WisBusiness: Milwaukee media panelists disagree about quality of Internet content

By David Wise

A panel of media professionals offered differing views on how technological advancements like the Internet have affected their organizations at a Public Relations Society of America conference Tuesday in Milwaukee.

While most of the panelists offered an optimistic view of new technologies and the Internet, Mark Tatge, Midwest bureau chief and senior writer for Forbes Magazine, was decidedly skeptical.

Tatge described the web as the “wild, wild west of journalism” where people graze instead of read and said that advertisers are moving to the web simply because it’s cheap.

“The web is a sweatshop; it’s a horrible place to work,” Tatge said to laughs from the crowd. “It is the dregs of the media business. You don’t want to be on the web.”

Tatge told the group of about 115 PR professionals to think about where they convey their messages whether that be on the web, in “Cadillac publications” like the Wall Street Journal, Fortune or Forbes, in other publications or through direct mail.

Tatge said that while Forbes has a website, it has taken a more conservative approach.

“There’s a lot of pressure on print magazines to do things in different ways and to meet different needs,” Tatge said. “If anything, Forbes has resisted the pressure.”

Anjuman Ali, online editor and editorial writer for the Wisconsin State Journal, described herself as an “enthusiastic proponent of everything on the web.”

Ali praised the web for its reach, interactivity and the capability it gives the paper to have a two-way conversation with readers.

“If you’re really concerned about how information gets out and you want people to get involved, the web is the place to be,” Ali said.

Ali said the paper has embraced the web and she envisions the Internet moving the organization more towards more of a 24/7 model of reporting.

While she said the paper doesn’t have as many people working on the website as she’d like, she said management has integrated job functions so that “everybody’s job has a web component to it.”

Mark Sabljak, publisher of the The Business Journal Serving Greater Milwaukee, said the Internet has changed the organization from one that operated on a weekly cycle to a 24/7 news business.

In addition to a weekly print publication, the Business Journal now compiles news daily and sends out a afternoon email of 8-12 headlines to subscribers.

“We’re being shaped by the news that happens as it happens and I think our readers, our listeners and our viewers want to know that news as fast as they can,” Sabljak said.

Neil Heinen, Editorial Director for WISC-TV3 and Madison Magazine said many editorial divisions are embracing the Internet by including video and interactive components on their websites.

“From my perspective, every single newspaper in the United States is looking to expand it’s web presence to compete on the Internet as a basic function of their business,” Heinen said. “On the opinion side … editorial writers are looking to lead that transition.”

“There are a frightening number of newspapers that are losing staff on their editorial side but are looking to replace it on the IT side,” Heinen said.

Michael Leland, news director for Wisconsin Public Radio, said the organization is exploring changes to its website, which he said has been described as something that provides a lot of content, but isn’t “terribly dynamic or interactive.”

“It’s a nice place to find things that have already been on the radio, but we’re looking to do more with it,” Leland said.

But resources available to the public station are limited, and this presents an obstacle to what the station can do, he said. The website is currently run by one person, and in order to add another staffer to focus on adding more frequent news updates to the site could require pulling a reporter out of the field.

In addition to the web, satellite radio also presents competition by offering more options for listeners, and the money people pay for subscriptions could potentially pull money away that would have been donated to the station.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there for radio, but there are a lot of things that make us uneasy,” Leland said.

But in order to remain relevant, Leland said the station, at least on the news side, will continue focusing on what he says it does best, covering issues in Wisconsin.

The hour long forum was moderated by former newscaster Mike Gousha and was part of a day-long professional development conference organized by three Wisconsin chapters of the Public Relations Society of America.

Listen to audio of the forum: http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/20070417_PRSAmediapanel.mp3