An Unsparing Look By The Los Angeles Times On How Lousy Its Web Strategy Is

Posted by: Jon Fine on January 29, 2007

I actually like the Los Angeles Times, but I admit I haven’t given a whole lot of thought to its Web site.

An internal committee has, though, and unlike most internal committees, they are decidedly unsparing in their assessment. Mediabistro’s FishbowlLA (once and future disclaimer: my wife is mediabistro’s founder-CEO) has said committee’s lengthy, self-flaggelating exegesis here.

Some excerpts:

The website’s own research demonstrates that latimes.com is virtually invisible in greater Los Angeles.
By some measures, the site is losing traction even faster than the newspaper. Latimes.com reports that traffic is growing and has reached 5.1 million unique visitors and 73 million total page views per month. But ComScore Media Metrix, an independent traffic monitor that uses an array of indicators, says overall traffic to the site dropped 9% in September, compared with the same month a year earlier.
Visits to nytimes.com were up 10%, at Yahoo News 15%, at AOL News 11%. Overall, traffic to news sites grew an average of 4%, according to ComScore.

(…)

The home page is visually unappealing and difficult to navigate. Search results are often off-target, and the site fundamentally fails to meet the needs of visitors. Consequently, time spent at latimes.com — a key measure of traffic quality — is dropping rapidly and is now among the lowest of all news sites. As measured by ComScore, the average length of a visit to the website — 11.9 minutes — is less than half what it is at Yahoo News or nytimes.com and one-third what it is at CNN.com or MSNBC.
How can this be? Why does one of the nation’s leading newspapers have such a feeble online presence?

(…)

On the Web, if you are not first in posting a story, you don’t exist. We are rarely first. One recent morning, a hay truck caught fire on the Hollywood Freeway and sent thick black smoke billowing into the sky. Trapped commuters who saw only the plume thought it might have been the work of terrorists. Nothing appeared on our website throughout the day. In fact, we told our readers nothing of the incident until the following morning.

You get the idea.

Somehow, though, I doubt this is a good time to ask for funding from Tribune.

Reader Comments

Eric Buskirk

February 10, 2007 4:00 PM

Jon. This and your "Media's New Masters" article are spot on. What do you think about newspapers adopting an outsourced model? For decades, banks, airlines and many other major industries have been successfully outsourced functions while newspapers have remained insular - always running all operational aspects in house. Or newspaper parent groups have attempted to create outsourcing models, but results have been lackluster at best. Knight Ridder Digital was a spectacular failure. Intrinsically, centralizing operations at a parent are incompatible as it makes trading publications among media companies difficult.

I ask this because over the last five years my company has developed an outsourced model exclusively for newspapers: hosted web services, a syndicated network (through the Arizona and California Newspaper Associations) and business processing outsourcing from our entity in China. This allows newspapers to focus on serving their community with local news and local advertising while we focus on keeping costs in line while implementing features that increase Internet traffic and transactions.

Mark Metz

February 26, 2007 9:34 AM

Newspapers need to get it in gear quickly if they are going to be relevant at all. Yahoo, Craigslist and Google Local are penetrating their core functions from the top down. Local sites heavy on UGC, such as ours, are coming at the papers from the bottom up. The one unique thing that papers arguably have, local news, even hyper-local news, is just a loss leader supported by listings and display ads. You can run, however, a very profitable local content operation without a lick of news. When you decouple those ad revenue sources from the news operations, which the web is doing, the future of newspapers is bleak indeed.

Disturbing_the_Universe@hotmail.com

July 27, 2007 11:31 AM

Eric,

Newspapers has been outsourced. If you are interested, I will get back to you with more information.

Thanks.

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The media world continues to shapeshift as new forms arise and old assumptions erode. On this blog, Bloomberg Businessweek will provide sharp analysis and timely reports on the transformation of this constantly changing terrain.

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