It wasn't too long ago that I took an inventory of the quality of public dialogue in Richmond, and in doing so, sprinkled in some cynicism about the role played and limitations imposed by the Palladium-Item in that measuring. A bit later I brought the cynicism up a notch (or, down a rung?) in predicting that their online forum wouldn't bear much fruit. Today I ought to take a moment to congratulate them on their recent efforts and successes in improving the quality of (or at least the opportunities for) public conversation in town, especially around the issues the paper covers. A few of the ways they've done this, if you haven't already noticed:
- Their online forums have been expanded and enlivened significantly beyond the original parenting scope. They seem well organized, appropriately well moderated, and a great place to discuss the particulars of a given article on a given day. I'm sure they've put some staff time and money into making this work, and it's working.
- They've launched a significant offering of weblogs, including the flagship Editor's Blog written by managing editor Rich Jackson. Jackson's blog in particular is full of interesting insights into the newspaper biz at the local and national level, and presents some nice opportunities for discussion about how the news is covered.
- They've increased visibility of their open editorial board meetings. It's something they're clearly proud of, and they've gone out of their way to make sure the public can not only participate, but also has a chance to know in advance what they'll be talking about. This is a significant and welcome departure from how many editorial boards tend to work; I only wish my schedule allowed me to attend more often.
Beyond those items, there are a few nice smaller things they've done recently that I appreciate as a technical person and consumer of online news:
- Adding RSS feeds to their site. If you don't know what that means, or even if you do, you might enjoy my Summersault weblog posting about how content syndication can change your life. I think the P-I feeds are updated a bit later in the day than my own custom ones so I'll stick with them for now, but it's a great step.
- They've added a "P.I. in the A.M." feature on their website, which displays the first sentence of the top stories from the forthcoming online edition. It's a nice way to improve the timeliness of their site, without giving away the farm when it comes to their print edition income.
So, props to the Pal-Item. Newspapers are typically one-way pipes from the publishers to the readership, with a few exceptions. The P-I is trending toward a more bi-directional mode of covering and discussing the issues in our community, and this is a good thing (if a little scary for traditionalists).
I'm sure that all of this isn't by accident - they're smart folks and they know that there are relevance and revenue issues at stake here as the world of print journalism continues to be affected significantly by online publishing. But good for them for embracing it and trying some new things out - I think our community is better for it. And while I'll continue to wish for a little more nuance in their editorial viewpoints and a little more profundity in their news reporting, at least I and all of their readers now have many more opportunities to do so publicly, openly and directly - as it should be.