At last, I can complain about E&P’s website!

By Steve Outing

Throughout much of my nearly 15-year gig as a freelance columnist for Editor & Publisher Online, I’ve cringed at its website. Now that E&P is shutting down (though with some hope of a last-minute save) and my “Stop The Presses!” column has ended its run, I’m free to stop the self-censorship.

Actually, I don’t really need to say that much, since (now former) E&P editor Greg Mitchell acknowledged the obvious in an interview published yesterday:

“At E&P, overly frugal ownership forced the publication to scrape by with an antiquated Web site — even though E&P advocated since the mid-1990s that newspapers and magazines embrace the Internet, or else suffer the consequences.

“‘For four years we were pushing our owners to update our site, and we couldn’t do it,’ Mitchell said. ‘As a result, we have this dinosaur of a Web site. It hasn’t been updated in five years; we can’t do video, you can’t leave comments.'”

Thank you, Greg!

For me, not a month has gone by over the last, oh, 5 years or more that, following publication of my monthly column, I didn’t get reader e-mails complaining about not being able to leave a public comment responding to what I’d written. I often resorted to using this, my personal blog, as the place for E&P readers to leave feedback or have a public discussion.

The worst were my (many) columns advocating that news websites be more interactive and participatory. Readers couldn’t resist the opportunity to point out the irony, though of course they had to do it either in a “letter to the editor” sent to EditorandPublisher.com, or to my personal e-mail address (or sometimes with a phone call).

That said, that’s a hit only on E&P’s penny-pinching overlords, not the E&P staff. My column tenure lasted through several editors before Mitchell, and each faced the same problem. Whenever I repeated my request that comments be added to my column, I got the same frustrated response: We want to do it but we can’t get corporate to allow it!

For me, the ultimate irony — and there’s a lesson here, I think — is that when I switched this blog to the popular WordPress open-source content management system (CMS) years ago, my personal website was in many ways more sophisticated and flexible than E&P’s! If I wanted a new feature, I just found a free WordPress plug-in and added new functionality in a few minutes. E&P’s poor editors had to beg corporate IT for any new features to be added, which either took weeks or months, or never happened (like adding user comments).

Open-source platforms like WordPress, Drupal, and others are now remarkably advanced. You have to wonder why companies like E&P owner Nielsen (and VNU before that) would cripple themselves using a proprietary CMS.

OK, I’ve got that off my chest. I’ll end with high praise for the editorial work of E&P’s staff over the years. E&P was around for 125 years, and deservedly so. I’m proud to have been associated with the E&P brand, and leave with great respect for everyone in the now-shuttered New York City office.

You can still find them on the new (temporary?) blog, E&P In Exile.

Oh, and feel free to leave a comment below. :)

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

12 Responses to "At last, I can complain about E&P’s website!"

  1. Tim Windsor
    Tim Windsor 7 years ago .Reply

    Steve,

    For the entire first part of this post, I kept thinking “Why not WordPress?”

    Then you answered it, sort of.

    But it still doesn’t answer why the E&P site wasn’t rebuilt on WP. The cost would have been minimal and it could have been treated as a barn-raising with many volunteer hands to rebuild it (you know there were enough of us out here who would have helped).

    Tough sell to the corporate overlords, I suppose.

  2. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 7 years ago .Reply

    Tim: E&P’s editors did resort to using Typepad for a couple blogs:
    http://www.fitzandjen.com/
    http://www.eandppub.com/

  3. Randy Cassingham
    Randy Cassingham 7 years ago .Reply

    It is ironic that the industry rag suffered from the same malady that has so afflicted the entire industry. Bold measures are needed when “anyone” can afford a “printing press” to reach the masses, and few rose to the challenge. So while it is ironic, it’s also not surprising that E&P went down with the ship from its own refusal to take bold action.

  4. Tim Windsor
    Tim Windsor 7 years ago .Reply

    Steve,

    The thing that a lot of people miss about WP is that it’s not just a good blog platform. It’s a very flexible and usable CMS overall. Drupal partisans may argue that theirs is better suited to CMS — and they may be right — but I’ve found WP to be surprisingly adept at serving as the primary publishing platform for media sites.

    The difficulty I’ve discovered is in convincing people that something free can be as powerful as something costing $50k or more.

  5. Tim Windsor
    Tim Windsor 7 years ago .Reply

    Randy,

    You nailed it. But really, how different it E&P from so many other newspaper companies where the wake-up cries were ignored or answered with half-measures?

    Sad, really. I hope 2010 is the year of the Hail Mary pass for the newspaper business, but I’m not holding my breath.

  6. Dave Barnes
    Dave Barnes 7 years ago .Reply

    Perfect illustration of how/why the publishing business just does not get it.

  7. Howard Owens
    Howard Owens 7 years ago .Reply

    In a circa 1998 E&P column you referred to me as an “industry pioneer.” That made a couple of cover letters on job applications. I leveraged that “Steve Outing, columnist for E&P once wrote …” a good deal for a while.

    Not really related to your post today, except to look back on E&P.

    A few mentions in E&P did a lot of my career.

  8. Randy Cassingham
    Randy Cassingham 7 years ago .Reply

    Tim, indeed my point is that E&P is really no different from the industry it covered.

    I do think there will be some true standouts in the business who will thrive, but they won’t do that a) by ignoring robust online community building, or b) by only publishing wire copy (read: commodity “news” items). Local stories written by local reporters about local people making a difference to local communities will still sell, even in print.

    And even, if they do it right, to younger generations. Instead, we got “We can reduce costs by dropping the most-wanted features and making the comics even smaller.” Bah!

  9. yelvington
    yelvington 7 years ago .Reply

    It’s not a problem unique to media company management. When it comes to innovation, IT departments (in every industry) tend to be obstructions rather than enablers. This should be understandable; they get little or no credit when things go right and heavy blame when things go wrong, so they become naturally defensive.

    I’ve had operations people tell me we needed to remove popular content because it was generating too much traffic. I’ve had senior engineers tell me Linux (which powers Google) isn’t mature enough for real work, and that MySQL (which runs Adsense) isn’t a real database. Trying to bring shoot-from-the-hip tools and open-source technologies into such an environment can be a difficult, uphill battle.

  10. Randy Cassingham
    Randy Cassingham 7 years ago .Reply

    Good points, Steve Y.

    Such problems are definitely not limited to the nooz biz. If it weren’t for idiots, it would be much harder for the rest of us to compete! :-)

  11. William Mougayar
    William Mougayar 7 years ago .Reply

    Wow… The consumerization of enterprise technologies will eat these last pockets of resistance.
    Although a moot subject, it might have been interesting if you had taken comments on your FriendFeed page.

  12. Online News Design
    Online News Design 7 years ago .Reply

    Media companies find it tough to be innovative while choosing a CMS, because:
    1. The decision is tied to your legacy print CMS and workflow and how your web CMS can be integrated with it.
    2. The task of customizing an open-source CMS like Drupal can prove quite a challenge if the organization does not have a good technology team with expertise in open-source.
    3. Opting for a CMS often involves a technology vision. If an organisation does not have a technology vision, it’s easier to ride piggyback on a proprietary CMS. It can burn a big hole in your pocket, not to talk of flexibility issues, but then….
    4. I’m writing this from a part of the world which is supposed to have an abundant supply of cheap (technology) labour (India) and yet I have seen a lot of media companies here go for proprietary CMSs, the exchange rates notwithstanding!

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