A lot of legacies over at WHYY are going to be forged with whatever comes out of Newsworks, the online news re-branding and redevelopment initiative from Philadelphia’s NPR affiliate that I first wrote about back in April.
In short, NewsWorks, which had its official launch last Monday, Nov. 15, is WHYY’s new online news brand, serving as home to its existing journalism, in addition to (A) new columns, (B) calls for community contributions and (C) a trial hyperlocal push in northwest Philadelphia.
It’s a big bold swing and at least four years in the making.
Indeed, where Newsworks is a year or two from now will mean a great deal to the entire news ecosystem of Philadelphia, at least. Some of those people who come to mind:
Thoughts on the NewsWorks look
I was invited in on a few NewsWorks advisory board meetings and shared a preview of the website. I made a few suggestions, most of which haven’t necessarily been acted upon.
Of course that could mean lots things, most notably and likely that my suggestions impact things totally outside my knowledge.
Still, here are some thoughts I shared about the look of NewsWorks:
- Functionality: Too many boxes too high. WHYY and Newsworks have tons of content, so you need to help me decide what I should most care about first.
- User experience: What is the immediate call to action for a visitor to the site? The only image slot is the same size as the premium ad buy. There isn’t a dominant image and there are boxes everywhere on that site. Relatedly, there are some cool side pieces here — like their Ben Bucks concept and the Civic Atlas — that are totally buried.
- Content: I certainly don’t need to give any lessons to WHYY about content creation, but how do you picture most visitors getting to that content? By browser? I didn’t see any apparent subscription or data collection efforts. <Buzz question alert> Mobile plans — which help with grant funding? Also, echoing above, there might just be too much content for any user to tolerate
- WHYY chief Bill Marrazzo has been beaten up for taking a big paycheck and so could use a bold success to become the dominant memory of his tenure there, supplementing the construction of a public media wing to their Old City headquarters and a general shift toward being a public media, not public broadcasting, company, aligned with the national shift of NPR.
- WHYY news head Chris Satullo has led this latest iteration of an online journalism push from WHYY. This is meant to be a big cap to career in civic dialogue, a reputation that has received its criticism.
- Metropolis Editor and former Inquirer columnist Tom Ferrick was a part of the consulting and organizing of the concept of a new online journalism initiative when it was first conceived at WHYY back in, at latest, 2006, as I wrote about here. The reputation soured as it slowed. Now how it goes in its new form will surely have Ferrick thinking.
- New Philadelphia Media Network CEO Greg Osberg is pushing to do innovation and online journalism in a new, fresher way at the region’s standard-bearer news operations: Philly.com, the Inquirer and the Daily News. A year ago, he was the only game in town. WHYY is hoping to prove otherwise. (It needs to be pointed out, though, that WHYY’s collected web traffic is still not even in the conversation in terms of audience size, so being a bit higher brow is an obvious target.)
- Whoever the Hell is the Philly region’s Patch.com oversight [I’m told that would be Tim Windsor, formerly of the Baltimore Sun] — Aol’s hyperlocal department ain’t nearly as evil as people want to believe it is, but it does have sites in two of the neighborhoods that WHYY has focused the localized version of NewsWorks. That’ll be portrayed as a showdown between the hyperlocal trials of an existing, local legacy media brand and a media giant.
In a lesser way, former Inquirer political columnist Dick Polman and former Daily News politics senior writer Dave Davies, both of whom were part of an exodus from the dailies to WHYY after Satullo, who is also writing for the product, and Ferrick, will surely be judged for whether the seemingly obvious decision was smart after all.
That’s a lot riding on a website.
It is the biggest splash into the online journalism world of Philadelphia yet, though word is that an even bigger one is looming, foreshadowed at the year’s beginning.
Check out some other thoughts on NewsWorks roll out:
- American University’s J-Lab
- American University’s Center for Social Media
- Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab
- The Clog from Philadelphia CityPaper
- Podcast Interview with Chris Satullo from Philadelphia CityPaper, which you can also listen to below.
- Developer Todd Vachon, who helped build this jawn
[Full Disclosure: I have close relationships with Satullo, Ferrick and others involved with the NewsWorks product.]