Re. the P-I's online plan

by Eli Sanders, Slog/The Stranger

While I work on a longer print story about plans for a new, online-only P-I, a few more thoughts about what I've heard and what I'm now seeing.

Yesterday I pointed to an unusual, high-profile example of outside link aggregation on the P-I's homepage: a headline that, if one clicked on it, went straight to the West Seattle Blog (with "West Seattle Blog reports..." in the P-I's sub-head). This was followed by still more outside link aggregation. Go to the P-I's homepage right now and you'll find links to Lifehacker.com, King5.com, and even Slog.

What's currently happening on the P-I homepage fits with what I'm hearing: the online-only P-I, as it is currently being conceived over on Elliott Avenue, will be, in part, an aggregator.

As Josh in the comments says, this is "a big deal." Another commenter offered a one-word summation of the transformation: "PI HuffPo."

They're right. It's hard to overstate how big a change this represents. For a daily newspaper to abandon its belief that important local news should be conveyed first through its own trusted reporters, and its own trusted reporters only, is a tremendous shift. It fits with something else that's been becoming more clear lately: Hearst wants to hold on to the P-I brand, and the online traffic that comes with it, but it is ready to jettison a lot of old notions about what makes a journalistic enterprise.

More on this in next week's Stranger, but I think we are beginning to see that, despite statements to the contrary, there is indeed a pretty interesting and considered plan for the online-only P-I. Look at the top half of the P-I homepage right now. It's a mix of reported news, photo galleries, celebrity and fashion items, a curated set of links to other blogs, and some prominent links to some of the P-I's own popular blogs. This is, indeed, the HuffingtonPost model. It wasn't as clear until the P-I flipped the switch on its outside link aggregation. But it is now.

What's the aim? My guess is it can be answered in one word: traffic. The online P-I already draws a considerable number of eyeballs, but if it can become a sticky portal through which people enter the online universe of Northwest news and opinion (in the way that Huffington Post is a sticky portal into the online world of liberal news and opinion) then it has a chance to draw even more eyeballs.

In other words, by un-mooring itself from the idea that its own content is king, the new online P-I is going to try to float to the top of Northwest link heap. Sure, readers may begin at the new P-I web site and quickly end up at Lifehacker or West Seattle Blog or Slog. But if enough readers choose to always begin there, the P-I could return, in an online way, to the nice role that traditional newspapers used to enjoy: powerful gatekeeper.

article originally published at http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2009/02/21/re_the_p_i_s_online_plan.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey