If, week after week, you make your living committing words to paper and trying to get that paper in front of dozens of people with other things to do, you get irritated at all this Internet talk. Internet this. Internet that. How vexatious.
Actually, the news for the news industry has been deflating. Newspaper circulations are declining. (Not ours, thank goodness. It's growing.) Reading is out of fashion. Young people, who ought to be growing into newspaper readers, are on the cell phone, or texting. Or they're iPod-ing, or laptopping, or MySpacing. Or they are skateboarding or hip-hopping or coloring their hair, or getting a tan, or fretting over Brangelina or Jennivaughn (just a guess). They don't read, we're told.
Newspapers are consolidating right and left, which means there are fewer of us. Worse, former newspapers are becoming media conglomerates, which ultimately leads them into the arms of cable or broadcast TV, and thence into inconsequence. Even the supermarket tabs profess to be cleaning themselves up a bit: more celebrity news, more Britney, fewer extraterrestrials. Plus, there's Matt Drudge and the blogosphere, whose practitioners now appear, some of them, on Meet the Press. What would Lawrence Spivak think?
Some of this is happening clandestinely, and I don't mean identity theft or internet worms. I mean kids, like dogs, now have cell phone rings that they can hear, but adults can't. It wasn't bad enough that when we could hear the kid's cell ringing, we couldn't understand what the rap singer who performed the ring tone tune was saying (although we knew we didn't like it), but now we don't even know when the phone rings. Either we're drifting away, or the kids are, but the result is the same. A widening gulf, as the diplomats say. Globally we're all about inclusivity; at home, we're all about estrangement.
And then there are those consultants. Authoritative studies find that every 1.5 seconds somewhere in these United States, some consultant is telling some newspaper executive that newspapers will be obsolete in five years. Better get with the web, these geniuses say.
We haven't had the benefit of consultants, but we're trying the web on for size nevertheless. Since the latest edition of mvtimes.com was born in January, web editor Amy Simcik Williams and webmaster Rick Mello have been building, building. And re-building. And adding to. And scheming over the development of new features. The Times site now has two different formats to deliver the news, there are reader forums, there's a web cam, there's a kind of rotating Rotogravure. I can't count the ways we're trying to make the visitor's experience of mvtimes.com pleasant, informative, illuminating, and amusing.
The theory is that The Times web site ought to be all that The Times print edition is, but it also ought to have a web identity of its own. After all, delivering the news is hardly all that web technology makes possible.
Last week, nearly 60,000 visitors knocked at mvtimes.com, and among them they looked at more than 180,000 pages. That's a lot of web activity, and we're happy about it. So, now we're raising the bar. This morning, the site's newest feature is an auction. Rick Wiley, our web marketeer, is the inspiration for this new functionality, which is what web types call these things. (Actually, it's an interactive functionality.) Visit, sign up, and bid for gift certificates from more than 30 businesses, including restaurants, retailers, and lots of others. You can get a $50 value for, well, who knows. It depends on the other bidders.
We think businesses, advertisers, visitors, bidders, even the shy, retiring sorts who watch the excitement but can't bring themselves to risk a bid - everyone will enjoy the MVTimes Auction feature.
Real surveys of New Englanders reveal that, despite news industry anxiety, 92 percent of those surveyed had read a local daily or weekly newspaper within the past week. Our data says that lots more visited the web site too.
Seventy-nine percent, according to the survey, spent a half hour or more reading their newspaper (as, indeed, all of you should do), and 71 percent say they will return to their paper to check on something or look for something they missed at least once after the first read. Community newspaper readers have a hankering for the news, information and entertainment that their local newspapers offer, whether they have their cravings satisfied in print or online. And if it includes some fun, excitement, an auction, and a chance to save some money when you dine out, what's wrong with that?