Digital First

As I write this, it's February 2011 — almost exactly a year after John Paton became our CEO and gave us our new motto, Digital First.
It's hard to believe it was ever any other way.
It's even harder to believe that other newspaper companies aren't doing the same.

The past
As an example, let's say a reporter gets a tip on a really good story. He does his reporting and puts together the story, perhaps interviewing a city official and some other folks for it. He turns in the story and goes home for the day. The story begins making its way through the editing process, eventually getting laid out on the page, sent down to the presses and by the time a reader sees the story, it's after picking up the newspaper off his or her driveway the next morning.
Meanwhile, the city official gets a phone call from a TV station reporter on a totally different story. While chatting, the official mentions that reporter X from that pesky local newspaper is running a hot story about such-and-such. The TV station reporter gets the story and it goes live on the 10 p.m. broadcast.
By the time the newspaper reporter's story is read by the subscriber the next morning, it's already old news. Sure, maybe he broke the story, but not really. Not after TV heard about it and scooped him while his story was waiting on presses to run and deliveries to be made.

The reporter gets a tip on a really good story. He posts something to Facebook: "Hey, I heard this huge festival is moving out of town. Anyone else heard this?"
Then he sends out a Tweet. "Is the biggest festival moving out of town? What do you know?"
He gets feedback. Some readers lend opinions ("I hope not, it'd be horrible for our city to lose such a great festival," Tweets a reader), some social network-savvy officials confirm the rumor. He makes calls to get more information.
Now that he's got confirmation (and some opinions and commentary) he writes up a first draft of the story and publishes it online — all before noon.
He holds himself to the same standard of reporting, finishes his story for the print product as he always would have, except, instead of just turning it in and walking out the door, he turns it in and gives a heads-up to the staffer handling the web.
"This needs an editor to read and then go ahead and post," he says.
The full story is published to the website before 5 p.m.

Is the story still going to be old news by the time it arrives on the doorstep the next morning? Sure. But it always was and it has been that way for many years.

The difference is, there's no deadlines or broadcasts to hold us back or scoop stories out from under us. We have immediacy with the Internet and we're using it.

It's not just about posting stories to our website either. Think about Twitter. When our court reporter Tweets a verdict in the mere seconds after it's been announced, that's not just digital first, but it's FIRST, period. It just amazes me that other media outlets, especially those with greater resources, haven't caught on to that.

There's so many facets to digital first that make us better at journalism, period. We're engaging our readers more through social networks, we're breaking more news, we're offering more news, we're offering live coverage, etc. We're still putting out a print product; we're just not acting like it's the only thing we know how to do. And clearly, we can do a whole lot more than just publish a newspaper.

Digital first is the standard we hold ourselves to. It's crazy to think others are still tossing around that phrase like it's some eccentric theory worth talking about, but not worthy as an action plan. In my mind, it's the only action plan that can give media organizations a chance at surviving and succeeding in this digital era.