Thursday, April 17, 2008
So I did that bit about the Review-Journal from my conversation with my former boss Sherman Frederick, the publisher, the other day. And after that, I received an email from Frederick that raised precisely two specific concerns:
1. I had misheard him when he said that folks at the paper thought the newspaper's site is "sick." Turns out, he had said "thick." Honest mistake, I apologized and changed the post immediately. It's nice that on the Web we can make these fixes so easily. I'm still waiting for the paper to fix the misspelling of my name in a column by the late Rod Smith from all the way back in 2005, and I wrote to every editor I knew over there at the time.
2. Frederick took issue with how I examined the R-J site's web traffic because I went to Alexa.Com and compared their traffic at ReviewJournal.com to LasVegasSun.Com to investigate his assertion that (a) his site gets more hits and (b) the Sun's site, despite its expensive redesign, has lost viewership. The figures I found completely backed him up and I said so.
But Frederick complained today on his own blog anyway, insisting I had looked at the wrong set of stats for the R-J's site and that I should have been looking at the combined total of www.lvrj.com and www.ReviewJournal.com. He said there's no duplicated traffic between them. I didn't address this matter yet on this blog -- Sherm moaned I'd let it go a whole 12 hours! -- because (a) breaking news and other deadlines have had me a little busy and (b) it didn't seem urgent since the point Frederick was making was made even with the approach I took. It wasn't like anyone was out there with the impression that the R-J site was less popular than the Sun's from what I'd written.
That said, I also wanted to hear an explanation from Frederick's online guy Al Gibes as to how it can be that there's no unduplicated hits when going to ReviewJournal.Com delivers you to LVRJ.Com. Granted, I suppose I should've used lvrj.com as the comparison site since that's the one with the larger hit count, but I used reviewjournal.com because that's the site they put in their advertising and the domain they use for their email addresses. It was not an unreasonable -- and certainly not a "sloppy" -- choice.
Anyway, Gibes wrote me this morning. Here's his answer, and I'd appreciate it if smarter online minds than mine offered a thought or two on whether it sounds right:
A quick note about the unduplicated traffic at lvrj.com and reviewjournal.com... We're in the final stages of moving the hosting of our site from our own servers to those of a vendor host, so some of the content resides on the lvrj.com domain, while some resides on reviewjournal.com. You'll see the redirect -- which is not counted as a page view -- to the lvrj (vendor) site in most circumstances. This will eventually go away, once we complete the migration of all the content from our own servers. Actually, the address bar will again reflect reviewjournal.com when that happens. If you pay attention to the address bar now, you'll see all the daily and breaking content, along with many other parts of the site, are being served by lvrj.com.
We also have parts of our site hosted with other vendors. These areas include the classified vertical categories of Homes, Jobs and Autos. While these pages look and feel like lvrj.com pages, they are actually hosted by a third-party. We roll all the traffic up into a monthly page view total, which has shown steady growth in the past 12 months. March 2008 was a record month, with more than 26.2 million page views on the reviewjournal.com site (all pages branded this way, regardless of host).
We subscribe to several independent, third-party analytic reporting services for advertising and competitive reasons. These include Media Audit, Scarborough and Hitwise. We are able to roll-up our content into a single view for statistical purposes. These sources all show the reviewjournal site as the leading local Web site by a wide margin, and the gap continues to grow.
Regardless of any of this, Frederick's point is taken. Except that the reason why combining the totals matters so much is because then the R-J's traffic is -- and this is a point of pride in the legendary Frederick v Greenspun blood feud -- larger even than Greenspun-owned Vegas.Com. Frederick specifically referenced that feat in an email to me. Here below is the 6-month comparison from Alexa of all four:
The odd thing is, Frederick blasted me as "sloppy" and referenced "a slew of errors." But in his e-mail to me, he wrote: "I take issue with the characterization of other things in your blog, but they go less to accuracy and more to your opinion and bias and as such you are welcome to them."
That's gracious, but more importantly, he himself has said that whatever other disputes he had with the posting, they weren't about inaccuracies so much as perspective. Yet because I was busy AND awaiting more information, they grew into a "slew."
And one more thing. Go read my original post. (And, Sherm, if you're gonna pick on someone else's posting, it's customary to link to what you're talking about so your readers can weigh your comments with all the information before them.)
Frederick goes on a rant near the end of his post suggesting that I asserted in the original post that the "only reason the R-J is bigger is because we were here first and we just, well, lucked into it. That's a sloppy analysis bordering on intellectual dishonesty."
I didn't say that. The paper is larger for a number of reasons, most of which occurred a long, long time ago. By the time I got here in 1996, the Sun was already a hapless and shrinking afternoon newspaper in a world that wasn't kind to afternoon newspapers. There must have been a lot of shrewd journalistic and business decisions that led to that circumstance, I have no doubt.
But I worked at the R-J for three years. I've many friends there. I've worked for and with many other newspapers and magazines in my career. And there does appear to be a distinct lack of grander ambition at the R-J versus almost any other publication I've ever known. Sometimes some really brilliant work is done and I've praised much of it in this blog and elsewhere.
Yet the prevailing sense is that it is the largest, it doesn't need to do much at this stage to remain so and so it often does not. The ricin story is an interesting example. After it first broke, the paper largely used wire-service stories for several days. One could say that that's because they judged that their resources could be better focused on the Hep-C drama, and surely that was the more significant public-health issue. But the paper ought to be large and nimble enough to tackle more than one major national story at a time. Right?
Indeed, staffing is indicative of the priorities. I can't know for sure, but my impression is that the number of staff writers on the city desk is about the same as it was when I was there a decade ago. Meanwhile, the city has grown like a weed. The reason why the paper's staff hasn't kept up with it is because it doesn't have to; it's expensive to add people and what's the point when the paper is already providing such robust profits and has such mild competition?
This is a fair and interesting debate to have. But it's an aside. The point here is that the only "sloppy" error I made in my post was mishearing a word.
Still, I must give Frederick some credit. He's starting to catch on with this Internet thing! His post was full of hyperbole! Welcome, sir!