Of Web Wonkettes and Tippy the Narcoleptic Squirrel

Posted: December 4, 2013 in Contemporary Commentary
Tags: , , , , ,

While the owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer battled for control of the editorial soul of the paper last month, most news ops covering the conflict missed the bigger story.

They didn’t just bury the lede here. They blew the headline.
Fortunately I have found it and can reproduce it here:

World’s Wobbliest Web Strategy Wounds Would-be Web Wonkette

The big battle in court was between ownership factions, some of whom supported Editor Bill Marimow and others Publisher Bob Hall.   Hall, it was said, moved aggressively on Marimow at the behest of George Norcross, a Democratic South New Jersey boss and businessman.


What was hinted at but never developed much in news stories was the role Norcoss’s daughter may have played in the confrontation.  She runs much of the web operation called Philly.com, a site that draws on editorial content from The Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News, and yet oddly competes with the separate sites run by the paper.

Lexie Norcross is 26 years old, an age that not only does not disqualify her for web czardom and stardom but may actually be a plus.  Web news is after all a young person’s game and she is hardly younger than titans at FaceBook and Twitter.  She could perhaps be the one who forges a great new strategy and solves the riddle of the new business model for newspapers.

She also seems well-intended in life.  One of her profiles says she set out to be a doctor, but detoured and became a critical care technician.

After moving to Philadelphia, Norcross switched gears in her career, volunteering as relocation project coordinator for Interstate General Media, parent company of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com. In that role, she helped lead the company’s move from its Broad Street offices to its current home at Eighth and Market streets. Norcross now fulfills a leadership role at Philly.com, which she considers anopportunity to apply her passion for “raising awareness and continually breaking through the barriers of various social issues, while providing the public useful news, information and diverse opinions.”

We’re not going for snide innuendo here.  She wants to use politics and the media to help people, and most of us who piled into the biz can identify with at least part of that platform.

But now comes the hard part.  How is she doing?

Not so well it would seem.  Or, to give her the benefit of the doubt, the business leaders in general don’t seem to have much of a strategic plan for the web – or at least not one that bears resemblance to the 21st Century.

The web strategy seems to be concentrating on a “free model” at a time when others are finding paid models work better.  Ad rates have cratered and commoditized for free sites while paid sites, or hybrid sites at The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal seem to be working well.

But the company has not really pulled the trigger on paid sites.  Oh, they have them at Inquirer.com and PhiladlephiaDailyNews.com.  But they are not promoted, and more importantly they are not as the Times is “metered” to drive interest with five or ten free stories that entice the reader to digital subscriptions.tippy

The difference between the two sites is striking.
On Inquirer.com today, there’s an insightful story about why the head of the Barnes Foundation is heading to Drexel University, while on Philly.com, Tippy the Fainting Squirrel takes front and center stage.

Tippy, it should be said, is not really a Philadelphia story, just a quick turn of a few paragraphs on a trending You-Tube phenomenon of a narcoleptic squirrel.  The story is designed more to put out hooks on search engines than it is for Philadelphia readers.

The flaw in such a strategy of course is that every other half-baked news organization is as well. The Huffington Post, for example, beat Philly.com to it by a full day and will harvest far more hits than Philly.com.  This means the play really is second and third tranche commodity in terms of value.
What does this gain you?  One of the algorithmic driven ad brokers probably will throw you one of those “Weird Belly Fat Foods” ads at cents on the dollar.  If the strategy were a song it would be Third Rate Romance, Low Rent Rendezvous.

It’s worse this year because in such a commodity game, rates tend to be driven lower and lower as everyone lays out Tippy the Squirrel stories and everyone gets ads that warn of strange foods that cause belly fat.  Only the big link baiters like the Huffington Post and Buzz Feed can make the game work.

The Times, the Wall Street Journal, Atlantic Media and Forbes have created blogs that have the same intent of increasing readership and search engine hits, but they’ve done it in a smarter way with smarter blogs and they are able to command better rates in electronic ads, or at least be treated as first tranche commodity placements.

And they also are able to charge subscriptions.

The company that owns the Inquirer seems to be headed the opposite way.  It’s unfair to blame that all on Lexie Norcross.
On the other hand, the paper circulation of The Inquirer has improved under Marimow’s editorship so ironically, it seems as if Marimow has been good for business.
The web at The Inquirer and its wonkette?  Not so much.

  1. Lois Wark says:

    Lexie, you’ve been Frumped!


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