August 29, 2009

Eric Suesz; with help like this, who needs enemies?

As you know, I've been following the collapse of the Sun-Sentinel, and peering into the feedback from rabidly unhappy readers of the paper.

One complaint got "Buried." And that made me look at it:

This topic was buried on 08/25/09
Buried because: This topic was started by someone using multiple accounts in our system to harass employees, which is against our community guidelines.
And the complaint?

By the way, the original title of this complaint was "second hand news." It was changed by Eric Suesz, and employee of GetSatisfied. About twenty minutes later, he buried the topic.

Here's his immediate response to the user posting the complaint:

This isn't the first time that Suesz has responed to this unhappy Sentinel reader:

Brilliant, Mr. Suesz; the Sun-Sentinel is bleeding readers, and you're telling one reader who cares enough to use your feedback system to kiss off. Hey, why fix the problems so people will stop complaining when you can simply tell them to go away?

At least the Sentinel staffer actually addressed the complaint:

This is where I got involved:
clj replied 5 days ago
If everyone "aggregates," we end up without any news. I don't need to the Sentinel to "aggregate" stories from the Herald or the Post, because I already read those papers. And while it is true that they do include the occasional Sentinel story, the Sun-Sentinel uses more of their content by a very large margin.

You won't survive this way. And frankly, if you can't provide your own content, you don't deserve to.
And Eric did for me what he wouldn't do for Unsatisfied: he responded to the actual complaint:
Eric Suesz replied 5 days ago
clj: This is indeed the challenge that most newspapers face. It's compounded by the fact that newspaper readers more and more prefer to get their news online. And, they don't feel like paying for it anymore. It's a huge struggle. In addition, most readers say they want more local coverage, yet their actual reading habits often run contrary to that.

Some people think the answer may lie in community sourcing the local news. I'm not sure where you live, but where I live there are blogs popping up that are written by my neighbors (even though I don't know them), and they only write about what's going on in my neighborhood, and perhaps the surrounding neighborhoods. Would you agree that this would be a great thing to aggregate? I think it would. That kind of content is perfect for newspaper Web sites to collect and present as "news."

So, perhaps the answer isn't that aggregating stories is bad, but that aggregating relevant stories is the key to success. Just my opinion as a former newspaperman.
So here's my response to Eric Suesz of GetSatisfied, in response to his comment on behalf of the Sun-Sentinel: I'm having to post it here, because apparently once a comment is buried, you can't comment on it any further.
The fact that I'm concerned about the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel should be a small clue as to where I live. A good reporter should be able to take such not-so-subtle clues and make some good deductions.

If I wanted to aggregate my neighbors' blogs, I'd use Google to choose the blogs that I feel do the best job. In fact, I have done exactly that for years. Like most people who follow the news, I also aggregate the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post's news (hey, former newsboy, can you figure out where I live yet?) So when the Sun-Sentinel runs those same stories a day later, of course I'm not even mildly happy about it. No one is. And we're NEVER going to be.

Nobody needs the Sentinel to aggregate local news. I need the Sentinel to find the facts behind the news - something that most bloggers can't do. I want professional writers using their training, specialized tools; and exclsuive database access to bring me what my neighbors can't; ACCURACY. I need them to find out what the Herald and Post missed; because they WILL miss something. Good journalism is driven, like everything else, by competition. If the papers aren't competing with each other to get the best version of the story, then we, the readers, are not getting the entire story. We're probably not getting half of it.

I need the Sun-Sentinel to do its job. And it is failing miserably at that. Sure, the others are also falling down on the job, but they are not pushing as much content from the Sentinel as the Sentinel is from both of its "competitors." It's obvious; management isn't even pretending that they're still in the news business.

And neighborhood blogs? Oh, the blogger next door can tell me that a car was broken into around the corner. But they can't tell me if the guy was caught, or if police catch the guy a couple of weeks later. They can only tell me what they see. And that leads to another point: eyewitness testimony is the worst kind; eyes are notoriously easy to fool.

Journalists, in theory, are trained to be objective. That blogger who rails against the city may be able to inform me that sewers are being dug up, but he's likely to skew the story to suit his opinions. We should not rely on bloggers for news. And for someone working for a newspaper - even in an advisory capacity - to state otherwise, only illustrates how poorly advised newspapers have become. If YOU are who the Sentinel is listening to, no wonder it's in the toilet.

As for blaming the readers: "they don't feel like paying for it anymore" - well, that's another incidence of ignorance paraded as wisdom.

The fact is that readers have never paid for news. Oh, sure, they bought papers. But that wasn't what paid for the news. Advertising paid for that, not the cover price. Ads have paid for the real costs of the paper since Ben Franklin posed as a Puritan widow to write advice to the lovelorn. And if you don't know that, then you never learned much about the business.

And do you know what else advertising pays for? Internet websites.

The problem isn't that people don't want to pay to read the online stories, the problem is that a lot of idiots think that's the problem, so they ignore the actual problem, which is the quality of the content, and the ease of access to it.

Early on, the troglodytes running newspapers thought that only their subscribers should be able to read news online. Or that at the very least, they ought to block non-subscriber's access for a couple of days. Their mistake? The belief that they are the only available place to get news. The mistake still being made by you and the Sun-Sentinel.

Those first few years shaped internet users' preferences: they learned that there were websites that didn't block or limit access, so users went there INSTEAD of waiting for their local news provider to "let" them see current stories. For YEARS, the Sun-Sentinel - and most newspapers - actively drove prospective readers away.

"Aggregating" that content won't save any newspaper anywhere, ever. Only an idiot could think this was a viable plan. And here's why: WE ARE ALREADY GOING TO THE PLACES YOU ARE AGGREGATING. We were there yesterday. Why would the fact that you have it a day later attract us? Can you imagine a restaurant raiding the trash bin of a successful restaurant so it could sell the scraps? "Well, you ate there last night, so we went and got it for you!"

If the Sun-Sentinel is to survive, it must bring me something no other news source is bringing me. And it CANNOT accomplish that by bringing me stuff from the other news sources.

That's just my opinion as one of the millions of people you need to read your newspaper.
Hey, Eric: you miscalculated again. You didn't end comments by "burying" the discussion, you simply forced me to take it somewhere else. It's just the like what the Sun-Sentinel - and you - are doing to its readers; driving us to go someplace where we can get what we need.

Isn't about time you guys started learning from your mistakes, instead of protecting them from criticism?

And you'd better start learning quick. We won't bother with you much longer.

1 comment:


    And again the re....... Eric Suesz