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.