ads? How much do we give away, and how much do we try to sell?

Why do we have a website? Is it simply because everybody else has a website? Are we simply following the fad, or do we have a purpose and goals we want to accomplish online?

I’m not sure how many people are reading this blog yet, but I’m still posting this here in the hope of getting your thoughtful feedback. So here’s my challenge to you:

Write your own version of a “mission statement” for the Chronicle’s website. If you don’t like that business jargon, simply explain in a paragraph why the paper’s has a website. Keep in mind that we are both a source of news and a business that needs to justify spending money on things.

How would you strike a balance here? Reply in the comments.

6 Replies to “Why does the Chronicle have a website?”

  1. I think the chronicle website is an opportunity to provide additional information about a story. Things like posting additional photos from events, etc. The updated website is starting to do this already with links to related articles. Also the online version that subscribers have access to is very handy for looking at back issues.

    It's definitely not easy trying to provide a great online resource without hurting the printed edition.

  2. We're trying to add content to the website that supplements the paper whenever we can do it, but sometimes it's hard with all the time constraints and staffing constraints we have. Thanks for noticing.

    I have to wonder how much overlap there is between the people who read the print edition and the ones who read the website. How many do both? Which ones are exclusive to a particular medium?

  3. We're trying to add content to the website that supplements the paper whenever we can do it, but sometimes it's hard with all the time constraints and staffing constraints we have. Thanks for noticing.

    I have to wonder how much overlap there is between the people who read the print edition and the ones who read the website. How many do both? Which ones are exclusive to a particular medium?

  4. Fundamentally, the reason to have a web site is the same as the reason to have a paper in the first place, given that people increasingly use the web for information and entertainment. Matt cites two great advantages of a web site, namely the ease of adding related content and finding older content. Two more would be the possibility of a more interactive connection to readers (hard to get right), and much quicker response to breaking news.

  5. Part of the trouble in defining a newspaper site's role is that you also have to content with the business side of news. If the website doesn't make money, then what's the point of having it? some would ask.

    Our site has to be two things at once. It has to be a source of valuable information for our readers, one that can update and spread information far faster than the print edition. But the site also has be a moneymaker — either through selling ads or by getting more people to subscribe.

    We deal with this balance every day. Answers and long-term strategies are hard to come by.

  6. Ah yes, the money side. There's much more to this than I have time or space for now–not that I claim any expertise at all. But let's just think about the ads you mention. I wonder what the numbers are. Are online ads less effective per reader than dead tree ads, especially when one can potentially click through to an immediate purchase? As readers shift to online, won't their ad susceptibility follow them?

    Which brings up the point that now, if your site analytics are up to snuff, you actually have a lot of data you never had before about what people are interested in, both news-wise and ad-wise. That data, especially as interpreted by experts, may have significant value in itself for all sorts of marketers, as well as others interested in understanding or influencing the public. That's surely something you can sell…

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