What’s with Business Day and the “internet thing”?

Business Day is a great newspaper and a must-read for me every day. Strong on news, great on opinion and analysis – but boy, when is it going to move into the digital age?

More than three months ago, editor Peter Bruce announced the newspaper’s new online strategy. But nothing has changed: the website remains a mess. Still having Monday’s column by your editor as the headline piece on your opinion and analysis page on Friday is no good. And if you are going to blog, then the least you should do is post from time to time. After promising readers a daily blog, Bruce last posted on December 13, and some other staff writers seemed to have thrown in the towel after just one attempt. What’s more, there is no information about the writers on their blogs, and the blogs are in now way mainstreamed as part of the newspaper’s offering to readers. It is as if someone decided to tack on staff blogs, and then forgot about them. Shoddy.

The main news sections are updated, if at all, with Sapa copy. This is not good enough. I can find Sapa updates on any news website; if Business Day wants to hold my attention it has to offer more value. Add to that a useless search function (try, for example, to find the column in which Bruce announced the new web strategy, using the search function) and it becomes clear the Business Day  is fast heading for irrelevance.

Bruce doesn’t see Business Day’s digital backwardness as a problem: “It doesn’t matter that we’re late on the internet thing,” he said on his blog announcing the paper’s digital intentions. “Our numbers are already big and most news sites do what other news sites do, one way or another, so catching up is easy. What matters, as in print, is content … Wait until Business Day’s writers and reporters climb onto this wagon.” Sure, but how long? The year is 2010.

Will the new focus on the web – if Business Day finally gets there – improve things? I fear not. Details of the strategy are sketchy, but one sentence in Bruce’s blog says it all: “We have finally assembled an independent team of specialists to run our website and, hooray, they report not to me but to management.”

That, with respect, is the craziest possible way to go about it. Experience and research throughout the world have shown that the only way to harness the resources of your existing newsroom to build a seamless news organisation that embraces print, online and mobile platforms (see, for example, Fin24.com), is to have one, integrated, operation from the word go. Otherwise your old print journalists simply decline to board the wagon. You can already see the evidence of this in Business Day’s staff blogs, which have petered out because there is no incentive for print writers to blog. By contrast, Fin24.com’s staff blog with abandon, adding value to their online and print stories. After scanning Business Day’s website in the morning, there is no reason for me to stay with it throughout the day. But I go back to Fin24.com again and again. 

Yes, Mr Bruce, you have lots of devoted readers right now – but unless you do something very soon about your online strategy, you may find that it does matter to be late on the “internet thing”.


4 Responses to What’s with Business Day and the “internet thing”?

  1. Des says:

    HI Robert,
    long time no see – good comments but a few replies are in order.

    There appears to be a gap between social media and real journalism. One’s subjective value systems, as you know,. get people into awful trouble.

    Note the Telegraph website.. with anti-Islamic rants parading as “blogging” and the damage that does to the dispassionate coverage of events. For example, a blogger on this post combines untested allegations with his view on Muslims and terror. Read more of the blogs and suss it out.

    That’s stretching comment into new areas and eventually, one million pound damages.


    Pretty much defamation waiting to happen.

    Anyway, give me a call here – you can see my email – and lets have a chat.

    BTW, the numbers of online users on BDay have gone up 50% in 6 months – so perhaps your idle clicking in anger has helped?

    But things could always be better, it’s not excuse for not have more input from all reporters at the brands here, which is something we’re pushing hard to improve.

    Also, a quick one. I’m perturbed by what is now being bandied around about defining NEWS. It’s become more of a personal diatribe than a carefully weighed up analysis of events, in real time. Take the comments on Business Day’s Blogs for instance. No attempt was made to find out what’s happening, nor analysis the site in any careful way.

    With a real world brand behind us – not just digital – the liabilities incurred by allowing staff to publish blogs is just massive and is being carefully rolled out. Think about it.

    Are your journalists being mentored on this at Rhodes?

    We’re already been subjected to an international case of defamation where the brand itself was targeted rather than our digital competitors mainly because business people regard the brand as weighty – Interesting, no ?

    Call me, maybe some of my subsidy to Rhodes could go towards a conference on freedom of expression vs media law – the digital version.

    Des Latham
    BDFM Online Editor

    • Robert Brand says:

      Hi Des – good to hear from you. I think a conference or discussion on media law and freedom of expression in the digital era would be a great idea. Of course we teach our students some media law – and the law of defamation, for example, applies to blogs as it does to any other media – but there are issues that our media organisations are not thinking about. As you point out, a newspaper like BD can’t just allow people to blog whatever they want, even if it is to the detriment of the brand.
      But there are ways to overcome that. The NYT, for example, has a detailed policy on staff blogs, and the basic rule is: don’t publish on your blog what you wouldn’t want to see published in the newspaper.
      I think SA news organisations are way behind in terms of developing internal policies re blogging and social media.
      I’m going overseas tomorrow but I’ll give you a call when I get back – I’ll be in Jo-burg in March; perhaps we can meet for a chat.

  2. Carina le Grange says:

    Hi Robert, Des,
    Interesting to read what you have to say Robert and then Des’ reply … My first response is however that I have almost always managed to find whatever I’ve been looking for on the BD website.
    Granted, I have not been particularly interested in following their blogs and that is the happening thing. (BUt I might start looking now, thanks to you Robert).
    And in the interests of transparency, my husband works at BD (though not in the online department).
    Fin24 is great, yes – but elsewhere, on News24, although the news may be there promptly, the English is often so convoluted I often wait to read what happened elsewhere. And the poor quality in language use even makes me a doubtful, however unfairly, of the 24.com brand (and it is extremely unfair since the business reporting operations are streets ahead of the news gathering operation.)
    Or is this only my experience (and of some others I know of who try to rely on 24.com)?

    • Robert Brand says:

      Hi Carina – good to hear from you too! This post has put me in touch with all sorts of folks from the past – the power of social media!
      The whole point about digital media is that it is demand-driven – users are able to tailor their news consumption to their liking. That means you don’t have to read blogs if you don’t want to, or you could choose to receive only the news that interests you. I don’t personally think that is altogether a good thing – it takes away much of the experience of news consumption that we old fogies value, but that also gets you to find things you didn’t know you were interested in. Be that as it may, you can’t run the online division of your newspaper as a kind of tacked-on entity, with independent management. It has to be part of the news operation. Newspapers like the New York Times have done it brilliantly.

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